COVID-19 misinformation led to more Canadian deaths: report

Misinformation about COVID-19 is believed to have contributed to about 2,800 deaths, while costing the Canadian healthcare system at least $300 million in hospital and ICU visits, according to a new report.

The data comes from the Council of Canadian Academies, which ran an expert panel on the dangers posed to society by misinformation.

The report, called Fault Lines, says if those who believe COVID-19 is a hoax had been vaccinated when they became eligible, over 2.3 million more Canadians would have been immunized. This, the data says, would have resulted in roughly 198,000 fewer cases of the virus, and 13,000 fewer hospitalizations between Mar. 1, 2021, and Nov. 30.

Chair of the expert panel, Alex Himelfarb, says misinformation has become “a global problem and a defining issue”.

“The unchecked spread of science and health misinformation leaves individuals and society vulnerable to exploitation and threatens our ability to work together to address shared challenges,” he said.

Along with the impact on the healthcare system, the report found that misinformation also deepens social divisions, resulting in violence often directed at racialized communities.

As far as combatting misinformation, the report highlights a few strategies.

It suggests having physicians and healthcare professionals better explain their recommendations may increase their acceptance of vaccines. The report also underlines how talking about misinformation with people you know may help limit its spread, as opposing views are not often brought up.

The study warns that misinformation erodes trust in institutions and can impact policy decisions, which could lead to delaying action on other issues like climate change.

The CCA is a not-for-profit organization that examines evidence on complex science topics of public interest.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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