Bill Gates is not secretly plotting microchips in a coronavirus vaccine. Misinformation and conspiracy theories are dangerous for everyone.
While the United States spends billions on developing a coronavirus vaccine, there is concern that enough people will not take it to protect the general population when there is finally one.
Even if a vaccine is months and maybe years away, misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines against COVID-19 spin around online and may result in people no longer being vaccinated if one or more are available.
One of the wildest is a false story about an allegedly evil plan by Microsoft founder Bill Gates to mass-dose coronavirus microchips into billions of people to track their movements.
In a media call announcing $ 1.6 billion to fund vaccinations in poor countries, Gates said the misinformation about his work on vaccines was so strange that he found it difficult to understand - and he categorically denied it to be involved in any kind of conspiracy with microchips.
"In a way, it's so bizarre that you almost want to see it as something humorous, but it's really not a humorous thing," he said. "It's almost hard to deny this stuff because it's so stupid or strange that it gives credibility when you repeat it."
Belief in the conspiracy theory is also political. In a poll conducted by Yahoo / YouGov on May 20 and 21, 44% of Republicans said they believed microchip conspiracy theory, compared with 19% of Democrats.
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Health officials fear that the nation could be in a position where, despite the availability of a vaccine, the disease remains widespread if too many Americans refuse to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to get vaccinated.
The aim is to create a herd immunity in which enough people in the population have been infected and developed immunity to the virus that can no longer spread freely. Scientists estimate that 60 to 70% of the population must be immune to achieve such immunity and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Some have argued that simply releasing the virus creates adequate herd immunity, but the United States is nowhere near this level. Even in New York City, where high COVID-19 infection rates were found, according to tests by the state of New York, only 20% of the people tested had antibodies against the virus.
A Yahoo News / YouGov poll last month found that 19% of Americans said they would not be vaccinated if a vaccine was available, and 26% were unsure if they would. Public health officials hope that once a vaccine is ready, the temptation to regain normalcy will overcome the hesitation of the vaccine.
"This disease was so serious that I thought the anti-vaccine people were more cautious in their approach, but apparently that's not the case," said William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
He sees three groups appear when a vaccine becomes available.
“There will be people who line up immediately if they hire their children for the Salk vaccine during the polio days. They'll trust science, they'll be optimistic, "he said." Then there will be others who sit back and let it play a little before rolling up their sleeves. "
The last group is already very skeptical about vaccines and will actively fight them.
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Gates and his wife founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 with a special focus on health care and education. The foundation recently announced that it will provide $ 1.6 billion to deliver vaccines to the world's poorest countries through the Vaccine Alliance.
Gates is also earning $ 100 million to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for lower-income countries.
The microchip conspiracy theory may have its roots in a small study funded by his foundation and published in December.
It was a technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to ingest a small piece of dye with vaccines. The dye would be invisible to the naked eye, but could be seen with a cell phone app that shines near infrared light on the skin.
The dye would last up to five years, allowing medical professionals to know immediately whether a child was vaccinated or not, which can be difficult in developing countries.
Healthcare workers will be vaccinated against influenza in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Immunization Action Coalition.
A study explaining the technique was published in Science Translational Medicine in December. However, the technique was only tested on animals, never on children and never used.
The vaccine chip fantasy appears to have first appeared in late February or early March, said Dr. Saad Omer, professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, who is looking for ways to increase vaccine acceptance.
In the recent media call, Gates said that health records that enable health workers to know which children have received measles vaccines and which children still need them are important to public health.
"It's not a chip," he said.
A "perfect storm" for conspiracies
The conspiracy theory does not surprise those who study the anti-vaccine phenomenon. COVID-19 has put all the triggers in one, said Matthew Hornsey, a social psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, who studies the processes that cause people to accept or reject scientific messages.
"It's terrifying; it's hard to understand; governments need to restrict individual freedoms, and this will lead to mass vaccinations. It's a perfect storm for conspiracy theories," he said.
The combination of opponents of vaccination and the murky world of conspiracy theories is toxic.
“Here people have one problem behind which they have gathered. They don't trust vaccinations. Conspiracy theories are then picked up selectively to justify this feeling, "he said." That is why people are ready to believe ideas that seem strange and ridiculous to the rest of us. They want to believe it, so they set a very low bar for evidence. "
With the United States investing literally billions of dollars in developing coronavirus vaccines so that life can normalize again, it will be crucial to promote a social climate where vaccinations are considered the norm, said Yales Omer.
The best way to do this is not to argue, but to set an example by telling friends and family that you want to get vaccinated, he said.
"Make sure people know it's a social norm, but don't push it too hard," he said. "If it was a good idea to yell at people, teenagers would always win their arguments."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Coronavirus Vaccine: Bill Gates microchip conspiracy theory wrong
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