A week or two ago my adult niece, an Ivy League graduate and generally all-around smart person, said she didn’t know what to believe about vaccinations, and she’s completely given up on trying to understand it at all. She talked about the avalanche of conflicting information during the COVID pandemic and the continuing controversies (mask or no mask? Kids in school or out?) that have never cleared up.
She felt she didn’t have the medical education or the stamina to plow through it all herself. So she stopped. And that has led her to question a lot of the medical guidelines she once followed unquestioningly — especially vaccination schedules.
The vaccination schedule for young children is daunting. All those shots in those tiny little arms, of course parents worry. And the shots don’t stop in early childhood. More vaccinations are given in the high school years and at later points throughout life. In addition, every year we are all asked to get flu shots, recently there’s a constant push to get the latest COVID shot, and now there’s an RSV shot for respiratory illnesses, new this fall.
What Sources Do Most People Trust?
My niece is not alone in her frustration and uncertainty. About 75% of Americans say the spread of false health information is a problem, in a study from Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
One part of that study asked participants if a series of specific health statements were true or false (all were false). The study shows that most people have seen or heard the specific health misinformation tidbits that were in the study. Only a small portion (10% or fewer for most questions) knew they were lies. About the same amount of people were sure those lies were true. The vast majority of people were just like my niece: confused and frustrated. They answered with uncertainty, either “probably true,” or “probably false.”
“Most people aren’t true believers in the lies or the facts about health issues; they are in a muddled middle,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said.
Some of the questions were (all of these statements are false):
- The COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.
- The measles, mumps, rubella vaccines, also known as the MMR vaccines, have been proven to cause autism in children.
- Using birth control like the pill or IUDs makes it harder for most women to get pregnant once they stop using them.
“A lot of people have heard about these health misinformation claims. Just because they’re exposed to it, doesn’t mean they’re buying into it,” noted Lunna Lopes, a senior survey analyst at KFF and one of the poll’s authors, in a press release about the work. With so much misinformation embedded in our news and health sources, many are confused.
Lopes said, “You might be less trusting, and less likely to outright reject false information.”
The study also found that people don’t have much trust in the major news sources. Only about 25% trust local TV stations and even fewer trust national news sources such as Fox News, The New York Times, or MSNBC.
The most trusted health source in America is your family doctor, and only 48% of you trust your own doctor!
[Do you know if your doctor is right for you? Here are some great tips on how to research your doctor. ]
How Do I Know a Health Site Is Legit?
With so much confusion out there, how do you really know what to trust? When it comes to the Internet, people are even more likely to distrust sources, which leaves the question: How do I find trustworthy information on the Internet?
1. If the site is sponsored by or has advertising from pharmaceutical companies, question the information.
When pharma is paying the bills, it’s difficult for the site to be critical. For example, if a pharmaceutical company spends $50,000 a year advertising drug XYZ on a site, and then the writers on the site want to publish information complete with problems about that drug XYZ, can a site really do that? If the site includes how drug XYZ is faced with class action lawsuits (for example), and many claims of serious adverse events (another example), it might risk losing a big advertiser or grant donor. For that reason, many internet and news sites will emphasize the good qualities of the medicine and ignore warnings of drug safety.
Your best bet for independent health information is not only a nonprofit, but a nonprofit that does not accept funding or support from drug companies. Most nonprofits do accept funding, such as The American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association, and many more which receive a big portion of their annual budget from pharmaceutical manufacturers. Funding information should be easily available on any nonprofit’s website, pay particular attention to “Partners,” these are generally large donors.
2. Does the site link to high quality studies that support what they say?
A legit health site will link directly to the original source of information. If they do have links, you still need to click on them and look at the study for yourself. I’ve clicked on a link to a study only to find out the author of that article lied, the study says the opposite of what the article claims. It’s just a click for you, but check it out.
Consider the quality of the study:
How many people were included in the trial?
Were the studies done on humans? Mouse/rat/rabbit and other animal studies can indicate a possible issue in humans, but quite often the results don’t occur in people.
How long were the studies conducted? If a drug is expected to be taken daily for a lifetime (statins, supplements, warfarin or others), then a study lasting only weeks or months won’t reveal long-term effects, for example.
Don’t make health decisions based on anything other than double-blind placebo human studies. [Want to learn more about how to understand medical studies? Here is a great article]
3. Miracle drugs don’t exist, but side effects do.
Every few years a drug comes along that claims to cure what was, at that time, an unresolved medical challenge. Makena was one, for example. It was the first drug to avert preterm birth — until it wasn’t. The company that made it couldn’t come up with any proof that Makena lowered the rate of preterm births even after ten years of giving it to pregnant women. Worse, the side effects of Makena may have harmed either the expectant mother or the child. The FDA took it off the market in mid 2023.
The weight-loss and diabetes management drugs, Wegovy, Ozempic and others have been all over the news. This is a great example of major and small health outlets emphasizing the benefits but downplaying the negatives of a drug. The drugs do cause weight loss, but 20% of the people in the studies dropped out because of the severity of nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Weight returns rapidly if you stop taking it. Read our article and consider carefully if the benefits are worth the risk for you before using it.
4. The writer or influencer has no medical degree and doesn’t consult with health care providers.
Too many health influencers spout whatever they are paid to say. But there are other influencers who are giving out great, balanced, even nuanced health information for free. How do you tell the difference? I search out established websites that are independent of pharma and offer many suggestions. I look for sites that consider western medicine and alternatives like acupuncture, physical therapy, supplements, and more. And I alway make sure that the information is from reliable sources — I consider: are doctors quoted? Are there links to original studies? Do the studies say what the writer claims? Does the website have a medical advisory board?
5. Are you offered drug and health alternatives?
If an article or website suggests there is just one drug to use for a condition or disease, you’re probably reading propaganda. Nearly every disease (except some rare diseases) and condition now has multiple medicines for treatment and — importantly — there are most often alternative options for treatment. Look for suggestions like nutrition, exercise, physical or mental therapy, acupuncture, and more.
What Health Site Can You Trust?
I have shamelessly just described MedShadow and our mission. We are one of the very few health sites that don’t accept pharma support or money. We have worked for nearly a decade to bring you independent health information with alternatives to medications and an emphasis on drug side effects, because you can’t get them in other places. Don’t give up on understanding the health issues that are challenging us today. Your health, and the health of your family, is worth taking the time to seek out medical facts free of pharmaceutical and advertising influence.