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Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaking during a press briefing on Thursday at the White House. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on social media companies Thursday to curb misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines in his first health advisory since being confirmed to the position.

Why it matters: Murthy said vaccine misinformation is a factor in the country's slowing vaccination rates. More than 40% of American adults are not fully vaccinated against the virus, and new cases have slightly increased in part because of the rise of the Delta variant.

  • Surgeon general health advisories are typically issued for physical products people consume deemed urgent public health threats, though Murthy said health misinformation now falls under that category.
  • Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths remain far lower than their peaks this January.

What they're saying: "Health misinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information about health according to the best evidence at the time," Murthy said. "Misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones."

  • "During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It's led them to turndown proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illness and death," he added.
  • "Now, health misinformation didn't start with COVID-19. What's different now though is the speed and scale at which misinformation is spreading."
  • "Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users."

The big picture: The surgeon general said mechanisms that platforms use to keep people scrolling — including likes, share buttons and algorithms that tailor content for specific users — have also allowed misinformation to proliferate.

  • Murthy called for an "all of society" approach to tackling misinformation, recommending community leaders to promote factual information and educators to improve health literacy.
  • He said the Biden administration expects social media platforms to operate with more transparency and accountability and to step up efforts to monitor for false information.

Go deeper: Coalition calls on Biden to form disinformation task force

Go deeper

Sep 20, 2021 - Health

Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Monday that the Biden administration will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as President Biden seeks commitments from countries to donate vaccines to the global COVAX initiative. He is expected to host a COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week, and many of the countries attending have expressed frustration with the travel ban.

23 hours ago - Health

Biden to get booster shot on camera

Photo: Saul Loeb/ AFP via Getty Images

President Biden will receive his COVID booster shot on camera once it's fully approved for Americans ages 65 and older, the White House said Monday.

Why it matters: A federal advisory panel unanimously voted last week to recommend that the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) authorize a third dose of Pfizer's vaccine for people over the age of 65 and those at higher risk of infection.

24 hours ago - World

Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden will convene world leaders on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to push them to do more to end the pandemic — though he's also facing criticism for prioritizing boosters at home.

Why it matters: There is still no functional plan in place to vaccinate the world, and past summits of this sort have flopped. The White House hopes that this virtual gathering will produce ambitious promises, accountability measures to track progress, and ultimately help achieve a 70% global vaccination rate this time next year.

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