Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Perhaps cultivating learned helplessness is not the best strategy for fighting the pandemic

I'm pressed for time so I'm just going to crack open this topic. While right wing media is spreading anti-vax propaganda and engaging in various acts of journalistic sabotage, the mainstream press has been distorting coverage of the pandemic more subtly but perhaps doing just as much damage thanks to its greater reach and credibility. 

Whether it's overreporting a rare side effect or talking about a 92% return-for-second-shot rate as a crisis or failing to provide useful comparisons like measles for context or misrepresenting one side of the epidemiological debate as the consensus, outlets like the NYT have consistently framed positive news in a negative light and, more seriously, have shown a clear and dangerous bias against solutions. (I could write virtually the same post about climate change, but that's a topic for another day.)

Here's the latest example which Josh Marshall (perhaps our most clear-eyed commentator) calls "needlessly alarmist." 

Note the use of the word "will." There are no qualifiers here. This is our fate because vaccine hesitancy is an unalterable natural constant. Assuming we use  the standard of containment rather than eradication (which has almost never happened), this level of certainty is absurd.

Consider this story from All Things Considered with the better but still inaccurate title, "Health Experts Disagree On Whether 'Herd Immunity' Can Be Achieved." The segment is an interview with Dr. Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and there's not much evidence of disagreement. 

MOKDAD: Compared to other viruses, it's somewhere between 75 to 85%. We in the United States are not going to get to herd immunity before this winter simply because right now the vaccine is only authorized for adults, not for children...

CHANG: Right.

MOKDAD: ...Fifteen or younger. So you have about 25% of your population not eligible for the vaccine.

CHANG: OK. But down the road, what is your view? Is herd immunity within reach?

MOKDAD: Yes, definitely. Down the road, we can get to herd immunity if we have a vaccine that we can provide to two years or older and if Americans are willing - who are eligible to take the vaccine are willing to go ahead and get the vaccine.

CHANG: You're talking about vaccine hesitancy at the moment. How significant do you think vaccine hesitancy is as an obstacle to ultimately achieving herd immunity?

MOKDAD: It's the only obstacle that we have right now between us and herd immunity simply because we have many Americans who are not willing to take the vaccine. Otherwise, we have vaccines that are safe and effective, and they will provide herd immunity. And we know children are going to get the vaccine. Twelve to 15 is coming very soon and, after that, 6 to 11.

To summarize, Dr. Mokdad says herd immunity can definitely be achieved which directly contradicts the title. 

The mainstream press have badly screwed up all of the truly important stories of the past decade, climate change, the attack on democracy, Covid 19. Perhaps we need a higher standard than "better than Fox."

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