Since the start of the pandemic, billionaire health philanthropist Bill Gates has been a target for bizarre Covid conspiracy theories.
Now, Gates says, those rumors and pieces of disinformation are keeping many Americans from getting vaccinated against Covid — and delaying the end of the pandemic by doing so.
In a blog post last week, Gates wrote that "conspiracy theories that unfortunately involve me" have impacted Covid vaccine uptake in the United States, adding that he expected vaccination rates to be much higher by now. To date, 61% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against Covid, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 83 other countries or territories have higher fully vaccinated rates, according to Our World in Data, including countries in every continent except Antarctica, which didn't have any reported data.
"This is part of a larger trend toward distrust in institutions, and it's one of the issues I'm most worried about heading into 2022," Gates wrote.
A survey published in November by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows how rampant vaccine misinformation is: 78% of U.S. adults either believe at least one piece of misinformation about the Covid disease or vaccines, or are unsure whether that misinformation is true or false.
Among those surveyed, the most common Covid myths included "the government is exaggerating the number of Covid deaths" and "pregnant women shouldn't get the vaccine." Both myths are false: Experts say the CDC may actually be undercounting Covid deaths, and there's no scientifically sound evidence that the country's Covid vaccines can cause any fertility issues. According to the CDC, the vaccines are perfectly safe for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to get pregnant.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans remain hesitant or outright unwilling to get vaccinated against Covid, due largely to misunderstanding and a lack of information — and there's no simple fix to combatting disinformation.
Gates's suggestion: The government should have clearer rules about social media to prevent people from sharing falsehoods, particularly information that's harmful to people's health.
"A video falsely claiming that the Covid-19 vaccine makes you infertile should not be allowed to spread widely under the guise of being news," Gates wrote.