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.

x_files

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.