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Editor's column: Conspiracy theories are highly infectious

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds understands people's desires to get together with family this Christmas
COVID-19 vaccine
Not everyone will be willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it's available. Image via Getty Images

Man, it’s tempting — especially when I’ve been so good, wearing a mask, washing my hands, abiding by all the health requirements.

Okay, maybe there’s been the odd slip up, but for the most part, I’ve been doing my part.

And now it’s Christmas, and a vaccine is not just on the way, but actually here. Richmond gets its first doses next week. So surely, I can let up a bit and have my parents over — just my parents and just for Christmas Day. goes the thinking, a type of thinking I have to admit, I’m not immune to.

It was sobering to hear a health authority on the radio this morning (Wednesday) saying it’s a very real and tragic possibility that just when we have a saviour in hand, in the form of a vaccine, we will see our largest spike yet in COVID-19 deaths — and it will be because of exactly that kind of thinking.

We’ve all had enough, we want connection, even a little, dare we say, celebration. It’s understandable, but what we also need to understand is that there is still so much we don’t know about this vaccine.

We don’t know how long people are immune for after they’ve been vaccinated. Is this a lifetime thing or yearly, like the flu shot, or only just good for a matter of months?

We don’t know if a vaccinated person can still pass on the virus. We don’t know if everyone can/should get vaccinated.

Point being, we’re far from out of the woods, which means if we start letting up, as we’re already seeing people do, it’s very likely things will get much worse before they get better.

In a weird way, the vaccine hesitancy we’re hearing much about could work in our favour. The vaccine hesitant are not anti-vaxxers, but folks who intend to keep following the same pandemic protocols and take a wait-and-see approach to the vaccine.

Granted, we don’t want them waiting too long, but we do want them, along with the rest of us, staying the course in terms of COVID-safe behaviour.

But hesitancy is one thing; what about those hard-core anti-vaxxers?

I know one, we’ll call her a friend of a friend. She claims COVID-19 is a hoax because she doesn’t personally know anyone who has it.

Of course, the idea of only believing in things you can see or feel first hand rather limits one’s world view. By that rationale, how do you know the world is round if you’ve never been to space. (Of course some of them don’t believe that either.)

It’s tempting to ridicule these folks, and many of us do, but that only strengthens their resolve.

There’s also that pesky reality that some conspiracies theories turn out to be true.

I was listening to a fascinating story on CBC’s Ideas (my new favourite program by the way) about a doctor in the 1840s who had this wacko theory that the reason why so many pregnant women were dying in his hospital from what was then called “childbirth fever” had something to do with the fact the maternity ward doctors were not washing their hands properly after handling the cadavers of patients who had died of the same thing.

This was before germ theory, and our good doctor was ridiculed, disparaged, called a conspiracy theorist and ended up dying in an insane asylum.

I’m in no way suggesting our current anti-vaxxers are in the same camp as Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, later known as the “Godfather of Handwashing.”

What I am saying is we need to meet people where they’re at, understand their fear and appeal to their reason, even if it seems lacking.

Conspiracy theories are growing and many of them are incredibly dangerous.

Allowing them to lurk around and infect others on the dark net puts us all at risk.

In the meantime, let’s accept it’s a COVID Christmas and set our sites on 2021.