Anti-vaxxers’ new virus conspiracies
As global interest in a coronavirus vaccine grows, anti-vaxxers are fabricating numerous conspiracy theories about DNA gathering and "the government" to keep their social media businesses alive.
The anti-vaxxer community has become increasingly critical of news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and discussion of a vaccine.
Pominent Australian actor Isabel Lucas lost a charity role this week after saying this week she opposes "mandatory vaccination".
Another prominent anti-vaxxer recently dismissed the global severity posed by coronavirus saying, by her assessment, it is "not what could be considered a global pandemic".
Meanwhile instagram posts from celebrity chef Pete Evans have led to hundreds of unmoderated comments suggesting coronavirus testing is an exercise in widespread gathering of DNA.
The trend has been lashed by Dr Harry Nespolon, the President of the The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who implored people to "log off and ignore them".
"There is one thing they all have in common - they are celebrities with large social media followings taking advantage of a devastating pandemic to promote countless pseudoscientific cures and myths which at best do nothing and at worse are hazardous to people's health," Nespolon told news.com.au. "They need to cut this out right now."
"Healthcare workers across Australia are working tirelessly and risking their own health to care for patients and save lives at risk from COVID-19. It makes this vital work a lot harder than it needs to be when celebrities with high profiles encourage people to ignore expert medical advice.
"So Australians I implore you, if you see something on social media about a DNA gathering exercise occurring through coronavirus testing or COVID-19 not being a 'true pandemic' just log off and ignore them."
He urged Australians to listen to their GPs: "We have your best interests at heart and we are doing all we can to keep you healthy and safe."
Lucas, a prolific social media user and actor, was let go from her role as an ambassador for girls rights charity group Plan International, after comments surfaced showing her own controversial stance on vaccination.
"Freedom of choice is every humans (sic) right. I don't trust the path of vaccination," Lucas wrote in response to a photo Evans had shared on Instagram.
After the comments surfaced, Plan International announced on Twitter they'd been made aware of Ms Lucas' comments.
"We are aware of the issue and as of today, Ms Lucas and Plan International Australia have come to an agreement to end the ambassadorship," the organisation said on Wednesday.
Ms Lucas later said in a statement through her Instagram that she'd been misunderstood, and didn't have a problem with vaccinations, but held fears for "mandatory vaccinations".
News.com.au has contacted Ms Lucas for further clarification of this stance but did not receive a response.
Another high profile anti-vaccination activist, Dr July Wilyman, has dismissed the World Health Organisation's (WHO) classification of the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, and suggested doctors aren't able to properly identify coronavirus.
"At present this outbreak of serious disease in some countries is not what could be considered a global pandemic," said Dr Wilyman in a recent video, where she claimed medical doctors have a "tyranny that's been driven by the pharmaceutical companies". She said the government was in cahoots with the medical community in a larger ploy to try and unnecessarily control society.
Dr Wilyman gained her doctorate after writing a thesis for Wollongong University titled: "A critical analysis of the Australian government's rationale for its vaccination policy".
Her piece was criticised for following the conspiracy theory that the WHO is working with pharmaceutical companies to promote vaccines without scientific evidence. Dr Wilyman has no medical training. The university, which granted the PHD under the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, was harshly criticised over whether its examiners were able to properly analyse the document.
Dr Wilyman has also discussed a false link between autism and vaccines on her website, and in 2012 implied the family of a child who died from whooping cough were lying about the illness to promote vaccines, according to The Australian.
"In the case of this new virus, which has been labelled COVID-19, what we know about this virus is that it's causing illnesses mostly in the elderly people and we've had serious outbreaks in some countries," Dr Wilyman said.
The virus is actually called by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes is COVID-19.
Dr Wilyman claimed there were "many factors" at play which meant many countries were not at risk.
"What you are being asked to accept is social distancing and banning of gatherings in the healthy Australian population," Dr Wilyman said. "At this stage we don't have a global pandemic."
Dr Wilyman also claimed the testing in Australia was "not accurate" enough to distinguish between a common cold, which can be caused by a different strain of coronavirus, and the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
Dr Wilyman claimed false positives, of coronavirus strains that could cause the common cold, were routinely detected by a PCR test. She claims this has led to "thousands of cases of coronavirus" being reported that don't exist.
According to factcheck.org, a PCR test, along with other standard tests used by medical professionals, are accurate at identifying new coronavirus, and will not misidentify other similar viruses.
A PCR test or polymer chain reaction test, for example, uses a nose or throat swab, or some phlegm, and searches for presence of coronavirus RNA, according to factcheck.org. If the test detects the new coronavirus in the sample, the machine can take a snippet of the DNA fragment and copy it many times, so it can be read on a machine.
If there is no virus, or a different virus, the slightly different DNA sequence cannot be copied and no signal will be read.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration says vaccination is "one of the most effective ways to prevent diseases". It explains a vaccine helps the body's immune system to "recognise and fight pathogens like viruses or bacteria, which then keeps us safe from the diseases they cause".
Currently, there is no vaccination to protect individuals from coronavirus, however a number are in development around the world.
The TGA says vaccines, along with penicillin, are the two "most transformative health developments in the history of medicine", saying millions of lives have been saved by vaccines alone; in eras before vaccination existed, disease often swept through communities and was "swift and brutal".
Existing vaccines protect the community from more than 25 debilitating or life-threatening diseases, including measles, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, influenza, typhoid and cervical cancer.
Originally published as Anti-vaxxers' new virus conspiracies