By Liliana Shymanska, Corporate Communications Officer at the British Science Association


Almost two months into the UK’s COVID-19 national vaccination programme, the UK, and other countries worldwide, are fighting not just a deadly virus but a rising tide of misinformation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a COVID-19 “infodemic” – an abundance of misleading or false information circulating with the potential to completely undermine public health efforts.

According to WHO, the COVID-19 “infodemic” is just as dangerous as the virus itself. Why? Information circulating in the form of conspiracy theories, such as blaming 5G towers for spreading the virus, or that vaccines contain a tracking microchip are a genuine concern that can progress way beyond public health.

Similarly, false ‘cures’ or preventative measures like eating garlic, or even drinking bleach (!), not only hinder the fight against COVID-19 but can cause extra strain on an already overwhelmed NHS.

Scrolling through my own WhatsApp group chats, I came across various instances of misinformation myself:

“You should take a few sips of water every 15 minutes […] to wash COVID-19 down into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will kill the virus.” – April.

“[the vaccine] It’s dumb. Nobody’s injecting anything in me” – October.

But these opinions are not unique. We are spending more time online than ever before, so whether you’re keeping up to date with the latest COVID-19 news, or trying to avoid it altogether – information (and misinformation) is unavoidable.

At a time where we are constantly overwhelmed with new information, it can be hard to distinguish the truth from falsehood. Especially, when recent research shows only one in four have good ‘information hygiene’ (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Bar chart showing the percentage of respondents with poor information hygiene, moderate information hygiene and good information hygiene.

What we don’t always realise from our day-to-day communication within our social circles, is that it can quickly turn into action, with real-life consequences.

“Infodemic”: disproportionate effects

Despite reports detailing the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on minority ethnic communities within the UK, a recent study found that only 57% of minority ethnic people said they would take the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 79% of White people.

The intention of uptake was lowest amongst respondents of Asian ethnicities, with only 55% likely to say yes to the jab.

The organisation carrying out this study, the Royal Society for Public Health, claimed these results may be due to anti-vaccination messages being 'targeted at different groups, including different ethnic or religious communities'.

Another study states that globally, those from South Asian backgrounds are one of the biggest populations using messaging apps, with many relying on this unregulated medium for accessing information regarding COVID-19.

More recently, SAGE has raised fresh concerns over the COVID-19 vaccine uptake among minority ethnic people and communities with figures showing 72% of Black people, and 42% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people unlikely to take the jab. These figures are even higher than the previous estimates outlined.

It’s clear that although we all want answers, we all access different sources, and trust different ones. Scientists, politicians, community leaders and the public all have a crucial role to play to help navigate this minefield of information.

To reduce the disproportionate effects of the “infodemic”, communication should be evidence-based and appropriately targeted, clearly highlighting the higher risk of severe effects of COVID-19 among minority ethnic people and communities.

Acting against misinformation can be done by everyone and anyone. Simple steps such as deleting your own posts which may have inaccurate information, reporting falsehood, sharing reputable sources with your friends, engaging them in conversation and when in doubt, taking the time to verify what you see, can all help prevent the spread of misinformation around your sphere of influence.

Here are some websites where you can find verified information about COVID-19: