I was sitting in our back clinic office with a few other doctors when a colleague entered and said, “I’m so tired of talking about the COVID-19 vaccine.” We all laughed because I had said the same thing just a few minutes earlier.
Why are we so tired? In family practice we spend a fair bit of time and effort with minimal success on educating patients about diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and safe levels of alcohol consumption. We advise about lifestyle changes, often until we are blue in the face. So what is the difference in talking to patients about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine? I think it’s because when we advise on lifestyle, we’re not met with contrary views, and patients do not come back at us with comments like:
- I don’t think eating healthy is safe.
- There’s a lot of controversy about stopping smoking and whether it’s good for you.
- I’ve heard the studies suggesting weight loss were rushed.
- I read that quitting drinking can lead to infertility.
- They put microchips in running shoes, you know.
In general, patients are aware that being overweight and sedentary are not good lifestyle choices. They also agree that excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can lead to adverse health outcomes. Social media is devoid of influencers discouraging individuals from giving up smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, exercising, or eating healthy. So why the deluge of content from antivaxxers and conspiracy theorists?
Lately, I have become curious about the single-minded focus these individuals have against the COVID-19 vaccine. What is there to gain by disseminating unsubstantiated information that leads to fear and distrust in the population? Surveys consistently identify that around 30% of individuals are unlikely to voluntarily receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which boggles my scientific mind. This vaccine refusal likely has many factors at play, such as distrust of the medical system, a fear of science, religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, and faith in a natural ability to fight infection, just to mention a few.
Regardless, how can a rational individual believe a vaccine that has been around only since late 2020 can cause infertility when the average human gestational age is longer than this length of time? This is a common reason younger woman of childbearing age have been giving me lately for vaccine refusal. A quick online search revealed that a German epidemiologist had theorized that since a protein found in placental tissue had minor similarities to the COVID-19 spike protein, cross-reacting antibodies were possible. However, as expected, the unlikely development of these placental antibodies has not occurred.
Even more unbelievable are social media videos of individuals sticking fridge magnets to their upper arms postvaccine as proof of embedded microchips. I was able to stick a fridge magnet to my forehead after licking it (same as the spoon trick).
Stuff like this is making us in primary care all a little frustrated. However, we are unlikely to give up as a few changed minds could save a life. The challenge is how to change those minds without exploding ours.
—David R. Richardson, MD
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