Anti-vax disinformation and UK government hesitancy could see many more coronavirus deaths
Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases are soaring across parts of Europe, with Austria now in lockdown and a warning Germany could follow.
In contrast, the UK government has held back on imposing more restrictions, despite coronavirus cases still remaining high. Its de facto approach appears to be that of ‘herd immunity’, relying on further uptake of the first, second and booster vaccine doses.
The dirty dozen
Meanwhile continuing coronavirus misinformation or disinformation is likely contributing to vaccine hesitancy. Indeed, earlier this year it was claimed that “up to 65%” of false coronavirus information, published via social media, is attributable to just 12 individuals.
Huffington Post described the 12 as “disinformation peddlers”, who are:
anti-vaccine advocates, alternative health entrepreneurs and physicians, some of whom run multiple accounts across the platforms and profit by selling supplements and books.
Case study 1: Joseph Mercola
One of the “peddlers” identified is Joseph Mercola, who sells diet supplements via his wife’s website. Mercola also runs the so-called National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) together with Barbara Loe Fisher.
Mercola claimed that hydrogen peroxide can treat “most viral respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus”.
According to an article in the blog Science Based Medicine, Mercola is:
a physician whose nearly quarter-century of promoting quackery and antivaccine misinformation has garnered him a net worth north of $100 million. It is therefore not surprising that in the age of the pandemic, he has pivoted to fatten his bottom line promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the COVID vaccines.
The article adds that Mercola: “promoted the false idea that these [coronavirus] vaccines can “permanently alter your DNA“ and that they… were “experimental gene therapy”. In July, the Guardian reported that Mercola remains on Facebook.
Case study 2: Ivermectin
Covid Legal USA (CLU), which describes itself as a “a paralegal, legal writing and technology firm”, promotes Ivermectin as a cure-all for coronavirus, saying there are currently:
at least 126 studies, with 82 being peer-reviewed (as of October 28, 2021), showing that Ivermectin is highly effective in treating COVID-19 in early stages, late stages, and as prophylaxis (preventative measure).
In support of its claim, CLU provides an extensive list of clinical studies, as well as a meta-analysis of 66 of those studies which references 203 papers. However, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) did not recommend its use; nor did the World Health Organization (WHO), apart from in clinical trials.
Despite FDA and WHO criticisms, the meta-analysis concludes that Ivermectin is an effective treatment for Covid-19. It adds:
While many treatments have some level of efficacy, they do not replace vaccines and other measures to avoid infection
Nevertheless, CLU makes it clear that it supports vaccine hesitancy and skepticism.
And one meta-analysis said something very different, concluding that Ivermectin “is not a viable option to treat patients with COVID-19”. It said:
Compared with the standard of care or placebo, IVM [Ivermectin] did not reduce all-cause mortality, LOS [length of hospital stay], or viral clearance in RCT [randomised controlled trials] in patients with mostly mild COVID-19.
And a September systematic review and meta-analysis stated that Ivermectin was “not efficacious at managing COVID-19”, but advised further clinical trials.
Coronavirus cases soaring
Coronavirus cases across Europe are soaring, with lockdown imposed in Austria and possibly Germany too. As for the UK, cases have risen to 9,766,153 and there have been 143,716 deaths.
The UK now has the fourth highest number of cases in the world. University of Warwick virologist and professor of molecular oncology Lawrence Young commented:
Less mask wearing, more mixing indoors due to colder weather and waning immunity are also contributing to the high case levels across Europe.
Gains and losses
As previously reported by The Canary, Independent SAGE issued a 9-point plan in September to deal with the pandemic over the winter. Doctors also called for a Plan B to be implemented in England, which would see mandatory face masks in certain settings, vaccine passports, and more working from home.
Meanwhile, further mass vaccination will help reduce the number of cases and hospitalisation.
However, hesitancy appears to be a hallmark of Boris Johnson’s government, as October’s damning report on its handling of the pandemic showed. That, together with ongoing disinformation, especially by anti-vaxxers, will likely negate any gains in beating the pandemic.
Featured image via Wikimedia/U.S. Secretary of Defense
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