The pandemic changed the way we view external threats

We have become nonchalant about viruses for too long.

The war on viruses was declared over in 1969 according to one quote: “it is time to close the book on infectious diseases and declare the war against pestilence won.” We had defeated the invisible killers. Now the focus should be on chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Guess what? Viruses are not some distant threat. They are back with a vengeance.

image: Los Angles Times

The above quote was wrongly attributed to U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart. No one is sure just where the quote came from but as we let our guard down, a seemingly ordinary virus punished the world with the COVID pandemic.

How blithely we forgot the pandemic of 1918 when the microscopic killer circled the entire globe in four months and claimed the lives of more than 21 million people.

For the longest time, we didn’t take viruses (and other pathogens that cause infectious disease outbreaks) all that seriously.

Now a deadly assortment of viruses is raining on our parade of indifference.

For example, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus, rhinoviruses are taking their toll writes medical reporter Andre Picard (Globe and Mail, December 27, 2022)

And while HIV/AIDS has been quietly forgotten, it’s still with us. Polio, which was on the verge of eradication, has popped up in New York. Ebola reared its ugly head anew in Uganda. Monkeypox is spreading in strange new ways. Measles and other vaccine-preventable illnesses are making a comeback.

We may want to forget COIVD-19 but the coronavirus has not forgotten us. We long for “prepandemic” normalcy, but 2022 was actually the deadliest year yet for COVID-19.  In 2022, Canada surpassed 17,000 deaths, more than the 14,642 deaths we recorded in 2020 or the 16,489 in 2021.

We still don’t know if SARSCoV-2 will mutate further. A fifth wave of Omicron is just beginning.

One misconception is that exposure to COVID-19 may actually provide a benefit of immunity. Antivaxxers hope exposure will protect them against further infection.  Now it’s becoming evident that the opposite is true.

COVID-19 infections cause “immune dysregulation” in which the body either underreacts to foreign invaders, causing infections to spread quickly, or it overreacts to foreign invaders.

Even at the best of times, we know that viruses mess with the immune system, making it easier for secondary infections to strike. Pathogens interact with each other in strange ways.

We had become nonchalant about coronaviruses. Ordinarily, they only cause colds. That COVID-19 could kill 6.7 million globally was unexpected.

The pandemic changed the way we interact with the world in ways that only events such as the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon did on September 11, 2001.

The attacks on 9/11 spawned conspiracy theories and denial in a way that the pandemic has.

In addition to strict boarding procedures on planes put in place by 9/11, there is the additional threat of viral invaders while flying.

The pandemic has shifted our view of foreign threats. Before 9/11, attacks on North America were incomprehensible.

With COVID-19, the threat is closer that we imagined.


Welcome to the big tent of conspiracy theories

As all significant political movements do, conspiracy theorists are merging under one big tent.

image: Philadelphia Inquirer

Movements are convenient way of identifying where you fit in on certain issues. If you are a liberal, you can find a set of values consistent with yours. And if you aren’t sure what you should think about a particular issue, just look at what the group’s opinion is. It helps clarify who’s with you and who isn’t.

Big tents are the goal of successful political parties: the more voters you can include, the greater your chances of getting into power. Big tents are appealing to conspiracy theorists because they create communication networks.

For convenience, let’s label the conspiracy theorists movement as “popster” from populism meaning grassroots, and from Apophenia: the condition of seeing or imagining patterns in random occurrences.

Like any big tent movement, the overarching tenets of popsters are few: believe that a handful of sinister individuals control world affairs for their nefarious ends; that the scientific method to be a means of confirming what they know to be true; that freedom means acting contrary to public health such as vaccinations.

While the overthrow of the government often seems to be the goal of popsters, they seldom have a identifiable platform for replacement nor do they run for office.

An exception was the Trump administration which was a disaster. While President Trump echoed the anger and discontent of popsters, he was incoherent. Popsters are against governments of all stripes.

Conservative leader candidate Pierre Poilievre is making a mistake in thinking he can convince popsters to vote Conservative.

He thinks that by supporting “freedom convoys,” normalizing cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, and wild talk about firing Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, that he will win support.

What Poilievre fails to realize is that popsters have a deep seated suspicion of political leaders because governments are just puppets of those really in control; one of those being Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

At a lunchtime rally for Poilievre in Ontario, a woman wanted know how Poilievre could be trusted when a “member” of the WEF was in his party.

She was referring to John Baird, the former foreign affairs minister under Stephen Harper. As foreign minister, he went four times. “I haven’t had any contact with them since 2015,” said Baird.

The same woman believes that Schwab, who founded the World Economic Forum more than 50 years ago, along with billionaires Bill Gates and George Soros are trying to take over the world.

Another attendee at the Poilievre rally believed that COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental drugs.”

Some popsters believe the WEF either created the pandemic or is using it to control people, through microchips in vaccines or stealth socialism.

Popsters have latched onto language used by the WEF – the “Great Reset.” The WEF used the phrase to mean a more greener and equitable post-pandemic world. Now popsters see the Great Reset as a sinister plot for global control.

