If social media had existed in the 1980s, more than a thousand children each day would become paralysed from polio. An article in The Lancet says that's what used to happen before the Global Polio Eradication Initiative achieved a 99+ per cent reduction in the disease.
Imagine the memes and clickbait headlines if memes and clickbait had existed when polio was still ravaging parts of the planet:
"Polio is a FAKE disease!"
"Vitamin D CURES polio!"
"The government doesn't want you to know drinking bleach will cure polio!"
These claims sound ridiculous, but they're the sort of donkey droppings making the rounds online regarding Covid vaccines. Scaremongers have linked 5G mobile networks to the virus, and claim the pandemic is a conspiracy or bioweapon.
Even smart people swallow this BS.
A study published late last year in Nature detailed a randomised controlled trial in the UK and US that quantified how exposure to online misinformation around Covid-19 vaccines affects intent to vaccinate.
Researchers found that relative to factual information, misinformation caused declines of more than six percentage points in both countries among those stating they would definitely accept a vaccine.
New Zealand director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said 70 per cent vaccination would be the minimum needed for herd immunity. The Government said it would start a vaccine education campaign late last month.
At this point, we can only wish vaccination messages grounded in science were as ubiquitous as those regarding Covid-19 alert levels. And if the Government's pro-vax campaign has only started recently, it's late by many months.
Misinformation maestros along the ideological spectrum have been bamboozling people about vaccines in general for years, and the Covid vaccine in particular, for months.
Right-wingers say the vaccine and the pandemic are attempts at government control of our bodies. Lefties say if only our cells were vibrating at a higher frequency and we all took mega-doses of vitamins, we would never get the virus.
The vast majority of politicians and pundits aren't doctors, researchers or public health experts. Neither are most yoga teachers, health store owners or wellness gurus.
Last week, a 40-page magazine funded by Advance NZ started cropping up around the country, including in the Bay of Plenty. It contained conspiracy theories about vaccines, billionaire Bill Gates, herbal "cures" and lockdown. Health professionals urge anyone who gets this to bin it.
Where are the pro-vaccine leaflet drops from the Government? Where are billboards, advertising, even a helpline people can call for reassurance? With lives and livelihoods at stake, we can't afford to let the lords of lies win the battle for arms and minds.
A Research New Zealand poll last month found 70 per cent of Kiwis say they'll get the Covid vaccine mostly because they see the jab as the best way to protect themselves and others.
However, 10 per cent of those polled - 1003 people aged over 18 - said they weren't willing to take the vaccine, fearing long-term effects and preferring to wait to see how others were affected.
Twenty per cent said they didn't yet know if they'd agree to be vaccinated.
I'm battling misinformation with some of my own relatives who live in the United States, and who have all had their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. This week, one messaged to say she didn't know if she would get the second shot.
Her partner had heard a young adult died after getting immunised.
"That doesn't mean her death was caused by the vaccine," I wrote. "Millions of people are getting vaccinated, and some of them will already have health conditions."
European health officials Thursday said the AstraZeneca vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots, though 25 cases out of 20 million people vaccinated will continue to be investigated.
The World Health Organisation says deep vein thrombosis is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally and will happen regardless of vaccinations.
Another analysis updated this week by German news organisation Deutsche Welle found no link between deaths and coronavirus vaccinations.
Virologist Ulrike Protzer was quoted saying the number of deaths after vaccination is below the expected number of deaths without vaccination.
"If you make that comparison, it's actually the case that fewer died after the vaccination than one would expect."
I suggested my relative consult science-based sources such as the Centers for Disease Control, a research hospital near her home or her local newspaper. I also suggested she talk to her doctor.
Another family member says she won't get the vaccine. I suspect years of being uninsured in America have contributed to a reliance on alternative (unproven) medicine.
Vitamins and visualisation are cheaper than a $150 doctor visit and hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for tests.
We can give our loved ones a nudge if they need science-based information about vaccines. But the big advertising dollars and the biggest megaphone belongs to the Government.
It's not the 80s anymore - we can't sail through a global vaccination campaign without online hucksters spreading fear while trying to turn a profit. In this game of whack-a-mole, we need a co-ordinated strategy to counter the anti-factsters so we can save lives.