COVID vaccinations amid conspiracy theories

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Raja Amin Afzal

IF you request a group of colleagues to join and listen to an actual details of a true event, you will notice hardly anyone joins, but if same folks are offered a movie to watch, almost all of them will jump towards it. This very behaviour explains the human psyche i.e. they don’t like the truth and are fascinated by baseless but colourful stories and falsehood.

Such propensity towards colourful falsehood leads to the existence and prevalence of baseless rumours, false conspiracies and unscientific superstitions that cripple our society. Such conspiracy theories act like thick forests and don’t allow the light of knowledge to pass through them. Even today, we are floating in a sea of such theories that love to explain the causes and effects of every unusual event that is otherwise inexplicable.
The world still could not dispel the famous conspiracy theory labelling the human moon landing mission as a hoax or staged. People still believe Osama Bin Ladin is alive, climate change is a drama, aliens and ghosts exist and 9/11 was not real to name a few. The history of conspiracy theories is as old as the humanity itself; all religions, philosophies and political ideologies are, to some extent, products and bye-products of these theories.
To get a glimpse of what devastations and monstrosities they can bring to a society, one can evocate the conspiracy theories used by Hitler’s propaganda retinues that brought the entire world to the brink of an apocalypse in addition to a brutal massacre of millions of people. In Pakistan, mayhem brought by them is evident everywhere. Thanks to these theories, women education is in chaos, religious extremism is on its pinnacle, sectarianism is strengthening itself day by day, terrorism is engulfing innocent lives and polio is still out there mocking us to name a few. But most worrisome are the current conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 inoculation mechanism that are resisting all the efforts designed to contain the deadly microbe.

Since its birth, the COVID-19 has been explained with different types of bizarre theories; some called it an American agenda, Americans blamed Chinese for its deliberate creation, Pakistanis labelled it as a pernicious propaganda of the western world, religious clerics asserted that it is a wrath of Allah Almighty, others feared that vaccine is a remote-control microchip, still others justified it as an antidote to population explosion and so on. In the presence of superfluous internet and social media, these theories proliferated at a pace much faster than the COVID itself. Resultantly, the real challenge today is to first ‘vaccinate’ these stuffed minds before an immunization of the physical body is carried out.
But unfortunately, that is not an easy task. WHO has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health. One wonders why rational people buy into these theories despite living in a world of easy to access information and knowledge. As discussed at the outset, humans in general love the colourful storified details in preference to bare and naked truths. A lack of knowledge, an unwilling attitude to carry out a quest and research and a propensity to rely on others are important contributors to such beliefs.
Since knowledge is widespread, a single person cannot grasp all that is relevant to assess a difficult or unexplained situation. When an unusual event hits, the curious brains look for possible explanations. Most people will resort to a specific set of information disseminated by their close trustees. Also, here play the hands of conspiracy theorists who feed people by made up reasons and justifications suited to get support or favour for a peculiar cause or agenda.

In Pakistan, proper research needs to be carried out to sort out the different types of conspiracy theories and their believers and purveyors, in order to devise a specific strategy to dispel these. Cass R. Stein, in his book “Conspiracy theories and other dangerous ideas” mentions that extra resistance by conspiracy theorists is generated in response to simple techniques applied to cater them. Direct attempts to dispel these theories lead to further fortification of such beliefs because when someone denies such theorists’ strongest commitments, they respond to it even more intensely.

As it seems COVID vaccinations are moving towards Pakistan at a snail’s pace, meanwhile, the Government gets some time to deal with these theories. Utilizing this lead time and to welcome vaccines properly, the government needs to work out on purifying the bodies and minds of ‘habitats’ where vaccines will stay and act so that this ‘host guest’ relationship could flourish positively for collective well-being of humanity and of posterity.
—The writer is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan.