Why we must be pro-vaccination
We are living at a time when misinformation spreads six times faster than the truth online (Vosoughi et al. in Science). The recent riots on the US Capitol are a chilling example of Facebook playing a role in radicalisation — the rioters, members of far Right and white supremacist groups such as Proud Boys and QAnon, found space to foster their extreme views on Facebook, and used the social-media platform to organise the event. But why do conspiracy theories seem to propagate so easily on Facebook?
The simple answer is that Facebook algorithms show us content we like because it is more likely to keep us on the platform for longer. If you are constantly shown content that you like and agree with, there is no space for your views to be challenged. Furthermore, the way in which the algorithm suggests content makes it “easier for views to be reinforced, enhanced — groomed even — towards more radical positions” (Sue Greenwood, The Conversation).
Conspiracy theories are more likely to spread during times of global uncertainty because they give the believer a sense of control in a hostile world (European Commission). This means that the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect environment for misinformation and conspiracy to proliferate. In a recent report by Avaaz, it was found that content from the top ten websites spreading health misinformation had four times as many views on Facebook as the websites of ten leading health institutions, such as the World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This statistic is highly disturbing — and is compounded by the belief that “a single piece of coronavirus misinformation may lead to as many as 800 deaths” (“Covid-19 Infodemic”, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene). What we take in virtually, therefore, has an incredible magnitude of real-world impact.
I was shocked to see a recent Royal Gazette article titled “Bermudian nurse: taking Covid-19 vaccine is worth the risk” — while I understand that the title was taken from a quote, and may have been chosen specifically to soften and win over those that may be sceptical of the vaccine with a view to have them arrive at the conclusion that benefits the whole island — that they would take the vaccine — all I could think while reading it was, there is no risk to weigh.
I was saddened to see Bermudians in the comments section on this and other vaccine articles by The Royal Gazette buying in to anti-vaccine rhetoric surrounding the recently developed Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, of which the island is imminently receiving 9,000 doses. I believe that those who decry the vaccine as unsafe, as not tested properly, as intended to cause death, as a tool for Bill Gates to control society, or any other conspiracy theories, are victims of the rampant misinformation that has become a zeitgeist of our time. It is vitally important that we critically analyse the sources our information is coming from, and believe only those that are credible.
I would like to outline briefly some facts on the Pfeizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine works by giving instructions to the body’s immune system to make proteins that mimic the shape of the coronavirus’ spike protein, triggering an immune response in the body, and thus providing you with immunity from the actual virus. These instructions are injected into the body on mRNA, which is synthetic — not extracted from real viruses — and after the mRNA does its job of bringing in the instructions and immunity, it decays rapidly and does not stay in the body.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is given in two doses, and is 95 per cent effective. It’s true that the vaccine can have some side effects, including tenderness at the injection site, a common side effect with all vaccines, and fatigue and headaches, which are a sign your body is beginning an immune response, and which are also common side effects of the flu vaccine. Furthermore, in no way has the certification of the vaccine been rushed through, and in no way were corners cut in terms of health regulations — the timeline was sped up dramatically because research on vaccines for other coronaviruses had been already taking place, which gave scientists a tremendous advantage. In addition, usually in developing a new vaccine, various trials run one after the other, contingent upon the first’s success — but in this case, the necessary trials ran concurrently and were verified as successful all at once, speeding up the process.
Don’t take my word for it: read up on the vaccine’s development until you feel content with your own knowledge of it, from reputable sources such as the CDC, WHO, New Scientist, the BBC, the National Health Service and Reuters. Never before have we had such access to information — and it is both a blessing and a curse. Although we can become instantly informed on complex issues, the flipside is that as more voices are added to the sea of media available on the internet, it becomes that much more difficult to find the information that is credible.
I urge Bermudians not to fall victim to misinformation about coronavirus and about the coronavirus vaccine, and to hold compassion and love for fellow Bermudians in their hearts as we continue to take safety precautions and make positive choices on the way to making this pandemic a thing of the past.
Editor’s note: Fae Sapsford, a 22-year-old university student, was one of the winners of the 2020 Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest