Mississippi has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, and Facebook isn't helping
When the coronavirus vaccines first dropped, many people were hopeful that the pandemic would come to a quick end. But unfortunately, the misinformation that has run rampant since the pandemic began didn't just go away. As social media continues to play host to a number of vaccine conspiracies, states are taking action themselves to fight the problem. This week, Mississippi blocked Facebook comments in efforts to combat coronavirus misinformation.
Social media platforms like Facebook have been flooded with lies about coronavirus since it hit last spring and eventually the problem spread to the vaccines specifically. Back in December, Facebook said it would remove claims about vaccines that were debunked by public health experts; in February, the company further widened its ban.
Unfortunately, the bans aren't enough, and the Mississippi State Department of Health has now shut its comments down. Liz Sharlot, a spokesperson for the state health department, told the Associated Press in a statement that "the comments section of our Facebook page has increasingly come to be dominated by misinformation about COVID-19."
Sometimes, it's easy to see the misinformation floating around and laugh. You might think, "Who could possibly believe that the coronavirus vaccine would have microchips in it?" But plenty of people are susceptible to false information, particularly when they see it being repeated often enough. And, as Sharlot told AP, allowing information that "mislead[s] the public about the safety, importance, and effectiveness of vaccination" is "directly contrary to our public health mission, and to the purpose of our social media platforms."
The department's ban on Facebook comments is limited to posts about coronavirus specifically. Their decision to implement the ban comes the same week that Mississippi reported over 600 new cases in the state and 36 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities.
As a state, Mississippi has especially struggled to vaccinate its population. Per the state health department, only about 31% of residents — or a little over 1 million people — are fully vaccinated. According to CBS News, this puts Mississippi at the very bottom of all U.S. states. To help put that into perspective, Pennsylvania, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, has vaccinated half of its state population so far.
On Friday, the state health department released an updated set of recommended precautions based on what it called a "significant rise" of coronavirus cases and a "rapid increase in Delta variant cases and outbreaks." It urged residents who are 65 and older to continue avoiding large indoor gatherings regardless of whether or not they're fully vaccinated.
The department won't keep its Facebook comments off forever, of course. Sharlot told AP that they'll come back when the department has "the resources to effectively curb misleading, harmful and off-topic commentary that disserves the public."