March 15, 2021

There's a lot of nonsense on the news this morning about how Trump could encourage his supporters to get the covid vaccine, and there are hints that the Biden administration will try to flatter Trump in hopes of getting him to take a public stance on getting the shot.

This will be an utter waste of time, because conspiracy theories live on in nebulous and shifting alternative realities outside of political figures.

Anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories have been around for years, and in 2018, the Russians saw the potential for societal chaos and set their trolls to work. They succeeded! And there are so many people pushing misinformation from so many different directions, it's hard to identify all the vectors.

Take former NYT reporter and Bill Maher fave Alex Berenson, who is considered an "expert" now by people who would ordinarily never credit anything from the New York Times:

Facebook makes a fortune off this trash, although today they announced they would at least label vaccine misinformation. Yay, I guess?

The journal Nature published this last month, "Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA."

Here we show that in both countries—as of September 2020—fewer people would ‘definitely’ take a vaccine than is likely required for herd immunity, and that, relative to factual information, recent misinformation induced a decline in intent of 6.2 percentage points (95th percentile interval 3.9 to 8.5) in the UK and 6.4 percentage points (95th percentile interval 4.0 to 8.8) in the USA among those who stated that they would definitely accept a vaccine. We also find that some sociodemographic groups are differentially impacted by exposure to misinformation. Finally, we show that scientific-sounding misinformation is more strongly associated with declines in vaccination intent.

(Remember "Plandemic," the anti-vaxxer conspiracy "documentary" presented by A Real Doctor? Millions of people saw it before Facebook grudgingly agreed to take it down.)

This kind of misinformation plays on emotions. People who spend a lot of time on social media and Facebook groups will find it injected everywhere, including non-political topics. I have a liberal friend who is constantly sending me wild conspiracy links, asking me if it's true. I've tried to tell her that if these crazy stories were true, they'd be on the front page of the newspaper, not passed around on Facebook, and it calms her down for a while -- until the next conspiracy.

The tagline I hear all the time about the vaccines? "It alters your DNA!" Hon, a lot of things alter your DNA: caffeine, exercise, cell phones, stress, plastics in the food supply -- but this vaccine isn't one of them. (Ever read anything about epigenetics? It's wild!) I do understand the reluctance to put your faith in institutions (I'm a blogger, after all), but I also understand science -- and I generally understand what I don't know.

Many of the vaccine-reluctant people I know are into health food and alternative remedies. They believe there are "natural" solutions to natural problems. I've tried to explain to them that human life on this planet used to be periodically decimated, because that's what happens when nature is left to its own devices.

Anyway, if someone you love is telling you they won't get the vaccine, ask them where they got their information. Try to have a conversation. It may help.

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