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Scientists fight a pandemic of disease, misinformation

A pandemic of disease and misinformation. Facebook announced it will be removing anti-vax and unsubstantiated claims about COVID-19 from its platforms.

HOUSTON — Throughout this pandemic, scientists have been working nonstop to understand, treat and defeat COVID-19.

There have been so much data and scientific information coming down the pipeline over the past year, it can be difficult for the layperson to sift through and understand it.

That is why Texas epidemiologist, Dr. Katlyn Jetelina, wanted to create a platform that made the information easy to digest and understand.

“The community needs to know why they can’t go to work or why they need to wear a mask,” Dr. Jetelina explained. “We are asking for some pretty big behavior changes.”

Last year Dr. Jetelina started the "Your Local Epidemiologist" page on Facebook and Instagram. Since then, she has written more than 500 evidence-based, science-driven posts. The posts are easy to understand and cover relevant COVID-19 information.

Over 11 months she gained about 160,000 followers. She’s also attracted to attention of anti-vaxers.   

“I have gotten death threats about it. I have gotten very nasty messages," she said.

Dr. Jetelina said the pushback from the anti-science community fueled her to continue her mission to bring scientific data to the world. However, last week, after debunking a viral post online about vaccines being harmful, Dr. Jetelina said all of her online accounts were hacked and hijacked.

Whoever took over her account has been posting random videos of woodworkers, ninjas and other unrelated content.  

“All of that hard work was lost, and now all I can really do is watch it slowly burn, and it’s heartbreaking," she said.

Dr. Jetelina is still unable to access her pages. She can’t say for certain who hacked her accounts, but she has her suspicions.

“Whatever their motivation was behind it was ultimately successful in stopping that direct line of communication from science to the community," she said. "There are two pandemics going on: the pandemic of misinformation and then a pandemic of disease. And we in United States are fighting both of them very rampantly.”

Many scientists agree and believe misinformation is a public health emergency. Facebook said that’s why this week, it has decided it will be removing anti-vax and anti-science posts about COVID-19.

In a blog post, Facebook announced it will also help people find where and when to get vaccinated, give $120 million in ad credits to help health ministries and agencies share their COVID-19 vaccine and health information, and provide educational information to help build trust in COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Jetelina believes this is an important step in fighting the anti-vax movement.

“To fight the disease, we need herd immunity. We all need to get vaccines. Period. There’s no way around it. To end the pandemic on misinformation, I think it’s going to be a lot more difficult," she said.

Even though Dr. Jetelina is still working to gain control of her hacked accounts, you can sign up for her newsletter here.