It may be a hopeless task to try to convince anti-vaxxers of the error of their ways, writes Fintan Moore

We have learned a lot in the last year about a number of threats to our way of life. The level of information we all now have about the spread of respiratory viruses is much greater than we had before the pandemic struck. However, we have also seen the difficulty in using that information when faced with the wilful ignorance and stupidity of many people. No future horror movie about a zombie apocalypse will seem credible unless it contains a minority of gobshites running towards the zombies to prove that they aren’t real and that the whole thing is a Government hoax.

Even leaders who had been briefed by experts were appallingly cavalier in how they set an example for people watching. Boris Johnson infamously went around a hospital shaking hands with everyone, probably in an idiotic attempt to show the kind of Blitz spirit epitomised by Winston Churchill, who used to go up onto rooftops to watch Nazi air-raids. Johnson deliberately failed to grasp that wartime leadership against a human enemy requires a different approach to that demanded against a viral pandemic. However, there were enough gullible fools among his supporters who had sympathy for him when he got sick, so he didn’t suffer politically.

So where does the plague of misinformation come from, who are the carriers, and why do they do it? You obviously have some people who are anti-vaccination because they basically don’t like injections and they’ll grab any excuse to avoid a needle. The same excuses will be a get-out-of-jail card for the won’t-get-out-of-bed wasters who don’t want to make and attend an appointment, let alone two appointments a specific time apart.

But the really interesting ones are the people who will confidently and authoritatively inform you why they are right to avoid the vaccinations, and that they know better than all the doctors, scientists, virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists who try to explain that vaccinations are a good idea. A significant percentage of these adamant ‘informed’ anti-vaxxers are actually suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of personality bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low-ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognise their own incompetence. As the line goes in the original Point Break movie, “If you even knew you knew nothing, that would be something”. So the pandemic is a perfect storm in which every kind of eejit with a delusion of adequacy can watch a couple of YouTube clips about the dangers of the Covid vaccine and trumpet his or her ‘facts’ out on Facebook or Twitter.

A significant percentage of these adamant ‘informed’ anti-vaxxers are actually suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect

Anybody trying to argue against them with real actual facts will be denounced by the Dunning-Kruger afflicted as ‘naïve’ if they don’t have specialist knowledge or ‘not to be trusted’ if they do. Basically, you can’t win against these people. The best you can do is let them bounce around their echo-chamber with their fellow ignoramuses, while you quietly reassure and convince people who may be unsure or nervous about getting vaccinated but are willing to listen and learn.

The Price of Safety

It can be funny at times trying to work out the thought processes in how people behave. I had a patient in recently, asking if we were ‘doing blood pressure readings’, because she had suffered a couple of nosebleeds and wondered if it was high. She also said that she was waiting on a call back from her doctor. I politely explained that at the moment I was trying to avoid doing blood pressure readings if possible — the daily number of positive Covid cases had just broken 8,000.

I told her to see what the doctor said, and that if she was stuck, she could come back to me. As an option, I suggested that she buy a blood pressure monitor, which was only €25 and she could keep an eye on it herself, but she declined. So she was willing to take her chances with getting me to take her blood pressure, or going to a GP surgery to get it done there, rather than pay a small amount of money to avoid any risk whatsoever.

The Secret Race

I recently read the book The Secret Race, detailing the story of Tour de France rider Tyler Hamilton, who had been a team-mate of drug-cheat Lance Armstrong. Hamilton himself had also doped before eventually being busted, so the book lifted the lid about a lot of what went on behind the scenes. Armstrong comes across as a particularly unpleasant individual, but it is clear that doping in the Tour was a fact of life before he ever got involved. The sad fact was, and possibly still is, that the physical demands of the three-week race were so great that winning clean was impossible. As well as the race out in the open on the roads, there was a backroom battle between the teams to find any drug that would give them a winning edge.

I had a strange interaction in the pharmacy back in the late 1990s, when the biggest-ever scandal exposing the use of drugs by Tour riders hit the headlines. A customer who raced greyhounds came in with a page torn from a newspaper containing information about how erythropoietin was being used by the cyclists. He pointed to the name and asked, “can you get me some of that stuff?”

I was a bit taken aback and said that I probably could order it, but that it cost hundreds of pounds, thinking that would dissuade him, but without batting an eyelid, he said: “That’s no problem — so can you order it?” Still trying to get out of this, I said that I’d need a prescription from a vet, but he said “that’s fine — I’ll get you a prescription”. So I finally told him that I couldn’t sell it for animal use because it was only licensed for humans. He replied: “That’s no bother — I know where I can get some anyway.” And off he went.

<strong>Fintan Moore</strong>
Fintan Moore

Fintan Moore graduated as a pharmacist in 1990 from TCD and currently runs a pharmacy in Clondalkin.