July 15 (UPI) -- In his first advisory on Thursday as U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy cautioned that misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines is a public health threat and called on tech giants like Google to take steps to fight the spread of false data online.
In a 22-page report, "Confronting Health Misinformation," Murthy called the spread of misinformation an "infodemic."
"Misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments," the report states.
Social media culture and the introduction of unvetted publications online have resulted in an increase in the spread of health misinformation, particularly involving the coronavirus pandemic, Murthy's advisory cautions.
The erroneous information, he says, poses serious challenges to ending the health crisis and threatens lives.
"Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic," Murthy said in a statement.
"As Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinformation, American lives are at risk ... tackling this challenge will require an all-of-society approach, but it is critical for the long-term health of our nation."
The report urges relatives and friends of those who spread misinformation to act and provides a guide for educators, journalists and social platforms to stop the dissemination of false information.
"When many of us share misinformation, we don't do it intentionally: We are trying to inform others and don't realize the information is false," the report states.
With the spread of coronavirus variants, like the Delta variant, health officials say it's possible the pandemic could last for years.
To date, there have been more than 30 million coronavirus cases in the United States and more than 600,000 have died from the virus.