Was Neil Young Right? Fighting COVID-19 Misinformation Two Years In

Is it still worth it?

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I am sick and tired of the pandemic. Many others share the sentiment based on several high-profile recent news stories, albeit for different reasons. Neil Young has recently had his music pulled from Spotify, given the platform’s refusal to screen its content for COVID-19 misinformation effectively. Meanwhile, truckers in Canada have protested what is becoming a nationwide vaccine mandate by trekking across Canada in a convoy while blockading a border crossing and Ottawa, the Canadian capital.

What we all need is for the pandemic to end. Progress has been made in understanding the pandemic, the virus, and how to treat the disease, speaking as a physician and medical researcher. However, relying solely on the medicine is not enough when considering a resolution, as we can all appreciate as we feel the fallout from a COVID-heavy winter despite a vaccine being available for the past year.

I have become more involved in understanding why we are still here in recent weeks. On attending conferences oriented on pandemic-related global health inequity while keeping up with research and international news, it is evident that we are stuck because of global deficiencies in working together. While many can attest to this emotionally, whether perhaps feeling heartfelt frustration against anti-vaxxers or feeling like one’s concerns about vaccines are not being heard or effectively addressed, the issue involves multiple systems.

While many Western countries have made pledges of helping developing nations fight the pandemic by offering vaccines, the reality is that not enough of these doses have made their way to where they are needed. If we take a quick look at Our World in Data, the difference in vaccination rates among African nations and places like Canada is striking.

While this is likely partly due to supply and shipping issues, some are due to inefficiency. At a conference I attended, one of the physicians discussed how Canada delivered several million doses to Africa very close to their expiration date. While African countries have effective vaccine rollout programs, few of these doses could reach arms because of the short deadline.

Naturally, we cannot blame governments and be done with it. Individuals have responsibility for the situation as well. Individuals who knowingly spread COVID-19 misinformation, regardless of the reason, are responsible for a significant proportion of the suffering and death of this pandemic. Individuals who seek to challenge misinformation, such as myself, who disrespectfully address or ignore reasonable safety concerns also hold some responsibility. While some arguments posed by opponents of the COVID-19 vaccines or pandemic measures are not based on reality, it is valid for your average neighbour to want to be sure they are not going to have an anaphylactic reaction when they get the shot. Calling individuals with valid concerns names would certainly not make me want to consider another person’s viewpoints. Insults are generally not appropriate and do not accomplish much, regardless.

Back to the headlines, was Neil Young right? I argue that he was because the only adequate response to adversity, whether hate or a platform’s unwillingness to challenge harmful rhetoric because of its financial profit, is to stand up and hold parties accountable for action and inaction.

This being said, there is a right and a wrong way to challenge what we identify as needing to be improved. In honour of Black History month, we could all take a lesson from the late Martin Luther King Jr. in that “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The world may feel more divided than ever, but it does not have to be that way. Every one of us has the ability to shine light into our dealings with others. It may not be received well by all. It does not make it any less valuable.

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The article lives here: Healthcare Policy and OpinionWas Neil Young Right? Fighting COVID-19 Misinformation Two Years In
Julian Willett, MD

M.D. trained in the US, now researching SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in Canada for his Ph.D. After earning my Ph.D., I will be pursuing an Anatomic Pathology residency embracing my path towards being a physician-scientist. My academic interests are directed towards topics that provide the greatest net benefit for the greatest number of people. I love complicated, messy, and poorly understood topics.

I enjoy writing in my spare time, along with 3D printing and staying connected with my family. I have been a longstanding proponent for global health with projects ranging from supporting Doctors without Borders (MSF) to Syrian refugees (Syrian American Medical Society). 

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