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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Take care, for anti-coronavirus fake news is all over the place!

The coronavirus vaccines protect one coronavirus infections The coronavirus vaccines protect one coronavirus infections

COVID-19 is one of the worst diseases the world has ever seen. For not only has it caused much physical and psychological pain to humans but it has also wrecked the economies of nations that are relatively wealthy. What, then, the economies of the poor countries?

Perhaps the greatest damage it has done is to human relationships. If, at its onset, it had been foretold that physical contact with other human beings would be reduced to a minimum by fear of COVID, few people would have believed it.

But it has happened. People in care homes; hospitals; workplaces and even friends' and neighbours' homes just a short distance away, have found themselves being avoided by their own kith and kin, as well as friends and work-mates.

So, in the final analysis, the pandemic may kill many people with loneliness and depression, caused by an unfounded belief that they are somehow responsible for the lack of “attraction” that had led to their social isolation. We shall, in reality, never be the same again after the psychological scars that Covid may have inflicted on us.

It is distressing to learn that in addition to these horrendous realities we face from Covid, certain individuals in wealthy countries are trying to make money by selling “snake oil” as a cure to Covid. More dangerous is the fact that in order to sell their fake “cures”, they have deliberately been trying to undermine the immensely skilful scientific advances that have been made towards building up immunity in humans against the disease -- by means of vaccination.

Vaccination is, of course, “counter-intuitive” at the best of times. The human mind is, for its own protection, hard-wired to resist attempts to introduce foreign elements into the body that harbours it. (Indeed, in Ghana, some of us, when we were children, used to run away from school whenever we heard that people were coming to “tete” us (prick us with sharp instruments and inject something into our bodies!) Unfortunately for us, the inoculation officials seemed to be wise to this, for they invariably took us by surprise. And almost always caught us!

Our fear of inoculation was made worse by the fact that some of the people who carried out the vaccination, sometimes paid too little attention to hygiene. The result was that they ended up causing our arm to develop a painful sore! I personally bear scars from vaccination and I know many others who bear similar scars. In fact, we somehow got to accept the idea that such scars constituted some sort of “vaccination certificate!” Some even prided themselves with -- exhibiting them!

Who, I wonder, trained those health workers? They seemed to be completely unaware of the psychological aspects of their job! I remember that when I was about to travel out of Ghana for the first time and needed a health certificate, one moron in charge of giving jabs at the Vaccination Department of the Ministry of Health, annoyed me greatly by remarking that he found it difficult to jab me because the skin on my arm was – I remember his uncouth words to this day – “too flabby!”.

Covid-19, I am sorry to say, has rightly frightened people and many are afraid to go near loved ones, not just because they fear they might get infected with Covid-19 from them, but because, they might pass on Covid to the loved ones.

How can one be absolutely certain that one's vaccination (if one has had both jabs) has endowed one with a full, one hundred percent, immunity that prevents one from contracting and/or passing on the disease? Aren't people in the UK (for instance) being “pinged” by specially-equipped telephones to self-isolate, despite having received both jabs? Are mistakes not common in health prevention matters?

In the midst of all these genuine uncertainties, The New York Times reports that someone is making money in America online, peddling untruths about vaccines, while, at the same time, he's offering – as a substitute for vaccines – what he calls “natural cures” for Covid that have not been tested and accorded official approval.

According to the paper, the individual concerned had published an article that began with a seemingly innocuous question about the “legal definition of vaccines.” But he then devoted over 3,000 words into denouncing coronavirus vaccines in general as “a medical fraud!”

He claimed that anti-Covid injections do not prevent infections, provide immunity, or stop transmission of the disease. Instead, (according to him) the shots rather “alter” people's "genetic coding”, turning their bodies into “a viral protein factory that has no off-switch” (!)

The article was translated from English into Spanish and Polish. It appeared on dozens of blogs and was picked up by anti-vaccination activists, who repeated the false claims online. It also made its way onto Facebook.

The person responsible for this amazing example of misinformation was, reports The New York Times, a Joseph Mercola. He is 67, and operates as an osteopathic physician in Cape Coral, Florida. The paper describes him as someone who has “long been a subject of criticism and government regulatory actions for his promotion of unproven or unapproved treatments. But most recently, he has become the chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, according to researchers.”

An “internet-savvy entrepreneur”, (as The Times described him) he employs dozens of people and has “published more than 600 articles on Facebook that cast doubt on COVID-19 vaccines since the pandemic began, reaching a far larger audience than other vaccine sceptics”.

Such activities have earned Mercola (“a natural health proponent with an Everyman demeanour”) the dubious distinction of occupying the top spot in the “Disinformation Dozen,” a list of 12 people responsible for sharing 65% of all anti-vaccine messaging on social media.

“Mercola is the pioneer of the anti-vaccine movement,” said a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. “He’s a master of capitalizing on periods of uncertainty, like the pandemic, to grow his movement.”

Mercola and others in the “Disinformation Dozen” are in the spotlight as vaccinations in the United States have slowed down and the highly infectious “delta variant” of Covid has fuelled a resurgence in cases.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 97% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.” President Joe Biden has blamed “online falsehoods” for causing people to refrain from getting the injections. He has also urged social media companies to “do something about the misinformation.”

The New York Times reveals further that “Over the last decade, Mercola has built a vast operation to push natural health cures, disseminate anti-vaccination content and profit from all of it.... In 2017, he filed an affidavit claiming his net worth was “in excess of $100 million.”

Rather than directly stating online that vaccines do not work, Mercola’s posts often ask pointed questions about their safety and discuss studies that other doctors have refuted.

“He has been given new life by social media, which he exploits skilfully and ruthlessly to bring people into his thrall,” said Imran Ahmed, director of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which studies misinformation and hate speech. Its “Disinformation Dozen” report has been cited in congressional hearings and by the White House.

Meanwhile, a conservative radio host in Tennessee who was openly sceptical about COVID-19 vaccines, has been hospitalized by the disease and is in critical care. He is named as Phil Valentine, who hosts a show on Nashville, Tennessee’s WWTN-FM. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus and is now “in very serious condition,” his family said in a statement.

The family added: “Phil would like his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxer’, he 'regrets not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine,’ and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air... AND PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!” the statement added (!).