ST. PAUL — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Thursday, July 22, introduced a bill that would hold digital platforms to account if they allow for the publication or sharing of health-related misinformation.
Klobuchar and Democrats in Congress have pushed social media companies to take down false information related to COVID-19 and vaccines. And they said Thursday that digital platforms shouldn't be shielded from liability when their users post potentially dangerous content dealing with issues of health.
Under the proposed Health Misinformation Act, digital platforms would be liable for their users' content if it conveyed false information related to critical health issues like COVID-19.
“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” Klobuchar said in a news release. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”
The U.S. Surgeon General last week warned that misinformation poses "a serious threat to public health" and said slowing its spread is a "moral and civic imperative." And echoing those concerns, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor state lawmakers on Thursday called on their Republican colleagues to prevent the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine in the face of the growing number of delta variant cases in the state.
The push to encourage vaccination comes as the Minnesota Department of Health reports an uptick in new COVID-19 infections, with most new cases, hospitalizations and deaths occurring in people who were not vaccinated. As of Thursday, 68% of Minnesotans 16 and over had received at least one dose of the vaccination. Vaccination rates around the state varied widely.
And infections among younger Minnesotans made up nearly half of new cases reported. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Four DFL lawmakers on Thursday urged Republican lawmakers to promote the vaccines with their constituents and limit the spread of false information about the immunizations. The calls came after the legislators said they'd heard GOP colleagues share inaccurate information about COVID-19.
"Minnesotans take care of each other and right now when our kids under 12 can't get vaccinated, what that looks like is all of us doing our part to keep each other healthy and safe," Registered Nurse and state Rep. Liz Boldon, D-Rochester, said. "The spread of misinformation is preventing that from happening."
A spokeswoman for Minnesota Senate Republicans on Thursday said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, hadn't promoted misinformation and said GOP senators had generally encouraged people to talk with their doctors about the vaccines and determine what was best for them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that vaccinations are safe and effective in preventing the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and the shots reduce the risk of severe illness and death from the disease. Health officials have also found that immunizations can help prevent people from contracting the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
Dr. Madeleine Gagnon, vice chief of staff at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, said she gets frequent questions about the effectiveness of the vaccines in adults who'd already contracted COVID-19. And she encouraged eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinations and encourage others to do the same.
"The piece of information that I would like to help correct is that there are multiple variants that come from the same viral roots. And the delta variant, for example, is the rising variant currently in Minnesota, which means if you had the alpha variant last fall, you can certainly contract the delta variant now," she said. "The vaccine provokes your antibodies in a way that is more profound or more protective than your previous viral antibodies."