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Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare takes on pandemic misinformation

TMH says pandemic lies and myths put health at risk
Posted at 6:20 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 18:20:40-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — This week, we’re talking about news literacy. Part of that mission involves knowing where the information you read or hear about is coming from. The spread of inaccurate misinformation throughout the pandemic has created a lot of problems in the healthcare community.

Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare has been working to bust pandemic myths and get reliable information for families in the Big Bend.

“There's a lot of misconceptions and myths, beginning with the fact that a lot of people don't believe COVID exists,” explained Dr. Dean Watson. He is Vice President and Chief Integration Officer at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare and Capital Health Plan. He said the coronavirus is very real.

“Will I become magnetic? What are their microchips? Will the COVID vaccine, give me COVID,” are just some of the questions Dr. Watson hears from the public. Sadly, the misinformation surrounding COVID is just as real as the virus itself.

“Misinformation leads to disbelief and distrust,” Watson explained. “Many people have lost their lives, or are now disabled because they really had some major misinformation related to vaccines.”

Research proves it’s happening. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows:

  • 38 percent of Americans believe the government has exaggerated the number of COVD-19 deaths
  • Seventeen percent believe pregnant women should not get the COVID vaccine
  • Seven percent believe the vaccines contain microchips

Science has shown none of those ideas are true.

“When we're out trying to help and to guide through evidence-based practices it's very difficult to have those communications when people have a true belief that has no evidence basis behind it,” Dr. Watson added.

Doctors, nurses, and healthcare communication directors like Stephanie Derzypolski are working to keep people healthy and save lives.

“It can be frustrating; I try to be patient with people,” Derzypolski shared. She is Chief Communication Officer at TMH.

She is charged with getting accurate information about the state of the virus out to the community. Her team is taking on dangerous, unproven COVID prevention methods. Some of those myths include putting household cleaners directly on skin or swallowing disinfectants to prevent the virus. The CDC said this led to a big increase in calls to poison control centers in 2020.

“I think it's been hard on everyone who's had to go through this their children, people in the community,” Derzypolski added.

It’s a constant challenge getting ahead of the conspiracy theories and outright lies about the virus circulating as quickly as COVID itself. Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare has been working to bust the myths to get facts about the pandemic to families in the Big Bend.

From the virus itself to treatment to vaccines, in 2020, TMH rolled out this website in an effort to keep the community informed.

“From the very beginning way back in 2020 before it (COVID) even came to our community, again, we wanted to be that, that resource for the community,” Derzypolski said.

Her team updates how many people are hospitalized with the virus daily. They break down who is vaccinated and who is not. They have also published guides on the COVID vaccines and at-home treatments.

“It's really hard to stay informed, so I think you have to trust the experts,” Derzypolski said.

Dr. Watson is one of the experts she relies on.

“The issue is that people can put things on the internet or use these platforms without evidence,” Dr. Watson said. “And most people don't understand that they look for their answers.”

The team at TMH has tried to keep it simple. For example, one guide shows patients how to manage COVID at home. While they highlight monoclonal antibodies as a possible treatment, they tell patients to not use ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Those are two drugs that some have said could work without the scientific evidence to back up their claims.

“People like Dr. Watson staying on top of the information coming from the CDC and all the other peer-reviewed information coming in,” Derzypolski explained. “He's staying on top of it. He's keeping us abreast.”

Dr. Watson concluded, “We still need to depend on the CDC and the Department of Health. They are the best resources. Are they perfect? No. No one has been perfect throughout this whole process. But are they developing better processes better information? Absolutely.”