Misinformation and Noncompliance in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Image Courtesy of vicnews.com

Elizabeth Clarke, Queen’s University
Edited by: Sefanit Zeray

The Covid-19 pandemic is unlike any health crisis in recent history. Overcrowded hospitals have been forced to turn away patients so that ventilators could be utilized on those most likely to survive. Additional stressors caused by the pandemic have increased the degree to which low-income families already struggle with food insecurity, unemployment, and mortgage payments. Uncertainty and fear have caused mental health to suffer. To date, over 5.18 million people globally have died from the virus, and with newer and deadlier variants (including the latest Omicron variant) still emerging, this number continues to climb.

For several months in 2020, it seemed as though there was no end in sight.  2021 brought hope when the tireless efforts of researchers finally yielded a vaccine. However, as was true for restrictions and mask mandates throughout these past 20 months, vaccination has also been unfortunately politicized.

On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel and deadly coronavirus a pandemic, the world stopped and our lives would be forever changed. Lockdown, quarantine, isolation – people were afraid and didn’t know what to do. We spent our days glued to our televisions watching the news, soaking up ever-changing information surrounding the unstoppable force that was claiming lives left, right, and center. While many people made valiant efforts to adapt to the “new normal” and follow guidelines  – staying home unless absolutely necessary, respecting mask mandates, and social distancing – others were less convinced that the pandemic was legitimate. Misinformation from conflicting news sources, social media, and political figures caused rumors surrounding the source of the virus, its severity, and “the real reason” why governments implemented lockdowns. It did not take long for this disbelief to fuel anger and rebellion. People protested lockdowns and blatantly refused to wear a mask inside public spaces, verbally assaulting and even becoming violent with front-line workers who were simply trying to do their jobs. ​​ Such resistance has continued even more strongly in response to the push to get vaccinated. Fear-mongers have spread rumors that the vaccines would contain microchip trackers, or would cause serious health complications and death. In reality, complications related to the vaccine have been extremely rare and addressed immediately to ensure optimal safety. The situation has reached its climax since vaccination proof is now commonly required to enter schools, the workplace, and public spaces such as restaurants and shopping centers (see the current Ontario vaccine proof requirements). Anti-vaxxers protest vaccine mandates, claiming that it is their right to refuse “the shot”. While these individuals are the angriest about ongoing restrictions, unvaccinated Canadians account for approximately 90% of the country’s ongoing Covid-19 cases.

Extreme anti-vaxxers in some American states  have even adorned their clothing with yellow Stars of David, doing the unimaginable: comparing their ignorant refusal to get vaccinated to the homicide experienced by holocaust victims. An article in the Miami Herald  argues that these anti-vaxxers are “cosplaying at victimhood”, and “trivializing” the horrors of the holocaust.

How did a matter of public health – of life or death – become subject to political values and opinion? It makes one wonder whether the global response to the pandemic would have been different without the effects of misinformation aimed at specific audiences.

If the whole world had simply trusted science, would we still be where we are today?


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