I Saw COVID Vaccine Misinformation in the One Facebook Group I Shouldn’t Have

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT). It’s a condition where the heart has “extra” electrical pathways that can cause it to jump into irregular rhythms (beating fast around 120BPM for 30 minutes for example). Some people can live mostly normal lives without intervention, and others who can’t (or just want to be safe) opt for treatments in the form of pills (beta-blockers) or a common corrective surgery (an ablation). Since my ablation, I have had no episodes, but I joined a Facebook group of people with SVT experience to keep learning about it and share my experiences. This morning, I saw the following image in the group, along with numerous comments talking about how scary the COVID vaccine is, conspiracy theories around it being a government experiment and more.

The image that made me so sad I had to write an article about it.

To even know the term SVT, one presumably went to a medical professional to get diagnosed. The first irregular heartbeat episode would likely be scary enough to send someone to the doctor or even the emergency room, and if you’re like me, they would have to administer adenosine through an IV to end the episode. So why are people in this SVT group, who had similar experiences learning about the condition and its treatments, getting their COVID information from a random Facebook image? What if there was a Facebook image that said “Doctors can’t cure your cancer, what makes you think they can fix your heart?” Would these people have never gotten treated for SVT if they happened to see such an image first? Would they even accept the term?

If someone has never had a serious visit to a medical professional, doesn’t know anyone in the field, and even knows of bad medical experiences, I get it. It’s not an excuse, but I understand why such a person would be less trusting and readily accept misinformation that leaned in that direction. But someone who has presumably had to spend a bit more than 30 minutes to learn about their own heart condition, has been shown a model of the heart, been talked through the pros and cons of treatments related to their own future? Don’t they get that a new vaccine for a relatively new virus probably requires a bit more time to understand than a glance at a Facebook image with no source?

To be clear, I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons to question the vaccine. Especially for those with pre-existing conditions like SVT. What I’m condemning are images and memes like the one above that are just shallow and misinformed. If someone wanted to actually have a healthy conversation about not getting the vaccine, it’s possible. But not when you’re leading with something like that.

This experience really didn’t teach me anything new about human psychology and the way misinformation spreads. It was just extra disheartening (no pun intended) to see it in this little corner of my Facebook usage, where I usually see valuable discussions about science and medical experiences. I hope we start making progress on the disinformation problem soon. I’m afraid of what the internet will be like in 20 years if it keeps getting harder and harder for people to tell what’s true. And I hope that we can teach people that science, especially when it comes to their health, probably requires a bit more time to understand than what they give scrolling past headlines and images on a social feed.

There are endless places to spend some actual time learning about COVID and the vaccine. Here’s a video I watched during lunch a few days ago. In 11 minutes I gained a lot of intuition about how the vaccine actually works.

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Brandon Torio

I’m enthusiastic about telling stories and explaining hard topics in easy-to-understand ways.