Vaccine hesitancy is a global threat. Experts say watch out for coronavirus misinformation

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Last year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top health threats. This year, a pandemic.

Like its predecessors SARS, Ebola and H1N1, experts say the novel coronavirus outbreak should serve to underscore the importance of vaccines.

So it’s understandable, then, that eyes have turned towards the anti-vaxxer community to see how they’re responding to COVID-19, which has shuttered entire countries and infected upwards of two million people around the world.

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So far the response has been predictable if surprisingly quick to materialize, says Dr. Timothy Caulfield, research director at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute and author of The Vaccination Picture.

Anti-vaxxers have questioned whether it’s necessary to practise physical distancing, spread fear about COVID-19 being used to introduce “forced vaccinations,” and shared other far-out conspiracy theories like “Italy goes through this every year, we just don’t report on it.”

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(For the record, Italy does not find itself in an annual position of having to pick who lives and who dies because it does not have enough life-saving ventilators for every person who needs one.)

“We really are living through a moment that should remind us what the world would be like without vaccines,” Caulfield says.

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