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Every year the big dictionary publishers and various institutions roll out their ‘word of the year’. Not surprisingly amongst the choices for 2020 were ‘pandemic’, ‘COVID’ and ‘lockdown’. Perhaps the runner up should have been ‘conspiracy’ as wild assertions and unmitigated misinformation spread throughout social media and broadcasters such as Fox News like a plague. Even old school conspiracy theorists were shocked at the degree of madness and total fabrication of some of the nonsense circulating.

Foremost in the dissemination of much of the bullshit, despite their frequent algorithmic cleansing, was our old buddy Facebook – supposedly the source of ‘news’ for some 50% of Australians. A claim, which both the Federal Government and the large media companies have constantly promulgated, has been seriously debunked in a number of studies. The reality is that we get our news from a wide variety of sources including TV, radio and Facebook could well account for less than 10%.  

That’s not to say they shouldn’t pay up for appropriating news stories from our mainstream media. Personally I would not care if all social media disappeared down the cyber plughole along with those who use these various websites to push their agendas of hate, half truths and paranoia. 

Last weekend we saw a few thousand Australians turn out in capital cities to protest COVID vaccination – a gathering of not only anti-vaxers but fellow travellers opposed to mask wearing and lockdown as well as those who believe the pandemic is one huge global conspiracy. Conspicuous amongst them was future senate candidate Pete Evans, fined $25,000 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for bogus COVID claims relating to a $14,990 bio charger he was flogging. The gadget in question looked more like a bad prop out out of a 60s sci-fi movie than a modern medical device. Whilst vaccination is not mandatory many were protesting, it seems, against what they perceive as Government coercion and the consequences for those who chose not to get the vaccine.  

Just what those consequences will be remains to be seen and it opens up a huge legal and moral minefield. Will airlines refuse to transport unvaccinated passengers, will pubs and entertainment venues do the same and will the anti-vaxers become everyday pariahs? Despite these protests, and health concerns aside, expediency will probably rule the roost. The majority, even those who are normally reluctant, will get the jab simply because they see it as the only pathway back to normalcy and economic stability.  

Some years ago I was stuck in Albury for a day, en route to Melbourne, whilst my car was being repaired. No slight on the border city but there was bugger all there to pass the time and in desperation I was drawn to what was the most exciting thing in town. It was a street van offering free chest x-rays for tuberculosis and for me a good way of soaking up another 30 minutes of boredom. As I was about to enter an elderly gentleman loitering nearby handed me a flyer which warned against the dangers of such x-rays, the ‘alarming levels of radioactivity’ emitted and the personal intrusion of having to half disrobe. 

This was the late 70s and TB was considered to be well under control in Australia following a series of intensive government campaigns following WWII. At the turn of the century it had been the largest killer of any disease in the country. Compulsory screening was introduced in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland in the early 1950s, with NSW following suit in 1956. 

 As with the anti-vax protests today there was a small section of the population who viewed mandatory x-rays as an infringement of human rights and amidst the atomic paranoia of the 50s, saw anything to do with radioactivity as a dangerous threat to their bodies. When compulsory screenings finished, many citizens were still encouraged to be screened and mobile screening trucks were a common sight all over the country during the 70s. 

Although it is still sadly prevalent in some Australian indigenous communities, TB is generally considered to be eradicated here as an epidemic style disease. Whilst opposition to mandatory x-rays in the 1950s was not as vocal as today’s anti-vaxers, it does demonstrate that human nature has not altered all that much in the past 60 odd years. A juicy conspiracy theory, fuelled by the likes of various shock jocks, Craig Kelly, Sky News, QAnon and the Facebook preachers will always be more appealing to some than the naked truth. 

Oh, and yes, I did get that free chest x-ray and got the hell out of Albury!

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