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Federal officials blame misinformation and conspiracy theories for the rise in COVID-19 cases

One public health physician with DHEC said SC is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases but a decrease in vaccination rates.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is warning the public about the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, which they say is hurting the effort to end the pandemic. 

As of Tuesday, DHEC said only 43.9% of South Carolinians are fully vaccinated, just a little over 1% more than the 42.6% reported two weeks ago.

"I'd say we're already seeing an increase of cases, and the percent positive across our state has gone up three times now compared to four weeks ago," said Dr. Jonathon Knoche, Public Health Physician for DHEC. "I think that number will continue to increase, particularly among the unvaccinated -- that's where we're seeing these cases come up."

Dr. Knoche is a public health physician who said conspiracy theories and misinformation is steering unvaccinated South Carolinians away from protecting themselves and their loved ones from getting vaccinated. 

"By far, the best protection against COVID-19 or any of the variants is to be vaccinated," Dr. Knoche said. "The vaccine is not 100% foolproof, but by far is the best protection you can have to getting COVID. And even if you do get COVID after being vaccinated, the likelihood is a much milder form and less risk of being hospitalized or passing away. So, we still recommend people who had it to get vaccinated."

A survey by The Economist/YOUGOV, asked 1,500 Americans their thoughts on the vaccine. The results showed 1 in 5 Americans believe the U.S. government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population. In that same study, data showed 17% of surveyed Americans believe the vaccines causes autism. 

Dr. Knoche told News 19, both of those conspiracies are false. He said with false information being spread, the virus and variants will spread faster.

"There's definitely a concern about the cases continuing to increase with the Delta variant becoming the dominant strain— not only here in South Carolina, but also across U.S. and around the world, even with higher vaccination rates that we have here," Dr. Knoche said.

When searching for true information, Dr. Knoche said information found may vary with different health agencies and organizations. He said the information from different groups may align, but could be slightly different based off local demographics. 

"The WHO [World Health Organization] is looking at what's happening globally, and trying to respond to diseases and epidemics on a global level," Dr. Knoche said. "So, obviously what's happening in the U.S. is different from what's happening in other parts of the world. So, the CDC is giving advice for U.S. citizens, South Carolina DHEC is giving advising South Carolinians. But most of the times, the information these organizations are giving align, but they might give new advice on new nuances."