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Is the medical community to blame for COVID-19 misinformation? February 21, 2022

In times of uncertainty and doubt, and COVID-19 is a perfect example of this, a lot of things start happening  in our heads. When we are uncertain or begin to doubt, we have a reactive, emotional side to our brain ( the limbic system)  that tends to shut down the rational, logical side thinking patterns (the prefrontal cortex). That’s just part of being human. We end up making very otherwise unwise decisions based on these reactions. As humans ourselves, those in the scientific community are not immune to this. I know that’s hard for some to believe, as doctors and scientists are relied upon by everyone else to hopefully have expertise to provide a beneficial solution for a good outcome. 


Why do scientists and doctors dig in and pick sides? Why are we prone to our own biases? Why do we have such a hard time seeing our own biases? We engage in character assasination of those who think differently than us, and we become cult leaders in groups who think like us. Why does this have to be? Google and Facebook will tell us that it makes for more compelling drama that sucks us in, increases our engagement, so they can then make more money by  increasing clicks, likes, views and posts. 


Early on in the pandemic, it seemed like the prudent thing to some doctors and scientists to shut down everything, travel, work, commuting, socializing, school, and just about everything else. We were told by government and public health leaders that we must do this in order to “flatten the curve” of COVID so we don’t overload the hospitals. With very few notable exceptions, hospitals were not overloaded to the point of breaking. It didn’t happen. Who was right? Who was wrong? We were told that masks didn’t work, then they did, then N95 and surgical masks are better than cloth masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19. We were told that convalescent plasma antibodies and Remdesivir saved lives. We were told that schools needed to stay shut down and children needed to wear masks all day. We were told that drugs like ivermectin were dangerous and to be avoided. The SARS COV-2 virus wasn’t produced in a lab. 


As we are now just beginning to start putting the pieces together as we start to come out of, at least the Omricon wave of COVID-19, that misinformation regarding COVID-19 goes both ways. I don’t always disagree with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in fact I rely upon them regularly for other guidance when prescribing prophylactic malaria medications and vaccination schedules for my pediatric patients. The CDC is very useful and helpful in that regard. 


However, you have a problem when thinking that all science can be communicated as a simple soundbite. Some soundbites include: “All people should wear masks”. “All people should get vaccinated”. “All people should stay away from Ivermectin”. “All people should stay home”. “SARS-COV-2 did not come from a lab”. “All people should shame other people who don’t think like Dr. Fauci”. “All people don’t have the right to not wear a mask because they’ll kill other people”. 

Otherwise good, competent, independently thinking doctors and scientists jump on the bandwagon because COVID is a highly infectious, transmittable, and deadly disease, and in their own minds, allow themselves to think that by limiting the flow of information outward to the public, we’ll be able to save lives. By conveniently “canceling out” those pesky outlier scientists/doctors, the ends certainly would justify the means in light of how many lives would be saved. 


This “all or nothing” idea sounds great except when it isn’t. Science and prediction is incredibly messy, as the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found out. Trying to predict the future is incredibly hard. They largely failed on that front, but that didn’t stop the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) from basing edicts early in the disease course on them, despite very little evidence. 


The bottom line is this: We all screwed up. Every one of us. If someone tells you they were right on everything regarding COVID, stop listening to them. It’s very important to know that misinformation comes from everywhere. The CDC isn’t exempt. The NIH isn’t exempt. The Frontline doctors organization isn’t exempt. Your primary care doctor isn’t exempt. Your professor, your church leader, your uncle-in-law, your social media fact-checkers, your facebook and twitter buddies aren’t exempt. The burning question remains: Did it cost lives? Probably no more or less than most others out there. 


Time is the great mediator. Someday, when we’ve removed our very human emotional reactions to this situation, we can look back with a more clear vision and see what we did right and what we did wrong. One thing we must never forget though, at least in the United States of America I grew up in, is that we must put freedom of choice above all else. As messy as that is.

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