Who is to blame for the pandemic that will never end?

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Photo by Ian on Unsplash

Just yesterday, a group of anti-vaccination protesters have disrupted the operations of a mass vaccination site in California. Are their concerns valid, should the vaccinations be put on hold?

Governments around the world have failed to adequately respond to the pandemic, which has already caused over 2 million deaths worldwide. Think about this number for a second, 2 million… It is close to the population of big cities like Toronto, Chicago, and Paris. An entire city wiped out because of an inadequate response.

How did we get here? What biggest mistakes were made? Will the vaccine stop the pandemic, and how safe it really is? Let’s find out.

Sir, it goes over your nose

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Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Very early in the pandemic a very effective weapon against the disease was discovered — the face mask. We’ve had a very effective way to slow down (if not stop completely) the pandemic, from the very beginning. Evidence supporting the effectiveness of masks have been available from the early days of the pandemic.

What has caused the pandemic to become as bad as it is, overwhelming the healthcare systems worldwide, while causing over 2 million deaths?

Wearing a mask was supposed to be one of the most effective ways to tame the pandemic. However it was inconvenient, and we started justifying why it shouldn’t be worn. People started coming up with all sorts of theories to avoid wearing the mask. Many claimed that it wasn’t effective, regardless of research clearly showing that wearing the mask (especially by the infected person) was one of the most effective ways of preventing transmission.

Anti-maskers have even come up with ridiculous statements that pneumonia wasn’t caused by Covid. Instead, as they said, it was caused “by the bacteria already present on the mask”.

Where masks were mandatory, people started wearing them improperly (mainly not covering their nose). Where I live, more than 90% of people are wearing the mask improperly, effectively making it completely useless.

Many believe that a face mask won’t protect from COVID. Unfortunately that’s not how this works. Researchers in a simulation predicted that 80% of people wearing face masks would be more effective in stopping the spread of COVID, than a strict lockdown. Regular non-N95 masks are up to 80% effective in preventing the spread of the virus. This means, that if both the infected, and a non-infected person wear a mask, the risk of transmission is reduced to a mere 4%. Meaning that two people wearing masks are 96% effective in preventing virus transmission.

To put the above numbers in simpler words, wearing masks only works if we can get everyone to wear them.

The anti-maskers is one of the biggest reasons that the pandemic is as bad as it is. Governments worldwide have failed to enforce proper mask laws.

The anti-maskers are an insult to all of the healthcare workers, who’s been risking their lives, often working round the clock to take care of the sick.

Seeing the top government officials refusing to wear face masks in public, and outright rejecting their efficacy is saddening.

Poison in the vaccine

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Photo by Mikael Seegen on Unsplash

A lot of people feel that the vaccine was rushed, that it isn’t safe. I’ve heard some really wild conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

Some say, that the governments along with Bill Gates (poor Bill) are injecting us with microchips to have total control over our lives (no, they don’t really need to, your phone has been acting as that microchip for over two decades).

Others say that the whole Covid thing is some grand-scheme by big pharma to increase profits. Again, this doesn’t make much sense, the total financial losses are 1000s of times higher than any potential profits from vaccinations.

Surprisingly, too many people think that Covid isn’t dangerous, while the vaccine itself is dangerous. And they also think that vaccine experts cannot be trusted.

If you believe in some of such theories, I don’t blame you. In my 20s, I myself used to be an avid conspiracy-theory believer.

But… One doesn’t have to be a vaccine expert to make reasonable conclusions.

Although the Covid vaccine is new, the vaccine technology it is based on has been thoroughly researched in the past few decades.

Vaccines undergo rigorous trials before being allowed to be used for the general public. For example, during the trial of the Pfizer vaccine no serious adverse reactions have been identified.

Tens of million of people have already been vaccinated, and we haven’t seen any significant large-scale side-effects.

Yes, no drug is completely safe. Antibiotics may sometimes cause kidney/liver failure. The rate of side effects from vaccines is on par with other commonly used drugs, if not lower. We don’t really have people protesting the use of antibiotics, even when people have died after taking them. It simply doesn’t make sense, antibiotics save far more lives than kill. Vaccines aren’t any different.

My gut (and common sense) is telling me that there’s no danger whatsoever in the vaccine itself.

Yet there’s danger, really big danger.

The greatest danger

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Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

According to a recent pool, 37% of people in the US are unwilling to take the Covid vaccine. Which is not good, 67% of people vaccinated is far from being enough to form herd immunity. It is likely, that 90% of the population of the planet has to be vaccinated, which seems to be extremely unlikely given the rise of the anti-vaccination myths.

Truth be told, I used to be an anti-vaxxer myself. I got the usual childhood vaccinations. And then as my mother told me, “my immune system got compromised; I would get cold after cold”. I’ve carried that assumption into my adulthood, that vaccines aren’t good for me, and must be evil. The readily available “vaccine risk” documentaries also did a lot of damage.

