On Saturday 29th August there was a protest in Trafalgar square which called for an end to mandatory mask use, mandatory vaccinations, and future lockdowns. This mirrored similar protests which have sprung up over the country in places such as Sheffield, Manchester, and Hull, all calling for the same thing. The rise in this rhetoric has been increasingly worrying for scientists and the wider general public; with polling evidence showing that 16% of the UK population would not get a coronavirus vaccine.
‘Anti-vaxxers’ are not a new phenomenon, in 1869 the Anti-vaccination League was formed 73 years after the introduction of the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox had a 30% mortality when it was naturally transmitted and now the disease is one of two fully eradicated through the use of vaccines; with the last person to die from it in 1978. The recent pandemic has shown us what life before vaccines would have been like, with hand-washing and isolation as our only defence.
The increasing prevalence of so-called ‘fake news’ on social media has lead to ‘anti-vaxxers’ gaining a larger voice and greater platform to spread misinformation. Over 7.7 million more social media users now follow such pages when compared to before the pandemic. With ads targeting Bill Gates, 5G and vaccines, claiming they are part of a conspiracy for mind control and world dominance. Facebook and Twitter have increased their fact checking abilities, even targeting the US President Donald Trump with his tweets after claiming the drug Hydroxychloroquine was effective in combatting the virus. It is effective, but in doses lethal to humans.
The WHO has cited ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the top 10 global health threats. This vaccine hesitancy is largely centred around a discredited study by the then Doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998 which linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The study has been fully discredited as the results can’t be reproduced, with 100’s of papers showing no ill side effects of the virus. The study by Wakefield was also funded by ‘anti-vaxxers’ who were in the process of prosecuting vaccination companies. Others have cited religious or philosophical reasons for their hesitancy. In just the last month, polio has all been but eradicated in Africa due to vaccinations from Bill Gates and the WHO.
Since the end of March the increasing use of masks by the public has garnered attention on social media too. This is largely in the form of discrediting their effectiveness with suppressing the virus, with Tory MP Desmond Swayne stating in an interview with Channel 4 “I think it’s awful having to cover your face and go about like Darth Vader.” Many people were quick to jump on his words and rebuke them by stating that without his mask Darth Vader died in Return of the Jedi.
The misinformation of wearing masks can be attributed to the handling of the pandemic from government. In the beginning the public were advised not to wear masks but now are, with many people citing this as an argument. However, in March there was a severe PPE shortage which led to the government requesting the public not to wear one, similarly we were in lockdown which meant that chances of being infected were very low. They remain low but decrease even further by wearing a mask.
Similarly people are citing their right to free will and advocating resistance to government because they feel it does not serve them. In America, this sentiment has been taken too far by some, with shops that mandate mask wearing upon entry their staff have been subjected to threatening behaviour and often death threats. A US store guard was actually shot and killed after an altercation with a customer who refused to wear a mask.
A case study in a Hong Kong hospital has been cited by scientists as promoting the use of face masks, around 70 individuals ended up being in contact with a patient who was later found to have the virus. But because the patient and everyone in the hospital wore a mask, no one else contracted it.
In essence, over the past 4-6 months anti-scientific rhetoric fuelled by conspiracy theories has increased. Even with vast swathes of evidence supporting the so-called ‘normal narrative’ compared to the alternative; this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. In 2017 a study found that 62% of people who performed poorly on understanding autism believed that they knew as much of more about the causes than a doctors or scientist.
The recent exam fiasco shows that we all care about the children in the country, so why can’t we be as sympathetic to those who a relying on mask wearing and vaccinations to function properly?
Featured Image Credit: WUSF News