Misinformation about monkeypox reminiscent of early COVID, as healthcare marketers urged to change up tactics

As the World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global health emergency for the second time in two years, this time for the monkeypox virus, U.S. officials are once again battling the misinformation that spreads rapidly across social media during public health emergencies.

Early communication surrounding monkeypox has largely focused on reported cases among the LGBTQ+ communities and featured images of extreme cases of the disease.

But healthcare and pharma marketers still have time to get out in front of the monkeypox messaging and make sure that community influencers are spreading factual knowledge about the virus, according to Brie Ferrigno, president of McCann Global Health, an IPG Health Company.

While healthcare workers and community leaders are feeling pandemic fatigue after more than two years of COVID, now is a critical time for them to push through and disseminate important information, especially to those traditionally underserved communities, says Ferrigno.

Ferrigno’s team at McCann Global Health is currently battling potential stigmas about monkeypox popping up on social media, similar to those that surrounded the gay and bisexual communities during the early rise of the U.S.’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Our guidance has been to really focus on the facts about the virus without creating fear,” Ferrigno told Fierce Pharma Marketing in an interview. “Also, to tell the public that everyone is at risk, while still targeting the message for higher risk populations such in the LGBTQ+ community.”


While COVID set precedents in mass communication of a public health crisis, some of the pandemic’s missteps seem to be surfacing again with the monkeypox virus. For example, there still exists a mistrust of healthcare information and conspiracy theories among many marginalized communities in the U.S., according to Ferrigno.

Plus, the delayed release of the number of confirmed cases—and most likely underreported numbers—diminished the severity of the virus at its outset, similar to COVID-19 in the winter of 2020. In addition, many healthcare establishments did not sufficiently trace monkeypox cases in the initial months. 

Therefore, Ferrigno says the priority now is to equip healthcare providers and clinics with the correct information and resources for contact tracing and, of course, “consistent messaging.”

The progress and perils of social media

Ferrigno warns that the messaging must be examined through an equity lens. For instance, marketers should use culturally appropriate language and images that reflect a diverse population. Also, she recommends tapping into influencers and well-known community advocates, who have stepped into COVID-19 media campaigns as of late. As was first seen during the HIV/AIDS crisis, Ferrigno says these advocates are well established and respected in their communities, so their words have more meaning to those receiving the message.

So how could incorrect messaging and the untraced, rapid spread of a virus happen again, so quickly after the spread of COVID-19?

“What came out of our greatest asset is our greatest flaw,” Ferrigno said of social media. Social media are a great way to spread information, but also myths. She added: “It’s important that we’re using social media responsively and actively responding to myths by putting out credible information.

Plus, there is a general sense of fatigue as everyone is pushed to the brink of their own mental health. Therefore, the public was generally zoning out stories of monkeypox when people unrealistically believe it won’t happen to them. This “not me” mentality is why Ferrigno says marketers must stick to the facts to avoid stigmatizing certain communities and to avoid further spread of the virus.

Ferrigno has seen some positive changes in communication since the start of COVID-19. For instance, the general public is better versed in healthcare terminology—phrase such as isolating, two-dose vaccines, testing and treatment. Therefore, marketers can leverage this knowledge in creating valuable emergency responses, such as assuring the public that there is a vaccine for monkeypox available to everyone.

In fact, as of early July 2022, the U.S. secured additional monkeypox vaccines, bringing its “rapidly available supply” to more than 4 million doses, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Still, the U.S. has a long way to go in unifying and disseminating correct information between healthcare workers and the public.

“The U.S. has a historically underfunded public health system, and I think we’re making changes, but not fast enough. It takes the sound of the alarm to get the public to pay attention,” Ferrigno said.