Only after my second daughter was born, I’ve started investigating the question of vaccination once again. Being an engineer, and a critical thinker, I’ve quickly started realizing that the entire anti-vaccination movement is based an a bunch of unverified lies. Once again, vaccines aren’t completely safe, no drug is completely safe. Yet their risks are blown out of proportion by the anti-vaxxers.

In the UK alone, more than 5 million anti-vaxxers spread distrust about the Covid vaccine. They say, that Covid isn’t dangerous, vaccines are dangerous, and the experts cannot be trusted. Such claims have no facts to support them.

Amateur nuclear scientists

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Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Are there amateur nuclear scientists? What about amateur nuclear power plant engineers? I doubt it, giving amateurs access to nuclear power would be reckless. People who are not experts in physics rarely have comments about the proper way of building a nuclear power plant. Yes almost everyone has an opinion about a topic as complex as public health, vaccination in particular.

Diseases that got completely eradicated a couple decades ago has already started coming back. We’re seeing measles outbreaks more and more often. It’s very unfortunate that we let amateurs control our public health. Especially, in the face of a deadly pandemic,

People, psychologically are extremely gullible. Unless one has been deliberately developing critical thinking, it is very likely that one will fall prey to various conspiracy theories, especially the anti-vax movement. They prey on the gullible people lacking critical thinking.

Once “converted” to be an anti-vaxxer, it is really hard for a person to become reasonable again. The topic of vaccination typically is one of the core beliefs of a person. And because of disconfirmation bias, information that we don’t want to hear, we try really hard to reject.

Anti-vaxxers are an insult to me, to you, an insult to our entire society. They say that the lives of your parents and grandparents (who are at a very high risk of dying from Covid) are not important. They say that the lives of cancer patients, the people with transplanted organs, and the immune-compromised are not important. It doesn’t get more egoistic than that.

The anti-vax movement probably is one of the biggest problems of the public health worldwide (along with rising rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Anti-vax movement seems to be growing very fast, and it is likely that a large proportion of population is going to be unvaccinated in the coming decades.

What needs to happen?

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Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

We really need government intervention. We need censorship along with mandatory vaccination.

Ok, hear me out.

Freedom of speech is important. Having lived in Russia (where all of the media is government-controlled), I really appreciate the freedom of speech that the western countries enjoy.

However, when the public health is concerned, it is the foremost duty of our governments to interfere. I believe this is one of the few cases, where people should not have the right to free speech.

Instagram, for example, is full of people spreading misinformation about Covid, doubting the need of face masks, and the spreading lies about vaccination.

Social media has a huge impact on our public health. Health-related misinformation was viewed 3.8 billion times on Facebook between June 2019 and May 2020. It shouldn’t be hard to understand the scope of the problem, and the damage that social media causes to the public health.

Mark Zuckerberg has been reluctant about removing anti-vax posts from Facebook. Due to government pressure, they have recently banned anti-vax ads (while still keeping the anti-vax posts). However, this simply isn’t enough, a lot of damage has already been done.

I can understand the position of social networks — it provides a huge amount of views, which results in big ad revenue. Yet is very unfortunate that the social networks mostly care about their profits, and don’t really care about public health.

Very little is being done by our governments to educate people about the dangers of anti-vaccination, especially in the face of pandemic. And unless our governments do something about the anti-vax movement, the public health is going to enter a terrible crisis.

Conclusion

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Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

— Albert Einstein

Would you like to stop wearing the face mask, once again be able to have a walk in a park, and go to a movie? Would you like the life to get back to normal? I certainly would love to.

The biggest problem with the Covid vaccine is not that it is unsafe. Just like any other vaccine, it is extremely safe. The biggest problem with the pandemic is people being unreasonable and selfish. First the anti-maskers caused the pandemic to become as bad as it is today, causing millions of deaths. Next, the anti-vaxxers started spreading misinformation about the vaccine, making many people hesitant about vaccination.

There’s actually another name for the anti-vaccination phenomena — it is called science denial. Being against vaccination is no different, than believing that the earth is flat.

We live in a remarkable era, when people are willing to trust the opinions of random (uneducated) people on the internet. While at the same time ignoring science and research.

Thousands of scientists, men and women have risked their lives, working tirelessly for the past year to give us the vaccine. Now, it totally depends upon us, whether or not the pandemic will end. Will enough people get vaccinated for the herd immunity to kick in? Or will we let false science, misinformation and dangerous myths prevail?

Don’t let them steal the pandemic cure from us. Vaccinate, and try to convince those who are still hesitant.

Covid became a pandemic, not because of the virus. It became a pandemic because of our own stupidity. Whether or not the pandemic will end, fully depends on our willingness to vaccinate.

According to Bill Gates, when (and not if) a more deadly virus strikes, humanity will likely not be ready for it. And the consequences will be even more dire.

Senior full-stack engineer. Elixir/ReasonML/React.

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