Sensible Conservatives will realize that popsters will not support conservatives and if they do, it will attempt to undermine the Conservatives party.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo is backing Jean Charest as leader of the Conservatives party.

Stop the misinformation about the COIVID-19 vaccine now

In an information vacuum, all kinds of thoughts flourish.

image: WION

Canadians generally favour vaccines but doubts persist. In a recent survey, 15 per cent of Canadians and 20 per cent of Americans said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available.

Why would you not get vaccinated against a deadly disease? Let’s count the reasons.

Some of it is simply “needle fear.” A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 16 per cent of adult patients avoided the flu shot because of needle fear (Globe and Mail, May 22, 2020).

Then there is the fear from rushing to produce the vaccine. Political pressure is being put on researchers in the U.S. and China to come up with the first COVID-19 vaccine. Will such a vaccine be thoroughly tested for efficacy and long-term side effects?

There is the politics of choice: “Why should I be forced to get a vaccination if I don’t want to?” Well, public health is not a personal choice. In a universal health care system like we have in Canada, we all pay for the careless choices of individuals.

The psychology of “fear transfer” is a factor. Once we have exhausted our fears about the actual virus, fear of the vaccine becomes the greater threat.

In the U.S., presidential election politics are at play. President Trump has whipped up anti-lockdown sentiments in states that are reluctant to open the economy too quickly which would result in more COVID-19 deaths. Anti-lockdown protestors have also been pushing the anti-vaxx message.

Some Canadians are reluctant to have vaccinations too but they are not necessarily anti-vaxxers. They just want more valid information. In the absence of valid information from reliable sources, parents will turn to dubious sources such as those found on Facebook.

Anti-vaxxers tend to be concentrated in private or religious schools, or in home-schooling, and they live in a rural area or a community with a small to medium-sized population.

Another source of reluctance is irrational reasoning. “Why should I get a vaccination for a disease that doesn’t exist?” Of course, the disease, such as measles, has been suppressed because of vaccinations. Without vaccinations, they come back.

More wishful thinking is that: “if enough people are exposed to the COVID-19 virus, they will develop herd immunity and vaccinations won’t be required.” The problem is that we don’t know whether exposure to the virus develops resistance or for how long.

A federal agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has recently funded research into the psychological factors of the pandemic. Researchers will monitor social media for concerns and for conspiracy theories being raised about the pandemic, including those about a future vaccine.

The researchers, Eve Dubé, of Laval University and Steven Taylor of The University of British Columbia argue that rational, science-based messaging about the vaccine needs to begin early, especially at a time when the public is saturated with health information about the pandemic.

“It is important to be pro-active, instead of leaving an empty space for vaccine critics to fill the information void,” said Eve Dubé, “Once the trust in vaccination is weakened, we are vulnerable to crisis.”

Reliable messaging about the COVID-19 vaccine has to start now.

Natural health-product regulations will bolster confidence 


    "Caveat emptor (buyer beware)" -old Roman saying.

On January 1, 2004, new federal regulations came into effect for the manufacture and sale of natural health products.

This is welcome news for consumers of herbal remedies and natural products who want clear labeling and evidence that the products work.  Consumers want to know exactly what they are getting and how effective is it.   Without regulations,  it’s a free-for-all.  Up until now, you could never be sure that a product was even safe, except after other users got sick.

Take Kava, for example. It’s supposed to cure insomnia and anxiety.   But after users world-wide developed serious liver problems, Health Canada warned against its use.  “No products containing Kava are considered to be safe at this time,” said Micheline Ho of Health Canada.

That didn’t stop some stores in Canada from continuing to sell Kava after the warning.  In an unregulated free-market economy, the motto is “sellers do as they please and buyers beware.”  Consumers should reasonably expect that they won’t be guinea pigs with some untested product.

Without government regulations, there is no limit to the exaggeration of the product’s claims of effectiveness.   Slick advertising and testimonials have been used instead of scientific clinical trials.  These users of natural food products advertise how wonderful they feel and how great the products are.  This is not a scientific test -such testimonials are the equivalent of rumour and gossip.

New regulations require that health claims are supported by clinical trials.  They will assure that consumers get what is on the label.  Once assessed by Health Canada, the product label will bear an 8 digit product license number, preceded by the letters “NPN”.

The gold standard for clinical testing is the control group, double blind, random test.   That’s where the drug is given to people in one group and a dummy drug is given to those in another.  Subjects in both the experimental group and the control groups are selected to be similar in all relevant ways and those giving the drug don’t know who is in which group.  And neither the test subjects nor those who evaluate the efficacy of the treatment knows who receives the actual drug.  To top it off, the selection of who will receive the drug is random.

This test takes the human factor out of the equation.  For example, if evaluators find that all subjects in both groups improve then it’s simply a result of the placebo effect. In other words, subjects improve because they think they will.  It doesn’t matter whether they get the “real thing” or not.

