COVID-19 Misinformation: Parents of Patients May Fall for It

February 18, 2021
Brielle Benyon

Parents of pediatric patients with cancer were more likely to believe COVID-19 misinformation than parents of children without cancer.

Parents of pediatric patients with cancer were found to be more likely to believe misinformation about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) than parents of children without a cancer history, according to recent research published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

This puts oncology nurses in the prime position to talk with caregivers of pediatric patients, and show them where to find reliable information on COVID-19.

Misinformation Believed

The researchers surveyed 735 parents of children between the ages of 2 and 17 – 315 parents had children who were currently in cancer treatment, while 420 had children without a cancer history. In the survey, participants were asked to rate COVID-19 information based on whether they thought it was “definitely untrue,” “likely untrue,” “not sure if untrue/true,” “likely true,” and “definitely true.” The survey included 17 common and untrue COVID-19 myths from the World Health Organization’s website.

“For the correct pieces of information, there was no difference between the parents of kids with cancer and the parent control group,” said Jeanine P.D. Guidry, PhD, assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University Robertson School of Media and Culture and director of the Media+Health Lab said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News.

“For the pieces of misinformation, parents of pediatric cancer patients were more likely to say, ‘this is correct information,” Guidry explained.

Pieces of misinformation included:

  • Eating garlic can help prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus
  • Gargling with or swallowing bleach will help get rid of COVID-19
  • Drinking a sip of water every 15 minutes can prevent COVID-19

While eating garlic or drinking water every 15 minutes are not unhealthy actions, they can become harmful if a person believes that they are protected from COVID-19 and, as a result, does not follow CDC guidelines. Drinking bleach, however, is outright dangerous, Guidry said.

Stress Plays a Role

Guidry explained that parents of pediatric patients with cancer already are experiencing the stress of a diagnosis, and as a result may be more included to believe in quick fixes to mitigate the anxiety of COVID-19.

Study findings supported this: Those who reported that they were more stressed were also more likely to believe misinformation about COVID-19.

“For people who are already in a very stressful situation in their lives, [the COVID-19 pandemic] just adds to it,” she said. “And the desire to see things resolved and to not have this additional level of uncertainty may make people more vulnerable to believing misinformation, because it gives a sense of reassurance.”

Vaccine Misinformation

The development of COVID-19 vaccines is another area that is abound with myths and misinformation around it.

“I think one of the areas with misinformation that we have to be really careful of is, of course, misinformation related to the vaccine. We have a way out of this pandemic,” Guidry said, explaining that the high efficacy rates seen with the FDA-approved vaccines are very exciting.

“This is a better outcome vaccine-wise than we thought we would get. But that doesn’t mean anything if the vaccinations don’t get in people’s arms.”

Guidry said that some vaccine misconceptions are easier to dispel. For example, if a person is worried that it was not studied enough or corners were cut in the quick development process, they can be given scientific literature to read. But other theories – like powerful people putting microchips in the vaccine to track us – might be a bit harder to approach.

“Misinformation really just plays into our fears,” Guidry said.

Oncology Nurses Can Promote Reliable Info

Since oncology nurses are typically on the frontlines of communication with patients and their caregivers, they are in an ideal spot to talk about COVID-19 misinformation and how it can be harmful – especially in more vulnerable populations like children with cancer.

“Being aware that this is an issue is probably the biggest thing,” Guidry said. “People may be more vulnerable; keep an eye on that. Talk to them about preventative measures, talk to them about the vaccine. Right now, we’re not vaccinating children, but we are vaccinating parents.”

On a broader level, Guidry concluded, “If there’s 1 thing I would wish for our society, it’s a greater trust in science. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have.”

Reference

Guidry J, Miller CA, Ksinan AJ, et al. COVID-19–Related Misinformation among Parents of Patients with Pediatric Cancer. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2021;27(2):650-652. doi:10.3201/eid2702.203285.