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As high-risk groups begin rolling up their sleeves to receive COVID-19 vaccines, experts warn against misinformation being spread on social media platforms, including among culturally diverse groups.
For example, posts on Chinese social media platform WeChat have been spreading the false claim that mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer jab, can integrate with a person’s DNA and transform recipients into “genetically modified humans”.
According to various accounts viewed by the ABC, Chinese-language posts carrying this information have been shared in at least five active WeChat groups where over 2,000 Chinese Australians discuss public affairs and share information about the pandemic.
The same type of messaging has also surfaced in various exchanges between people claiming to be health experts, using academic language and referring to “scientific research” — which isn’t provided — from authoritative science journals, such as Nature.
Although China’s state-owned media has come out at times to refute these messages, clarifying that it is pseudo-science or misinformation, it’s often too late, as the material is carried over to WeChat where the conversations continue within the community.
Yang Bingqing, who leads a voluntary fact-checking group for Chinese Australians, told the ABC threads of misinformation appear in “almost every chat group” she joins.
In a statement to the ABC, WeChat said it’s “committed to providing a secure and open platform for users to stay connected and share information and ideas”.
“We take active steps to address misinformation and inappropriate behaviour on our platform by providing users an easy way to report that through the in-app reporting function so that we may follow up on these quickly and effectively,” the statement said.
“We are constantly expanding and enforcing our efforts to protect against misinformation.”
But how seriously are various communities taking these claims? And when language barriers and government distrust can fuel misinformation among some groups, what can be done to ensure they receive credible COVID-19 information?
Australia’s drug regulatory body has provisionally approved two vaccines for high-risk groups, including Pfizer, the world’s first mRNA vaccine and the only mRNA candidate approved for use in Australia.
mRNA — or messenger RNA — vaccines work by injecting a particular strand of mRNA into our cells. Our cells use the strand as a blueprint to build only the spike protein found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. After a few days, the mRNA is broken down.
This trains our immune systems to “remember” the virus spike and make antibodies against it, so that if it ever meets the real virus, it ready to mount an immune response.
Dr Archa Fox, associate professor in RNA biology from the University of Western Australia, said the message circulating on WeChat was “completely untrue”.
She said it was not possible for an mRNA vaccine to become part of the DNA in our genome.
“I’d like to use the example of the DNA being like a big recipe book. And the RNA is a little scribbled piece of paper with handwriting,” Dr Fox told the ABC.
“Millions of people around the world have now received RNA vaccines, and there is no evidence of this happening,” she said, adding the misinformation could result in vulnerable groups refusing to have the vaccine.
“That will put themselves and their loved ones at risk.”
Dr Alexandra Grey, a University of Sydney researcher who studies the effectiveness of government messages within Australia’s multicultural communities, said in-language misinformation can significantly impact community trust in public health information.
“Particularly for things like health communications, where you want to affect behavioural change, you want your audience to trust what you’re saying,” Dr Grey told the ABC.
“It conveys something additional, something symbolic about inclusion and trust.”
The ABC spoke to around two dozen residents from Asian communities on the streets of Sydney over the past week, the majority of whom spoke English as a second language and found it difficult to access public health information in their own languages.
Several people confirmed they came across vaccine misinformation on social media, including Facebook, Instagram and WeChat.
Ms Yang launched her fact-checking group on WeChat during the early stages of the pandemic last April, when fake news and disinformation related to COVID-19 were on the rise in the Chinese-Australian community.
The fact-checking hub now consists of over 600 Chinese Australians who provide assistance in two WeChat groups and clear up misinformation concerns where they can.
Thank you for stopping by to visit My Local Pages and checking out this news update involving “News in the City of Melbourne called “Misinformation about COVID vaccines is putting Australia’s diverse communities at risk, experts say”. This story was posted by MyLocalPages Australia as part of our current events and news aggregator services.
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