Why do so many people oppose COVID-19 regulations?

A sizable proportion of the population refuses to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though vaccination is free. Many people refuse to wear masks or follow social distancing rules. Refusal to abide by these rules has even led to violent clashes. Masks and social distancing are meant to stop the spread of the virus. Vaccines are meant to prepare the body’s immune system to fight the virus should we become infected. Surely, all this makes sense.

I can understand why some people might doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine or be worried about side effects. Most of us aren’t medical experts. We are in no position to judge a vaccine’s safety or effectiveness; we have to depend on professional advice. The question is which experts can be trusted. People are understandably leary of believing vaccine manufacturers since there is a clear conflict of interest; the more people get vaccinated, the greater Pharma’s profit. But why do so many people distrust the advice of health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the health professionals at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19?

The opposition to mask-wearing or social distancing is even harder to understand. You don’t need to be an expert to see that these measures make sense and can do no harm. You may have seen demonstrations of saliva droplets coming out of people’s mouths as they exhale, sneeze or cough. These droplets can then be inhaled by others. Saliva droplets from an infected person are likely to contain virus particles.

Wearing a mask helps block your droplets from spreading and possibly being inhaled by someone else. Your mask will also help filter out other people’s virus-laden droplets if you get too close to someone who is infected. In other words, your mask will help protect both you and people you encounter. Social distancing will further lessen the risk of infection.

Wearing masks and keeping one’s distance from others surely isn’t asking too much; it should be common courtesy. It is preposterous to insist that these simple safety measures violate your human rights. There are laws against drinking and driving and against speeding, because they endanger others. Try claiming that those laws violate your human rights!

If you cannot trust official sources like the CDC and want to “do your own research” forget about social media. Follow people who actually know what they are talking about. You might start with Scientific American, a magazine that publishes relevant articles by knowledgeable authors written in a language that a lay audience can understand.

If you are a bit more ambitious you can go through medical journals like The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their covid-related articles are freely accessible. You might not be able to follow all the authors’ arguments, but you should at least be able to understand the summeries of their results and their conclusions.

Of course, the virus mutates and some of our current knowledge will become obsolete. We don’t know yet how dangerous the new omicron variant will turn out to be. It may be more or less transmissible, our current vaccines may be less effective against it, or it may be more lethal. But we can be sure that mask-wearing and social distancing will also be protective against this variant. And vaccination is still protective against the current dominant strain, even if we cannot be certain about its effectiveness against new variants.

So, do us all and yourself a favour and abide by the rules, wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others, even if you have been fully vaccinated. Remember that even the vaccinated can still get infected and can pass the virus on. And do get vaccinated! Experts agree on the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines; the advantages of vaccination outweigh any likely side effects. Don’t count on your immune system alone to get you through this pandemic. Most people’s diets aren’t exactly great and a poor diet compromises your immune system, the system that is supposed to fight the infection.

There are now also a number of drugs against this virus in the pipeline. Let’s hope that they will turn out to be effective.