KATE EMERY: Why fear of the COVID cooties has some Australians refusing blood transfusions

Kate Emery
The Nightly
4 Min Read
COVID conspiracy theorists have a new target, and it’s not making them appear any smarter, writes Kate Emery.
COVID conspiracy theorists have a new target, and it’s not making them appear any smarter, writes Kate Emery. Credit: The Nightly

The COVID-19 pandemic broke some people and afterwards, to bastardise Ernest Hemingway, not everyone was stronger at the broken places.

I’m not talking about those who lost loved ones to the virus, who have suffered the debilitating effects of long COVID or those dealing with the current surge of cases that has seen 15 deaths in WA alone in the past two weeks.

I’m talking about COVID conspiracy theorists who went down a rabbit hole four years ago and never made it out.

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In Australia right now a small — thankfully very small — number of people are currently refusing blood transfusions from hospitals unless doctors can guarantee the blood donors have not received a COVID vaccination.

It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing: that they believe a third party’s COVID vaccine can harm them or that they believe hospitals have an anti-vaxxer blood donor on standby, waiting like Tom Hardy in the opening minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road to be called into service the moment their type O is required.

Let me give these people a tip right now: if you believe that hospitals are storing supplies of unvaccinated blood, please see my advertisement on BridgesForSale.com because, buddy, do I have a deal for you.

For one thing, you can probably imagine just how many anti-vaxxers, who believe the “plandemic” was a conspiracy invented by billionaires and perpetuated by the medical establishment for money/world domination purposes, are routinely offering up their veins to the Red Cross for a juice box and a biscuit.

With fewer than 3 per cent of Australians regularly donating blood and 98 per cent vaccinated, you do the maths. Wait, no, I did it for you and the answer is sweet bugger all.

For another, hospitals are run by medical professionals whose patience for Facebook conspiracies tends to be slightly lower than the lowest point of the Mariana Trench, home to single-celled organisms called monothalamea, who, by a strange coincidence, have roughly the same brain processing power as the average conspiracy theorist and are just as fun at parties.

At least these COVID conspiracists are only harming themselves by opting to potentially bleed out rather than risk the COVID cooties.

Not all COVID conspiracists are so selfless.

Some prowl social media for columns like this one so they can tell me (again, yawn) that I’ll be first against the wall come the revolution. It’s Nuremberg 2.0 for me, according to these people, who are seemingly unable to distinguish between a news columnist encouraging people to follow expert medical advice during a global pandemic and, say, Hermann Goring.

Other COVID conspiracy theorists took advantage of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine to hastily rebrand as pro-Russian conspiracy theorists, pivoting faster than a celebrity trying to bounce back from a sex scandal by converting to Christianity.

“A part of the COVID-scientific conspiracy sphere has clearly moved to the coverage of Ukraine,” disinformation and conspiracy theory expert Tristan Mendes-France told Agence France-Presse soon after the invasion.

“This is not surprising, the disinformation environment is a wide shell that clings around the hot topics of the moment.”

Still other COVID sceptics, presumably tired of railing against a vaccine almost everyone in the country has already had, widened their opposition from the COVID vaccine in particular to vaccines in general, campaigning against vaccine mandates for everything from measles to everyone’s favourite crippler of children: polio.

Being on the same side of a vaccine argument as polio is a bit like finding yourself aligned with the late Cambodian dictator Pol Pot on multiculturalism and probably as worthy of serious self-reflection.

The inability of some COVID sceptics to move on is sad but maybe not surprising, given the sense of purpose that comes with being part of a conspiracy theory.

There’s good research to suggest that people who feel disenfranchised and anxious are drawn to conspiracy theories in part because it offers them the comfort of a scapegoat and the illusion of control. It’s also just undeniably pleasant to feel like you’re part of a group with a shared interest, whether that shared interest is macrame or a deadly global conspiracy.

Maybe the solution to reaching that minority of Australians who were broken by the pandemic and still find themselves stuck in the rabbit hole with a roll of aluminium foil and a Truth Social account isn’t to bombard them with facts and science at all.

Maybe they just need a new hobby that gives them the same sense of community as hitting the COVID Telegram channels. Canoeing, perhaps, or swing dancing. I know some people find great joy in sewing clubs but, arguably, another hobby involving a preoccupation with sharp needles isn’t the wisest possible choice if they’re ever to be coaxed back to mainstream society — if only to receive a life-saving blood donation.

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