As a virologist, I have spent the last year studying the novel coronavirus that has disrupted our lives. Communication is an important part my job. I communicate with the public and speak to the media. I believe that the vaccines against Covid-19 can be used safely and are the best way to return to normal living.
Since before the pandemic, I have been concerned about the antivaccination movement. It was something I didn't know that my work might be used to misinform. I was shocked when I discovered that an interview I did with ITV London News about anti-vax and conspiracy had been taken by anti-vax activists. It now has thousands upon thousands of shares, likes and retweets on social media.
Our research on the Pfizer vaccine revealed that its antibody levels are less effective at neutralising the Delta variant of the virus than the original Wuhan strain. This was a simple update about vaccine protection. The video was often shared in a edited or distorted form to make me appear to be a supervillain or an unlikely hero in the anti-vax community.
Some videos show me as the brave dissenter in the establishment, voicing concern about the potential harm to the vaccine. Another video shows Im as the head UK bioweapons program and being caught admitting that Covid vaccine could cause your immune system to fail.
The videos appeared to be spreading and mutating, much like the virus. New, more dangerous variants are being discovered online. One of the most popular videos featured a complex and conspiratorial narrative that involved vaccines, alien DNA, and abortion. It was repeated over-and-over and featured the same clip of me.
This message inbox shows that there are many people who have been taken in by it. People still citing these videos to prove that vaccines don't work get me tens of notifications per week, even three months later.
People are still concerned about the effects of these videos and I continue to receive inquiries. A nurse working in a New Zealand prison wanted to assure prisoners who were afraid of getting vaccinated. A woman from the United StatesS was concerned about her brother who is clinically fragile. She claimed that he was being taken in by online conspiracies. A couple from Canada was trying to decide whether they would accept the vaccine. They wanted to know exactly what these videos meant and how far they had deviated from it.
They have always responded with gratitude when I've answered them. I hope that I have been able convince people to receive the protection vaccine offers. However, the hundreds of thousands who have shared my words in distortion are another matter. This forces me to reflect on why anti-vaxxers so enthusiastically share their misguided views.
The videos are clever in that they begin with a hint of plausibility and then veer into the absurd. Our research revealed that the vaccine produced antibodies that neutralize the Delta variant six-fold less than the original strain.
It is better to have some antibodies than none, a fact that has been confirmed by vaccines' continued success in preventing serious disease and death around the world. The idea that vaccines can destroy your immune system is simply false. Antibody levels in people who have been vaccinated are much higher than those who are not vaccinated. This fact is obvious and tragic, because unvaccinated patients continue filling intensive care units all over the globe.
This misinformation has another benefit: it gives people a sense that they have control over their lives. It gives people a sense of belonging to a group of people who are in the know. People commented on these videos and took Twitter's or YouTube's blocking of them as proof that the misinformation was true.
These claims are clearly absurd and widely rejected by scientists and doctors. People who spread misinformation can claim that they, along with their followers, are being oppressed. This further isolates those who are vulnerable and creates an online echo chamber.
Although it may seem counterintuitive for scientists to discourage scepticism, I always teach my students to be skeptical of data and to consider alternative interpretations. It is scepticism that is built on deep theoretical and practical knowledge. This understanding and a thorough understanding of the field they work in makes it a stronger stance than vaccine critics, regardless of how knowledgeable they are in other areas.
It's almost as if I was a scientist and refused to drive an airbag-equipped car because I heard that they contained explosives. Qualified engineers tried to explain to me how airbags could save my life.
No matter how smart or intelligent, everyone relies on experts' judgment to form their worldviews and make decisions. Even dangerous conspiracies are aware of this. That is why I found myself in the anti-vax vortex. I was used to speak out against vaccines.
One Twitter user exaggeratedly complained about people sharing conspiracy videos in which I was the unwilling star. He said: "Come on people, cant we see that hes not a nobody?" This is true, even though it doesn't trivialize the achievements of my colleagues and myself. I have not invented a vaccine. I don't have any role in government, and I don't run a hospital.
However, I have a title as scientist and extensive scientific evidence proving my expertise. The anti-vax movement is almost entirely composed of people who don't believe in vaccines.
They offered me a job when I was in a video that could easily be misrepresented. If you believe the claims I made in those videos, you can trust me to protect you against Covid. Get vaccinated.