COVID-19 Misinformation-Why Believe It?

Scientific American November 2020 pp41-43 “COVID-19 Misinformation That Won’t Go Away. The most insidious falsehoods about the novel coronavirus-and why people believe them”. By Tanya Lewis



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Misinformation 1 “The virus was engineered in a laboratory in China”. Why it’s false; U.S. intelligence agencies deny and a consensus of scientists agree “COVID-19 was not man-made or genetically modified.” Why people believe it; “people want a scapegoat for the immense suffering and economic fallout…”

Misinformation 2 “COVID-19 is no worse than the flu”. Why it’s false; Flu fatality rate is about 0.1% while COVID-19 is estimated as 0.5-1.0% or five to ten times worse. Flu deaths annually range from 12,000-61,000 but COVID-19 in eight months is at more than 200,000. Why people believe it; “Their leaders keep saying it.” Experts believe the COVID-19 death rate is undercounted.

Misinformation 3 “You don’t need to wear a mask”. Why it’s false; epidemiologist have long regarded masks as a key “source control”-preventing the spread from infected to others. Recent analyses published in Lancet “found that masks can prevent COVID-19 infection.” Of course, early on but not initially it was confirmed that those infected with COVID-19 but without signs and symptoms can transmit infection. Why people believe it; Early guidance, partly because asymptomatic spread wasn’t known and-in-an-effort to save medical grade M95 masks the CDC and others said “the general public did not need to wear masks unless they had symptoms of an infection.”

Misinformation 4 “Wealthy elites are using the virus to profit from vaccines”. Why it’s false; No evidence of this. Why people believe it; Wealthy people like Bill Gates and even Anthony Fauci “are often the target of conspiracy theories.” “Trump has at times attacked Fauci.”

Misinformation 5 “Hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment”. Why it’s false; Studies have shown that 5-HC is not harmful but does not provide benefit against COVID-19. Why people believe it; some first impressions including an early European study and comments from the POTUS suggested that 5-HC was beneficial.

Misinformation 6 “Increases in case are the result of increased testing”. Why it’s false; “If this scenario were true, one would expect the percentage of positive tests to decrease over time. But numerous studies have shown the opposite.” Why people believe it; early on test adoption and availability was low, as testing increased it is logical to suspect that increased testing resulted in just increased case reporting. What has happened is that cases, hospitalizations and deaths have increased in lock-step with hospitalizations and deaths lagging in lock-step after an increase test positivity.

Misinformation 7 “Heard Immunity will protect us if we let the virus spread through the population.” Why it’s false; to reach herd immunity would require that 60-70% of the population to become infected and develop enough immunity to stop the spread. To reach such a level would result in millions of deaths-as a unintended consequence. Even in the highest infected regions of America, the fraction of the population that have been infected is far lower than that. Why people believe it; People want to get back to normal but relief won’t happen until there’s effective and abundant vaccine distributed to that high fraction of the population.

Misinformation 8 “A COVID-19 vaccine will be unsafe.” Why it’s false; “vaccines save millions of lives every year.” Extensive pharmaceutical company and FDA mandated clinical trials on safety and efficacy are required for approval to distribute any medication in America. Why people believe it; Good reason for all to be cautious about taking new medications but the “politicization of the FDA under the Trump administration has raised legitimate concerns that any vaccine approval will be rushed.”