(NEXSTAR) – President Joe Biden has spent much of the past week publicly blaming disinformation for lagging vaccination rates in many American communities, and a new survey shows some conspiracy theories are enjoying widespread traction. support in some parts of the country.
COVID-19 cases have tripled in the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are increasing among those unvaccinated. While rates are still down sharply from their January highs, officials are concerned about the trend reversal and what they see as unnecessary illness and death. And cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
The growing numbers are due to large pockets of infection among the more than 90 million eligible Americans who have yet to receive a vaccine. Only four states with low vaccination rates accounted for 40% of new cases last week, and nearly half of them were from Florida alone.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said on Friday.
The White House has long recognized that, given widespread misinformation about vaccines and partisan divisions across the country, it would have little success in convincing the GOP to join us. Instead, administration officials have stepped up criticism in recent days against public officials and social media companies for spreading or not condemning the vaccine misinformation spreading among the GOP.
“They kill peopleBiden said of social media companies on Friday. A day earlier, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that false information about the spread of vaccines on platforms such as Facebook posed a risk to the public health of the nation.
An Economist / YouGov poll released last week did not attempt to link false beliefs to the use of social media, but found widespread confidence in a popular conspiracy theory among 1 in 5 Americans.
The Economist / YouGov has asked 1,500 Americans to respond to a series of statements, including: “The US government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to chip away at the population. Five percent of all respondents said the statement was “very true” and 15% said it was “probably true”. Less than half of respondents – 46% – said it was definitely wrong.
the theory debunked has circulated widely over the past year, and proponents suggest implanted chips will be used at some future date to subjugate humanity. Reuters reported late 2020 that a single video supporting the plot had been viewed 27,000 times on Facebook.
Belief in the microchip conspiracy was most often shared by low-income voters, unqualified white Americans and Hispanic respondents, according to the published results. The theory was relatively shared in four regions of the country: the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the West. Some 29% of Trump voters in 2020 believed the statement was definitely or probably true. The survey recorded 0% of Biden supporters saying the statement was definitely true and 8% calling it “probably true.”
A smaller number of respondents – 17% – thought that the statement “Vaccines have been shown to cause autism” was either definitely or probably true.
Two in five Americans said the statements “Millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election” and “The coronavirus threat has been exaggerated for political reasons” were probably or definitely true. More than half of those polled identified as Trump voters believed there was some truth in the statements.
Many Americans remain resistant or demotivated to get the vaccine despite months of often creative efforts by federal and state officials and the private sector to disseminate information about vaccine safety and accessibility.
Surgeon General Murthy added that while government can play an important role, “it has to be an ‘all of the above’ strategy with everyone,” including schools, employers, tech companies and individuals.
Following Biden’s statement, Facebook officials dismissed accusations of spreading disinformation.
“We will not be distracted by accusations that are not supported by the facts,” Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said in a statement. “The point is, over 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. “
The government’s new expression of frustration comes amid near disbelief that tens of millions of Americans continue to refuse to be vaccinated, unnecessarily prolonging the pandemic and costing lives, as health officials point out that almost all severe cases and deaths are now preventable.
More than 99% of deaths from COVID-19 and 97% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.