As a former journalist, it is beyond frustrating and, quite frankly, baffling how the fake news wildfire rages from pizza shop conspiracies to unfounded claims of election fraud with no end in sight. This disinformation juggernaut is alarming and dangerous, and I knew it was only a matter of time before these conspiracy theories and outright lies started seeping into the COVID-19 vaccine conversation.
As the pandemic continues to ravage the US and the world, news of approved vaccines was downright thrilling for many of us. It was also not a surprise to see the anti-vaxxer movement here in the US and abroad quickly apply their conspiracy theories and falsehoods across the internet, taking over discussion boards, social media, blogs, and more.
Helping fan these flames was the power and platform the Trump administration gave to the anti-science movement. Recently, Forbes Magazine Editor Randall Lane issued a warning to companies: If you hire any of Trump’s former press secretaries, who are all infamous for lying through their teeth, the magazine will assume everything published will not be founded in truth.
Believe and Trust in Science
Many of us who believe and trust in science quickly found ourselves running defense rather than leading the charge around vaccine education.
This all sounds awful, and to be honest, it is, but there’s hope. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s meteoric rise has shown us an effective model for how we can elevate scientists, especially women, to communicate beyond their peers and to the general public.
First and foremost, people must believe in the integrity of the source.
With all of the fake news we are being force-fed, a reset is tantamount. Our society, including the naysayers, must believe in reliable sources, such as science, in order for us to effectively move forward as a collective.
How do we do this? Put a face to the science, just like how many in the public think of Dr. Fauci when they connect a scientist to COVID-19. (I mean, Brad Pitt played him in an Emmy nominated SNL skit. You don’t get any more mainstream than that.)
Adding a human element to the science will help those on the fence better relate and understand why, in the instance of the coronavirus, for example, vaccines are important. We need to have scientists become a beacon amidst the fog of lies we find ourselves up against.
I would love to hear more from the brilliant, young scientists that have been credited with making huge impacts in creating the COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the National Institutes of Health lead scientist for the coronavirus vaccine, and Dr. Hamilton Bennett, who led Moderna’s effort to create the coronavirus vaccine.
Many people are leery of the speed at which the US Food and Drug Administration authorized both Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccines. We have a population that is still unsure that they should be vaccinated. This concern will stall any hope of getting out of this pandemic.
Herd immunity, or population immunity, happens when a substantial proportion of the population is vaccinated. According to the Mayo Clinic, 70 percent of the population needs to either contract COVID-19 or be vaccinated; meaning 200 million people would have to recover or be vaccinated. We need the public to feel confident in getting the vaccines to achieve this.
Another hurdle to overcome focuses on those who have conveyed their apprehension about being the so-called “guinea pigs.” Many feel these vaccines have been rushed, but what we need to articulate better is many pharmaceutical companies have been working and studying coronaviruses for decades in their labs.
Investing in Scientists
To offset the false narratives around science and discovery, we need to adequately invest in scientists who are looking for the solutions and who can communicate their work (and train and support researchers who need practice in this space). This includes developing more effective ways to communicate within the public square.
With this battle of science versus pseudoscience, we as science communicators have a responsibility to do better communicate to the public and help those who need to be heard.
Vaccinations are already underway and the availability will expand as we head into the summer and beyond. Needless to say, we are on borrowed time.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.