OPINION:The coronavirus pandemic once again reveals humanity’s greatest underlying disease:ignorance

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

As humanity combats the deadly coronavirus, we once again come face to face with the age-old disease of ignorance across the world.


Sarah Mason, of Covina, rallied in Huntington Beach against the stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. Source: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times


As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, it is far from being the only force of destruction that makes headlines. The age-old disease of ignorance has returned with force and is as alive as ever before as the death toll rises and fear lingers in the population. It comes in three major forms seen in multiple countries through anti-vaxxers, anti-lockdown, anti-masks along with the rise of xenophobia.

The first forms: anti-vaccination, is of no news to the medical community. According to a study conducted by Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that parents should get their children vaccinated has dropped by 10 percentage points since 2001. Worldwide, the rise in anti-vaccination sentiment has led to the emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and forces the WHO to list vaccine hesitancy as the top global health challenges in the last 2 years. Behind the decline of trust in medicine and science is the increasing trend in the anti-vaccination sentiment’s popularity online. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has recently noted a trend in social media accounts with such sentiment to have increased in following by 7.8 million people since 2019 and approximately 31 million people now follow anti-vaccination groups on Facebook alone. In the age of scientific breakthroughs and constant updates of information, the anti-vaccination sentiment shows the continuance of ignorance even as major progress is made across the globe. Given the purpose of vaccination is to achieve herd immunity, reached only if 70% to 85% of the population are vaccinated according to scientists, this is a grave problem to overcome.

So how dangerous are the vaccines? According to official data from scientists, the number debunks the fundamental idea of vaccines being dangerous: the overall effectiveness of all the vaccines developed are in the range of 70% to 95% -well above the average effectiveness of the flu vaccine-with proven effectiveness to lessen the risk of developing severe symptoms. Further data reiterates the message: In Canada, where more than 15 million doses of vaccines are administered, only about 5 thousand cases-or about 0.033% of all cases-are documented with adverse side effects. In comparison, roughly 12% of infected patients with COVID-19 needed treatment in intensive care units in March 2020 according to an Italian report in the country and 5% being classified in “critical condition” after contracting the virus. Needless to say, it is unreasonable to refuse the vaccine, and thus one can only trace back to a lack of proper information as the reason behind such a sentiment.


A research done by Crowdtangle matches the trends of an increase in popularity of anti-vaccination sentiment online also seen in a research carried out by the CCDH (Source: BBC)


The second form, also sharing the spotlight on news outlets with anti-vaccination, are anti-lockdown and anti-masks. This phenomenon is widespread across the world with increasing waves of protests spanning from Europe, Australia and in North America. The common theme seen in these protests is the argument of infringement on human rights of lockdown measures, or the economic impact of those forced to practice social distancing. At first glance, the rhetoric might invoke sympathetic response and understanding. However, given the current onslaught of the pandemic, those who are making these claims must understand the implementation of their reasoning: it is not only their rights and their economic status that is being affected or targeted. By not wearing masks, they surely are exercising their right of freedom of choice, but what about the right to life of millions of others who are at risk of serious complications should they contract the virus? By protesting blatantly about the lockdown impacting their businesses, have these people considered the universal effect on the global economy worldwide and how it has impacted every business universally? Rather than having a resistive behaviour towards the preventive measure put in place, it is perhaps better for those with these views to recognize the current fight against the pandemic as a public matter and not an individual issue that they are uniquely experiencing. Despite multiple studies proving the effectiveness of masks, the ignorance in these arguments of refusing to consider the perspective of others leave another barrier to overcome during the ongoing pandemic.


Finally, we have the final form (and the ugliest product) of ignorance: xenophobia. The rise in COVID cases is accompanied by a rising trend of hatred towards targeted Asian communities in many parts of the world spanning from North America to Europe, Australia and even in African countries. In Orange County located in the US alone with its high density of Asian Americans, hate incidents have reportedly increased by 1200% from March to May of 2020 alone while neighbouring Los Angeles County recorded an increase of 115% in Asian hate crime in the same period. What is particularly disgusting about this trend is its complete lack of decency and the obvious ignorance nature of these behaviours. Viruses, diseases and illnesses-COVID included-cannot care less about one’s skin color, gender identity, nationality, or political leaning. If anything, these attacks have revealed the true patients who have all developed symptoms of the same disease: hatred and bigotry fueled by the intoxicated virus of ignorance. If the rise of COVID cases is worrisome to us, the rise of this age-old ignorance virus should not be far behind either.


A footage from CCTV showing an attack on an elderly Asian man in Bay Area following an increasing trend in anti-Asian sentiment in the country (Source: ABC 7)


Indeed, one can promptly ignore ignorance and cast it off as the behaviour of the problematic and the wicked few without much hesitation. In fact, some of us would ourselves never be victims of hate crimes or abuses in our lifetime. Yet, if there is one recurrent disease that humanity has never successfully quenched, ignorance is surely the most contagious of them all. If features such as high infectious rate, devastating symptoms and a negative impact on society are the defining features of a disease then ignorance is indeed one. So, when the pandemic is finally over in the future and we all rejoice in the battle won by our medical staff, we shall ourselves engage in the fight against the age-old pandemic which rises from the ashes of COVID-19: ignorance and bigotry.


For further reading and sources:

www. abc7.com/racism-anti-asian-american-chinese/10329128/

www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-24/anti-vaccine-activists-latch-onto-coronavirus-to-bolster-their-movement

www.cnbc.com/2021/02/10/biden-covid-vaccine-anti-vaxxers-us.html

www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29137/amid-the-covid-19-pandemic-protest-movements-challenge-lockdowns-worldwide

www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/coronavirus-symptoms-severity-levels#critical-cases

www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56218684

www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/12/covid-19-fueling-anti-asian-racism-and-xenophobia-worldwide

www.healio.com/news/pediatrics/20200116/faith-in-vaccines-falls-10-percentage-points-in-us-poll

www.thelancet.com/journals/landig/article/PIIS2589-7500(20)30227-2/fulltext

www.health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/vaccine-safety/

www.health.harvard.edu/blog/covid-19-vaccines-safety-side-effects-and-coincidence-2021020821906

www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-56047409

www. voxeu.org/article/unmasked-effect-face-masks-spread-covid-19