Calling People ‘Covidiots’ Isn’t Helpful

For many people, the distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine is joyful and prosperous news. Pride and a rare glimpse of optimism were felt as we watched 90-year-old Margaret Keenan get vaccinated by May Parsons in Coventry earlier this month. It was a celebration of the tiresome work of the NHS staff and the incredible achievement of Pfizer and BioNTech as the end to this palpably awful pandemic is finally in sight.

For some, however, a vaccine is less hopeful and more sinister. Vaccinations have historically been a contentious subject for many people. Despite there being evidence against it, some were infamously concerned that there may be a positive correlation between pregnant women taking the vaccine and their children developing autism. The speed of approval for the Covid-19 vaccination has worried people who would have been sceptical about the roll out anyway.

For those of us who don’t share these concerns, and would be more than happy to be vaccinated against this deadly virus and get back to a normal way of living, it is very easy to dismiss those in our communities who will refuse to be vaccinated. It is important to remember that these are people who are risking their lives by not taking the vaccine. They are (mostly) not David Icke followers who believe the pandemic is a myth and Bill Gates is planning mass mind control – it is mostly people who are worried about the long-term side-effects of the vaccine.

There are two ways to respond to these reasonable concerns. You could respond by quoting or sharing a fact-checked article debunking myths that the coronavirus vaccine alters DNA or has a microchip hidden inside it. Or, you could take the easier, more blunt approach, by using some incredibly sophisticated wordplay to brand them a ‘Covidiot’ – (can you sense the sarcasm?).

As tempting and easy as it is, calling somebody a ‘covidiot’ won’t alter the way they think about vaccines, but it will make them think you’re not worth debating. If they don’t want to take the vaccine, then that is their decision; don’t be fooled into thinking  your opinion on this matter is so superior to theirs that it gives you the right to patronise and insult them.

This compares well with Brexit. The words ‘stupid’ and ‘idiotic’ were brandished around when describing people who wanted to leave the European Union. Paul Mokuolu wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian which said: “I’ve seen Brexiters being grouped together and called “idiot”, “racist”, and other derogatory terms, simply by virtue of being Brexit voters.”

Calling people who wanted to leave the European Union an ‘idiot’ or ‘racist’ didn’t stop them voting for it, nor did it stop them thinking or believing the propaganda that was reinforcing such thoughts. However, it did stop any chance of debate, because nobody wants to discuss sensitive issues with someone who insults them on the grounds that they have a different opinion. There’s nothing wrong in pointing out the holes in someone’s argument or opinion, but just doing this alone is the equivalent of shouting ‘fake news’ at someone and subsequently sticking your fingers in your ears. However, if you point to the holes in someone’s theory followed with your own argument – and resist the temptation to insult them – all of a sudden the chance to have a conversation about the topic has been enabled. 

In terms of Brexit, this meant that many lost their freedom of movement; in terms of a vaccine, it will mean people lose their lives. Calling them a ‘covidiot’ won’t change their minds, but it will mean they’ll stop talking. Opinion polls in the lead up to the EU referendum showed that the UK was going to vote to remain a member. This prediction could have been because a large number of people who wanted to leave the EU were so sick of being called stupid in the public sphere that they would let their vote do the talking instead.

Tom Chivers wrote in UnHerd: “We all point at the stupid people who believe the wrong things, and we say: these people are idiots, it’s OK to ignore them, they’ve just got a nasty case of the Dunning-Krugers.” The Dunning-Kruger effect being when someone overestimates their intelligence, or their ability at something.

The point of the matter is that most of us are not epidemiologists, and most of us don’t know what side effects a vaccine may trigger. So, if someone is sceptical about getting one, refer them to the work of someone who knows what they’re talking about, rather than just calling them stupid. That won’t change their mind; it will just shut them up. 

Words by Adam Laver

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