WASHINGTON - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases said he’s "certain" that the U.S. would not be able to contain other deadly illnesses like polio or smallpox if misinformation for those vaccines spread like it over COVID-19.
Speaking with CNN’s Jim Acosta on July 17, Fauci said "We probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that's being spread now."
Fauci explained that it is because of vaccines and the efforts of science to create them and distribute them to the general public that deadly diseases like smallpox or polio don’t devastate the population today.
"If we had that back decades ago, I would be certain that we'd still have polio in this country," Fauci added.
Fauci’s comments come as President Joe Biden said on July 16 that social media giants are "killing people" by hosting misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines on their platforms.
While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they're helping people around the world access verified information about the shots, the White House says they haven't done enough to stop misinformation that has helped slow the pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. to a trickle. It comes as the U.S. sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven't gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging "pandemic of the unvaccinated."
Biden’s comments come as the White House has struggled to counteract resistance to getting a shot, particularly among younger and more Republican demographics. Fewer than 400,000 Americans are getting their first vaccine dose each day — down from a high of more than 2 million per day in April. More than 90 million eligible people have not received a dose.
Last week the White House slammed Facebook last week for not doing enough to censor posts that contain misinformation about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On July 15, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House is working to flag "problematic posts" found on Facebook which spread disinformation.
"There's about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including Facebook — ones that Facebook owns," Psaki said.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also sounded the alarm for Facebook and its users to help stop the growing wave of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
"We need an all-of-society approach to fight misinformation. And that’s why this advisory that I issued today has recommendations for everyone," Murthy said.
Murthy asked technology companies to monitor misinformation more closely.
"We ask people to raise the bar for sharing health information by checking sources before they share, to ensure that information is backed by credible, scientific sources," Murthy added. "I think in a moment like this when we see misinformation literally costing us our loved ones, costing us lives, we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share," Murthy continued.
Facebook on Friday responded to Biden’s attack, with spokesperson Kevin McAlister saying, "The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period."
The company also released a blog post saying its internal research showed it was not responsible for Biden's missed vaccination goal. "The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed."
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.