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How to Vaccinate the World: The antithesis of the jocks and hacks

How to Vaccinate the World has been a repeatedly useful tool for understanding the virus, the vaccine and the politics around it, says Robin Ince
If Tim Harford was described as a national treasure he would be able to calculate exactly what the worth of his treasure was, writes Robin Ince. Image credit: PopTech / Wikimedia Commons

“The bottom line is that it’s been an unusual experience,” is how Dr Anthony Fauci describes the last year of publicly dealing with the pandemic in the USA.

On Radio 4’s How to Vaccinate the World, he expressed his surprise and confusion that merely sharing the scientific advice for dealing with Covid-19 would lead to death threats.

The pandemic has placed an unsettling spotlight on a sizeable number of people’s attitude to any evidence they do not wish to believe for dogmatic or paranoid reasons.

This attitude to evidence has been made worse by the usual shock jocks and media hacks more interested in running their fingers through their egos and further monetising their brand of no-nonsense ignorance.

Back in September, a radio host and passing acquaintance on the comedy circuit got the clicks his radio station rely on by cutting up a mask on air.

His reasoning included worries that Covid was getting in the way of people’s cancer treatment. How exactly ignoring the scientific evidence that masks slow the spread of Covid via this stunt was helping the situation with cancer treatment remained unexplained. 

Reason and explanation saw down the manufacture of YouTube clips, so do your stunt and move on, knowledge is a turn-off, it seems. 

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The antithesis of the jocks and hacks is Tim Harford. If he was described as a national treasure he would be able to calculate exactly what the worth of his treasure was and how it would be manipulated by the duplicitous national treasure traders. 

How to Vaccinate the World has been a repeatedly useful tool for understanding the virus, the vaccine and the politics around it. Harford presents each show both deftly and with a lightness of touch that draws you in and painlessly enlightens you. 

Whatever time you put aside to read the newspapers should be spent listening to Harford instead. The recent examination of vaccine nationalism covered ethics and economics that, though seemingly specific to this crisis, covered much ground in terms of understanding how the world works and how an event like this illuminates the status of the rich and the poor. The regular sequence “What the editor doesn’t understand” is a non-threatening way of saying, “This is what you have been wondering about all show but might have been too afraid to ask.” 

There was further cause for hope with My Name is Jordan (Radio 4). Clinical science student Jordan Lee talked about his campaign against vaccine hesitancy in the BAME community around Bradford. The mix of the half-baked and sometimes full-on raw sewage that has been pumped from mass media and social media outlets is seen to have had a particular effect on ethnic minorities’ slowness in coming forth for the vaccine and a negative attitude towards it, something made all the more dangerous as Covid deaths were already higher in those communities. As Lee says, it’s all about fear and trust. 

Those turning away from the vaccine are broken down into different groups, from the wholesale vaccine deniers who are unreachable, to those who are concerned and watchful but might be watching the wrong information. The World Health Organisation has described the problem with disinformation and misinformation around Covid as an infodemic

Lee’s work is to make sure that people make decisions based on the correct information. 

Even his fellow science students have been dismissive towards the severity of the situation and paranoid about the vaccine with the situation frequently only changing when a family member has become dangerously ill. 

Lee’s research has also led to discoveries about the profiteering of anti-vaxxers, these aren’t just some lone rebels against evidence, there is money here too and it is also the financial implications of the click culture that plays a part in social media being tardy in slowing the spread of dangerous and wrong ideas.

While the amplifying of careless and sneering voices during the pandemic has been a cause for pessimism, hearing the activism of people like Lee and many of the enquiring and learned voices on How to Vaccinate the World has been a cause to think that our glasses might not be quite half empty yet.