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Empathy in the age of science disinformation: implications for healthcare quality
  1. Yash B Shah1,
  2. Nicholas W Kieran1,
  3. Stephen K Klasko2
  1. 1 Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  2. 2 Office of the President, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Stephen K Klasko, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; steveklasko9{at}

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Disinformation relating to the COVID-19 vaccine has remained rampant since its introduction. In a video shared over 27 000 times on Facebook alone, 1 user incorrectly claimed that ‘the COVID-19 vaccine contains a radio-frequency identification device (RFID) microchip that will be implanted into you to track everywhere you go’.1 This statement conveys a sentiment shared by a significant proportion of the country: the mainstream scientific community cannot be trusted.

In reality, RFIDs were a proposed quality of the delivery needles to track their use—something commonly done for valuable pharmaceuticals.2 The original video contained segments cut from various sources that misconstrued the true meaning of this proposal. The claim that the COVID-19 vaccine itself contained a microchip spread like wildfire, influencing people across the world. Ultimately, this led to increased infections, poorer outcomes and broader deterioration in trust.

As physicians, it is easy to be frustrated by such views. There are countless trusted sources demonstrating otherwise, we obtained real-world experience, and we have completed many years of training which should theoretically confer credibility with patients. Thus, when a patient refuses a COVID-19 vaccine because they ‘do not want to be microchipped,’ providers may develop prejudice and even bias the remainder of that patient’s care for unrelated conditions.

However, this reaction must be avoided. Expecting absolute trust in science is unrealistic. The Tuskegee trials, devastating effects of thalidomide in pregnancy, and racial bias that still exists are each justifiable reasons for various communities’ doubts. Therefore, when patients claim that vaccines are unsafe or may include trackers, their beliefs cannot be ridiculed. Individuals who are wary of their own health may find that the fear of the unknown outweighs recommendations by distant medical experts. It is the responsibility of those experts to …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.