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12th Aug 2022

EU: Vaccine misinformation will be 'big challenge'

  • Commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides said the EU collective strategy on vaccines is "a historic success for the union," warning that "fragmentation only makes us all more vulnerable" (Photo: Jernej Furman)

One of the biggest challenges ahead for the EU will be fighting the spread of vaccine misinformation and disinformation, EU officials said at an online event organised on Wednesday (13 January).

"Distrust among citizens against vaccines is a key challenge we have to confront in the next months," said Manfred Weber, the head of the largest political party in the European Parliament, the European People's Party.

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"Everyone is free to raise concerns but we should have a zero-tolerance approach to targeted disinformation campaigns about vaccines, particularly on social media," he added.

For her part, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that the so-called 'corona fatigue' is often linked to lack of trust on expert advice, making the fight against vaccine disinformation and misinformation "our biggest challenge" after the virus itself. Misinformation is erroneous information, whilst disinformation is erroneous information sent deliberately.

"It is important that we address the hesitancy that we do see among European citizens, so when the [majority of] vaccines are rollout, they feel confident to be vaccinated," she also said, pointing out that it is "not the vaccines" that save lives, but "vaccinations".

The rumour that vaccines could somehow change peoples' DNA has been one of the false claims most widely shared since the use of the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccine was approved in the EU.

That is why MEP Peter Liese highlighted that people must understand that the new mRNA technology, used for the Pfizer/BioNtech and the Moderna vaccine, does not change people's genetic code.

"The mRNA is a temporary information template that lasts hours or a day and instructs the cell to make antibodies, it does not affect the nucleus nor does it affect genes," explained the chief medical officer of pharmaceutical firm Moderna, Tal Zaks, warning that if the medicine is not translated into education, "medicine will not have an impact".

"Vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of modern mankind," he added, saying that scientists will be able to leverage lessons learned from the mRNA technology for other diseases such as HIV.

'Miracle'

In her intervention, commissioner for health Kyriakides also said that the EU collective strategy on vaccines is "a historic success for the union," warning that "fragmentation only makes us all more vulnerable".

For his part, EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas described the EU's overall strategy for vaccines as a "miracle," saying that big member states would have absorbed most of the vaccines at expense of smaller ones without a collective approach.

Vaccination prevents an estimated three million deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.

However, several EU and neighbouring countries have seen unprecedented outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases due to vaccine hesitancy.

The European Democracy Action Plan and the Digital Services Act, presented by the commission last year, aim at improving transparency and accountability of online platforms and fighting disinformation.

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