YOU’VE probably heard some of the wackier assertions about the various COVID-19 vaccines currently being rolled out around the world, from the claim they include aborted human fetuses to the one that says they will change your DNA.
The competition is stiff, but my favourite remains the persistent allegation Bill Gates is inserting microchips into the vaccines to track the movements of recipients.
The funniest thing about this is that the conspiracy theorists share this stuff on social media, platforms that *ahem* are actually tracking just about every aspect of their users’ lives with their consent (informed or otherwise).
An image purporting to show the inner workings of the 5G chip inserted into COVID vaccines went viral on social media over the New Year period.
What it actually showed though, as Rolling Stone reported, was the electrical circuit of a guitar pedal.
The image was apparently posted by Seattle-based biohacking firm, Dangerous Things, in late December as a joke.
Despite some pretty obvious hints the post was intended to be satirical – the developers left labels such as “bass”, “treble” and “footswitch” on the diagram – anti-vaccine conspiracists enthusiastically circulated it as evidence of a sinister plot to control all of our lives.
When Italian software developer Mario Fusco recognised the diagram for what it was, Twitter had a field day at the anti-vaxxers’ expense.
Forget being tracked: one wit suggested vaccination might instead give billions of people a new-found tendency to play guitar. Now that really is terrifying.
I doubt I need to tell anybody reading this that claims about microchips in vaccines are nonsense.
If you want to read further, though, this fact check article from Reuters breaks down some of the manipulation used to convince people otherwise, including deliberately deceptive editing of a Bill Gates video.
Some of the conspiracy theories sound like an episode of 90s’ TV classic The X-Files with its exploration of deep government conspiracies and famous tagline “Trust No One”.
In fact, cultural critic Aimee Knight suggests in an article for Kill Your Darlings the cult show may have helped prepare the ground for some of the loonier anti-science scaremongering that is so pervasive online.
Mind you, Knight also suggests the clear-sighted scientific approach of the show’s Dana Scully, FBI agent and medical doctor, might have “inoculated” other viewers against pseudoscience.
Will the ridiculous claims of the anti-vax lobby undermine the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines? Maybe not.
For the first time in generations, humanity has faced the worldwide spread of a potentially fatal illness with unknown long-term effects that can be transmitted between people simply by sharing a room.
COVID-19 has given us all a taste of what the pre-vaccine world looked like. Perhaps that was the wake-up call we needed.
US paediatrician and molecular virologist Peter Hotez recently told the New Yorker he was hopeful people would resist the misinformation and opt for vaccination without it needing to be made mandatory.
“I’m hoping that as people see their friends and colleagues and their family members get vaccinated without any untoward effects, and people see how they’re not going to the hospital and the ICU because they’ve been vaccinated, that the rates will pick up,” Professor Hotez said.
While some in developed countries may choose to reject the protection offered by vaccines, it’s important to note millions of others may not have the option.
The Economist has charted the expected timeline for widespread vaccination to be achieved in countries around the world.
First in line are the US, Europe and Japan, followed by a raft of other countries, including Australia, China and India, that are expected to reach the goal by June of 2022.
According to the Economist, not a single country in Africa makes it into those first groups and nor do two of our closest neighbours, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
“Map worth 1000 words,” tweeted Nature reporter Dr Amy Maxmen.
Another commenter said the graphic showed colonialism was not dead, while many pointed out the map would neatly align with various global indicators of health disadvantage.
Meanwhile, some in wealthy countries will continue to see “science” as a dirty word, squandering the privilege of immunisation in favour of the shadowy world of The X-Files.
Jane McCredie is a health and science writer based in Sydney.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.