BY ROGER WATSON
During the lockdowns, I encountered a group of people who were new to me. These were the ‘virus sceptics’; in fact, it would be more accurate to call them the ‘virus deniers’, a label they hate as it smacks of Holocaust denial. Remarkably, they do not believe that viruses exist. Scratch deep enough and they do not believe in any aspect of germ theory and that includes the existence of bacteria. To them, and they include many health professionals, the whole of medical science related to infection is a massive con, a hoax, and that includes antibiotic treatments and, of course, their most noire bête vaccines.
As a result of my lockdown scepticism, about which I wrote in the Salisbury Review on 1 April 2020, in the early days of lockdown I spoke at anti-lockdown rallies in my home city. Here I encountered some like-minded people who doubted that the novel coronavirus was going to be as lethal as proclaimed, who already knew that face masks would be completely ineffective and, regardless of the above, were convinced that lockdowns were morally wrong and would prove to be economically disastrous. However, I was less than comfortable sharing platforms with people who were clearly hi-jacking the events to promote the view that the Covid-19 was a hoax. I shared a virtual platform with Kate Shemirani who said that the vaccines were going to kill everyone who took them and with Gareth Icke (son of David) who attributed it all to lizards masquerading as politicians and royalty. I shared an actual platform with Mark Steele who said that nanoparticles were being injected that would be activated—towards what end I never ascertained—by the 5G signals. It struck me after these events that I was sharing platforms with people on the extreme fringes of the conspiracy theory movement and eschewed further invitations to speak.
My concerns were further vindicated when I was interviewed on Unity News Network and said, while the vaccines were unnecessary that I was willing to be vaccinated simply to resume travelling as the attendant risks were very small. The sheer viciousness of the comments online as I was being interviewed and the outright hatred expressed towards me convinced me I was probably dealing with some very deranged people with whom it was not possible to hold a reasonable discussion. The fact, for example, that Toby Young is considered a hate figure by these people despite his highly effective anti-lockdown activities, speaks volumes. It is not his lockdown scepticism that is the focus of their opprobrium but the fact that he will not say exactly what they want him to say regarding Covid-19 and the vaccines. While Young has not joined them in their viral scepticism, he has moved a great deal on the Covid vaccines and regularly publishes articles on the ineffective nature of the vaccines, their disbenefits in protecting older people from Covid and their harms based on hard evidence in The Daily Sceptic. But the viral sceptics are an impatient and selfish lot; they must be agreed with now and they must be agreed with in total. Accumulating hard evidence is unnecessary; they ‘just know’.
Who are these people, you ask? Well, it would be impossible to list them all, even if I knew who they were. But there is a range from people who, for example, do not believe that HIV causes AIDS such as Peter Duesberg. They do not deny the existence of HIV, but they are embraced by the virus sceptics as this is grist to their sceptical mill. Even if viruses do exist, they do not actually cause disease. But perhaps the most extreme end of the virus sceptical spectrum is represented by Dr Sam Bailey from New Zealand. There is absolutely no aspect of germ theory to which she adheres; the scientific ‘fathers’ of the field—people like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch—were frauds. There is no argument that you can put to them, such as the well-established experiments that prove the existence of both viruses and bacteria and that they are infective agents, for which they do not have an answer. Believe me, I have tried. For example, do not try “how come if I am ill with the flu my wife also catches it?” Their response will contain a range of ingredients from mutual hysteria to that fact that both our diets must be deficient or that our water supply is contaminated as explained by Dr Bailey in a lengthy interview with James Delingpole, who himself has moved to the fringes of conspiracy theory.
The extent of the denial is staggering and, if not previously encountered, you really wonder if you have stumbled across people from the Middle Ages before germ theory was established and people adhered to the theory of spontaneous generation whereby rats originated in rubbish heaps. Ask directly about such theories, which are risible in the face of modern science, and you will not receive a straight answer. They will resort to tu quoque methods of logical fallacy (whataboutery) and cherry pick from a range of obscure counterfactual instances in which they are well versed, none of which withstand scientific scrutiny.
The viral sceptic movement accumulates or try to align with the scientific waifs and strays who have no other home. Thus, Andrew Wakefield of MMR and autism fame is lauded. While I consider that Wakefield may have been unfairly treated and scapegoated, the viral sceptics simply will not accept that he was shown to have an undeclared financial conflict of interest and the assumptions made based on his data were demonstrably wrong as explained in detail by Ben Goldacre in Bad Science. They do not care to be reminded that Wakefield is neither a viral sceptic nor an ‘anti-vaxxer’; he was an advocate for three separate vaccines as opposed to the triple vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella.
I believe that those on the more extreme fringes of Covid scepticism did great damage to the lockdown sceptical movement. I often urged my virus sceptic friends, instead of using the Covid pandemic to recruit people to their views, that we agree on common ground where the Venn diagram of our views overlapped—which was definitely over lockdown—and focus our activities on that. Instead, they insisted on promoting their views at every opportunity and to denigrate others who failed to agree with them, including fellow lockdown sceptics. I am convinced in retrospect that had we shown a more united front we may have had a truly effective anti-lockdown movement and one which would have seen our freedoms and our lives restored to us within weeks. Instead, it took two years.
Roger Watson is a Registered Nurse and Editor-in-Chief of Nurse Education in Practice.