Over the last seven months, we have seen an alarming amount of misinformation spread online and worst by our elected officials as we battle with the coronavirus pandemic. Online, we see conspiracy videos like Plandemic. The original post received millions of views and was shared over 140,000 times. In total, it is estimated that the video through various outlets and reposts received over eight million views. The Plandemic is a misleading short film full of schemes about people profiting from the virus and misinformation about how individuals can protect themselves. In comparison, posts directly from the scientists at the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) get views ranging between a couple hundred to thousands.
In addition to this video, there are all kinds of misinformation out there on how to protect yourself. Everything from drinking water every 15 minutes and avoiding ice cream to drinking silver and eating a lot of garlic. In fact, a company known as Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, falsely advertised its product Miracle Mineral Solutions, as a treatment to treat and prevent COVID-19. This product contains chlorine dioxide (a powerful bleaching agent) and resulted in the FDA sending a letter to the company and warning the public about the danger of consuming products that contain chlorine dioxide.
If that was not enough, we have elected officials taking actions and making statements that defy science. Very early on, we heard that COVID-19 was a hoax, and once confirmed that it was not, lawmakers still do not take it seriously enough. Our public health leaders have urged us to practice social distancing and to wear masks as a precautionary tool to prevent the spread of the virus. Despite this, we saw President Trump and Vice President Pence refuse to wear masks in public even after scientists found that the primary way COVID-19 spreads is through respiratory droplets. Vice President Pence is the leader of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, and he still chose to tour the Mayo Clinic without a mask the same day the tally of Americans with COVID-19 reached one million. Our country’s commander-in-chief publicly encouraged Americans to take hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19. The FDA rushed an emergency authorization approval of the drug as a treatment, but we now know through several studies, that it probably is not effective as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19.
We must recognize the seeds of hope innovation has planted amid all the lies and conspiracy theories during a pandemic. Thanks to the public and private sectors working together around the clock, there are several new treatments in development including one that in initial trials blocks the novel coronavirus from binding to human cells and reproducing. By not allowing the virus to connect with human cells, it cannot multiply, and attack the body. In addition, there are over 100 different vaccines at various stages, and researchers are using multiple avenues like gene therapy, DNA, and antibodies from survivors to find an effective vaccine.
Innovation in healthcare in the United States has a history of saving millions of lives. HIV is no longer a death sentence and individuals can go on about their day to day lives. Thanks to the evolution of early detection through mammograms, female breast cancer dropped by 40% in 2016. In addition, we now have a drug that can treat over 90% of Hepatitis C patients whereas former drugs took 48 weeks and worked on only 50% of patients. History teaches us, we should support the researchers now working around the clock to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 in record time.
We owe it each other and to the frontline essential workers --- from our grocery store workers, healthcare workers, sanitation services, and public transit operators--- risking their lives every day to ignore the disinformation online and coming from some misguided elected officials and follow the advice of our public health professionals and support and invest in the innovation that will get us through this crisis.
Maria Cervania, MPH
Candidate for Wake County Commissioner - District 3