A new report says misinformation about COVID-19 contributed to more than 2,800 Canadian deaths and at least $300 million in hospital and ICU visits.
The Council of Canadian Academies says misinformation led to people not believing COVID-19 was real or was exaggerated, fostering vaccine hesitancy.
The study suggests that the belief that COVID-19 was a “hoax or exaggerated” led to 2.35 million people delaying or refusing to get the vaccine between March and November of 2021.
The report authors estimated that if those vaccinations had happened, there would have been approximately 198,000 fewer cases, 13,000 fewer hospitalizations, and 2,800 fewer deaths from COVID-19 in Canada.
“This is a threat,” says Alex Himelfarb, chair of the panel that did the research.
“Vulnerable communities always pay the biggest cost for things that go wrong in our society,” he says.
The actual impact of COVID-19 misinformation is very likely much larger than the report findings show, Himelfarb says, because they only looked at that nine-month period during the pandemic, which has so far lasted for about three years.
The study also didn’t include estimated “indirect costs and the ripple costs,” he says, such as delayed elective surgeries and treating long-COVID cases.
Himelfarb told The Canadian Press that the mathematical models took the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and eligibility during that time period into account.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies to look at the “socioeconomic impacts of science and health misinformation and disinformation,” the group’s news release says.
The council bills itself as a not-for-profit that convenes experts in their respective fields to assess evidence on complex scientific topics of public interest and help inform policy.
—Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press