Confirmation Bias and the Coronavirus

Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19 Source: CDC

When I mentioned to a friend that a family member had Covid-19, she replied, “If only the morons who do their own research would just go get vaccinated,” but results of a May 2021 survey showed that PhDs were more vaccine hesitant than those with a high school diploma. Confirmation bias “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs” has closed many American’s minds to thoughts and ideas about Covid-19 that are inconsistent with their own. Two years ago, the virus, along with limited information about it, was just beginning to spread to countries outside of China, where it originated.

(An excerpt from Mary’s message)

Time trends, factors associated with, and reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in a massive online survey of US adults: January-May 2021

Whether it escaped from a lab in Wuhan or spilled over at a market is the first of several topics on the subject about which Americans disagree. The fact that several researchers from the Wuhan Lab fell ill in November 2019 points to the possibility of a leak. Charles Schmidt explains the meaning of another issue of contention “gain of function,” “making viruses more deadly, more transmissible, or otherwise more able to flourish.” In The Lab-Leak Theory Meets Its Perfect Match, David Engber provides evidence for both possibilities, puts his money slightly on the market spillover side, and concludes that [b]oth arguments depend on coincidence and “[b]oth circumstantial cases…have been made in the absence of crucial evidence that might very well exist.” “China Has Rejected A WHO Plan For Further Investigation Into The Origins Of COVID-19, which means that we may never know.

ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses Source: CDC

In November, the CDC reported that “98.5% of adults 65 and older [had] received at least a first vaccine dose,” a month later, that an unvaccinated American age 65 and older was 10 to 31 times more likely to die of the disease than a fully vaccinated one. It’s telling that “due to low numbers” the CDC doesn’t include fatality rates based on vaccination status for those under 18. In a July 2021 article, Frank Newport, PhD writes, “Gallup’s June estimate that about 20% of Americans have not been vaccinated and are unlikely to get vaccinated in the future,” “the most frequently given reason for not getting the vaccine is worry about side effects — coupled with a generalized lack of trust in vaccines,” and ends with, “…efforts to control vaccine-related behavior through mandates may be more effective that attitudinal campaigns,” but in January, “The…Supreme Court struck down the…vaccine-or-test rule…[b]ut….upheld a regulation…that mandates vaccines for…health care providers that receive federal funds.

Also in November, Dr. Anthony ‘Fauci said people need to realize that no vaccine is completely without side effects, although in a child, “overwhelmingly…the benefit far, far outweighs the risk.” Reported “rare” side effects so far have included myocarditis and blood clots. Deaths by age group based on vaccination status is the best argument in favor of elderly people, especially those with comorbidities, to get vaccinated; however, the virus has killed very few of our younger population. In 2020, 198 children age 0-17 died from Covid-19 and in 2021, 536. For children under 1, Covid-19 didn’t even make the top ten causes of death list.

Image source

Americans’ lack of trust in vaccines is, in part at least, due to our past experience with Big Pharma. Pfizer expected to make $36 billion in 2021 from their Covid-19 vaccine alone; whereas in 2020, they earned $41.9 billion from the sale of all of their pharmaceuticals combined. And most of us won’t soon forget pharmaceutical companies’ big part in creating the opioid epidemic, which killed over a million Americans between 1999 and 2020.

In the spring of 2020, we feared fomites, but adjusted when we learned that the surface transmission rate is about 1 in 10,000. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 prevention plan, get vaccinated, hasn’t changed much, nor have treatments, which, for more severe cases, can include monoclonal antibodies, antiviral medications, or SSRIs and for the most severe: hospitalization on ventilation. Health care professionals who offer prophylactics are considered quacks and asked to hand over their licenses. Unfortunately, the one clinical drug trial that could have finally put the use of Ivermectin to rest was recently put on hold due to supply problems.

Source: 42 courses

The president of the WHO stated that we won’t escape covid by boosting people in first world countries. The vaccine’s antibody response and efficacy degrades over time, and as of February 2022, 67.9% of people in high income countries but only 11.7% of those in low income countries have been vaccinated. Americans line up for boosters while remaining silent about the unfair distribution of vaccines across countries.

Research has shown that a person is more likely to die of Covid-19 based on factors like age, obesity, comorbidities and vaccination status but a comparison of factors by country and fatality rate failed to show an obvious trend. Conclusions from a recent study include the fact that, “the country-level decay rate of daily COVID-19 cases or deaths…is positively correlated with trust within society,” and A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on Covid-19 Mortality showed that “Studies examining the relationship between lockdown strictness…find that the average lockdown in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% compared to a COVID-19 policy based solely on recommendations.” Yet we don’t adjust our policies.

Moving forward, the U.S. might consider a different approach. “The U.S. strategy for fighting COVID-19 has focused on preventing infection…[t]he omicron variant has challenged this approach. What’s needed now, says Emily Gurley, PhD…is a shift to preventing hospitalization and death.

A September survey showed that 16% had dumped several friends since the start of the pandemic, some because they had chosen not to get vaccinated. Two years after the virus arrived in the U.S., confirmation bias has led to us becoming more divided than ever. As we begin our third year of the pandemic, my hope is that we can all be a little more tolerant of the viewpoints of others, whether or not we agree with them. I don’t plan to break up with my friend, who knew neither my vaccination status nor my views on the subject when she offered her opinion. As to her disdain for those who “do their own research,” all I can say is…

Sorry?

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One thought on “Confirmation Bias and the Coronavirus

  1. Nicely written and good read. I saw today that Democratic strategist James Carville cursed out unvaccinated individuals on his podcast last week, saying anyone without a vaccine was a “piece of s–t” and he wanted to punch them in the face. So sad. Let’s grow up and be kind. Before I got vaccinated I had “friends” who said they would not ride in a car with me, said I was leading a risky life and questioned my Christianity. Many of those self described unrisky friends have gotten covid while I have not. (Not that I am gloating since I believe it’s not if but when we contract it vaccinated or not.)

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