The new regulations are generally supported by manufacturers and retailers because the regulations will increase consumer confidence.  It’s going to be expensive to scientifically test products.  Jim Strauss, of Strauss Herb Company of Kamloops, is not concerned about the new regulations.  He told CFJC television that “similar regulations in Australia affected only operations with sales of less than $5 million (January 9, 2004).”

Once Strauss’s products are labeled correctly and proven effective, markets will open that were previously closed.  As it now is, some of his products are banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Up until now, herbal remedies have benefited from a suspicion that natural treatments have been suppressed by big global pharmaceutical corporations.  Although that’s often a valid suspicion, the conclusion sometimes leads to conspiracy theories in which “they” are out to get “us.”

Such conspiracy theories lead to black and white conclusions in a world that is shades of grey.   Natural health products are a big business, just like big corporations.  And big global pharmaceuticals develop useful drugs – – often over-priced but useful.

Conspiracy theories assume that people are powerless victims – – up against powerful dark forces.  Instead of thinking that the world is conspiring against us, consumers should actively investigate products and become familiar with methods of valid testing.  Consumers are not always delusional – – often someone is really out to get them and deceive them.  But those deceivers are not always who you think.  Consumers need to become proactive and question slick ads, personality-driven marketing, and testimonials.  Look for the results of the clinical test and the Health Canada label.

Governments can only do so much in protecting us.  Promoters of natural health products, like stock promoters, have an obvious self-interest. There is no replacement for healthy skepticism and personal research.

Suspicions of government, conspiracy beliefs have firm root

They came to Kamloops like some strange characters from an  episode of X-Files.  There was Eldon Warman, who considers himself a foreign citizen of Anglo Saxon common law under the Magna Carta.  As an alien (who lives in Alberta), he feels that the Canadian judicial system doesn’t apply to him.  Then there were his cast of supporters from the Patriots on Guard, a group with ties to other anti-government groups.


His supporters said that it wasn’t them who phoned in the bomb threat that emptied the courthouse while Warman’s assault trial was taking place. A Patriot on Guard, who only wanted to be identified as Ron, said that the bomb threat probably came from the R.C.M.P. who wanted to portray them  as radicals.  I don’t think it requires a conspiracy by the R.C.M.P. to do that.

Warman and the Patriots on Guard do a good job of making themselves seem radical, yet their message is surprisingly familiar.  Warman’s account of what happened is on the group’s web site. In it, he says that the B.C. government is running an Al Capone protection racket.  Highwaymen (peace officers) lay in wait for unsuspecting foreigners, like him, with his busload of 25 Taiwanese tourists.

“The [Kamloops] judge, a pleasant man, or a smooth con artist (yet to be decided), vehemently denied that the court  was in admiralty jurisdiction”, Warman continues, … “We  MUST move rapidly to curtail this encroachment by government  upon the Common Law RIGHTS of the Canadian People. I would hope this can be accomplished by peaceable and sane methods,  and before mob retribution extracts a blood bath of  revenge  upon those responsible for this wholesale theft of our basic  and inalienable rights – RIGHTS which have been won for us  by the sacrificial blood of our ancestors.”

The reason all this seems familiar is because we have heard it all before through popular media and entertainment.   Movies and television (mostly American) regularly portray conspiring governments with groups of citizens preparing to  defend themselves.  The F.B.I. connives to hide alien invasions and officials in high office participate in assassinations and evil machinations.

Suspicion of government and beliefs in conspiracies have their roots in the American psyche, according to Professor Robert Goldberg.  In his recent comments on CBC radio, he outlined how the seeds of suspicion in government were  planted by the John Birch Society in the 1960s.  Since then, those seeds have taken root in North American culture.   The result has been the growth of patriotism, individualism,  quasi-religion, and armed citizenry.  These organizations  have been eating away at public confidence in government.

The members of the John Birch Society were not just some  mind addled  group from the fringe, but well educated  members of the upper and middle class who were convinced  that the Illuminati were conspiring to take over the world.   The Illuminati were founded in Germany, in 1776,  by  professor Adam Weishaupt.  They have long since been officially disbanded but their legendary power lives on.

Professor Goldberg, from the University of Utah, has traced the route of ideas of the John Birch Society into modern culture.  Ideas that were once considered fanatical and right-wing now seem familiar.  He told me that it is not  the conspiracy core —  those who live in their own  world,  a closed circle of confirming argument and  information — that he is worried about.

Rather, Goldberg’s concern is with mainstream institutions, such as movies and TV, who have popularized conspiracy theories.  In doing so, they have promoted the decline of confidence in government.  These are the calculated and systematic efforts of talented people.  They cannot simply be dismissed as paranoid, weird, or sick.

Democracy is under attack from within and from the outside.   The World Trade Organization wants to replace government.   Big business wants to reduce government regulations that  protect the environment and food supply.  Government is the  democratic expression of our collective will.  It may not be perfect but it beats the alternative — rule by greed and  fear.

“Democracy is the worst form of government,” said Winston  Churchill, “just better than all the others.”  I agree with Warman that ordinary citizens are threatened, but from a  government weakened by trade agreements and from lack of  democratic participation, not from a government that is too  strong.