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to ramp up in the U.S., physicians were proud members
of the "Healthcare Heroes" group. By the time May
rolled around, the lawn signs, donated food, and
spontaneous parades began to dwindle as the public
began to grow tired of living during a pandemic and
became convinced it's not as bad as we thought it
was, we were withholding a cure, or worst of all, that
it was all a hoax and a Democratic conspiracy against
Trump. YouTube videos like Plandemic didn't help, nor
did mixed messaging from the CDC, WHO, and the
President himself. Suddenly, physicians found themselves
at the intersection of science, paranoia, and politics.
Physicians are no stranger to conspiracy theories and bad
science. The Anti-Vax movement needs no introduction
and is fought in many a Pediatrician and Family Practice
office, to say nothing of its online presence. Yet now we
have a global health crisis, where misinformation and
conspiracy theories can have devastating consequences
on the well-being of the public at large, even if only a
small fraction of Americans believe in them.1 Half of
all Americans have been found to believe in at least one
conspiracy theory regardless of political alignment.2
Rejection/mistrust in experts and a psychological
predisposition to believe major events have major
conspiratorial causes are two of the main reasons
why COVID-19 conspiracy theories exist.2,3 Many
physicians in the public health sector went to social
media to fight back against the conspiracy videos and
theories in the early days of the Pandemic, and were
mostly successful. Yet every week there seems to be a
new report, video, or paper that is co-opted by groups
attempting to de-legitimize and politicize a virus that has
claimed over 200,000 lives. This is to say nothing of the
political controversy surrounding the recommendations
and treatments used to combat the virus.
Politics is one of those date-night conversations people
aren't supposed to have until much later in the relationship.
Given the increased partisanship in American society,
it's no wonder why people shy away from the topic, and
physicians are no different. Historically, we as physicians
have stayed away from politics altogether with so few in
our profession as members of Congress. Some of it is due
to the mindset that politics should never come into play
when it comes to the Patient-Physician relationship. Others
see the general timeline of training for physicians as a
natural barrier, given it takes a minimum of seven years
post-undergrad to even become an independent-practicing
physicians let alone abandon the field to go into politics
once all those years and money have been spent. Those

interested in public health and policy tend to fall into the
gaps, with training and positions not advertised and even
looked upon as inferior to clinical work.4 The end result
isn't just in being outmaneuvered or out-lobbied by the
pharmaceutical or insurance industries5, but outgunned
when it matters most: public health during a pandemic.
The politics of mask wearing, and various drug therapies
are the new front on a pandemic culture war. Touted
by the President and amplified by Conservative media,
HCQ became a "miracle drug" while wearing a mask was
a symbol of weakness. Now with the HCQ fad waning,
Convalescent Plasma has picked up steam due to an
Emergency Use authorization. Vaccines will surely become
the new front in time, with Chinese and Russian-made
vaccines beating American ones to market. You can be sure
non-peer-reviewed papers will be made public with drug
companies trying to show their vaccine to be superior.
There is a very real fear vaccines will be pushed into
production ahead of proper safety protocols for political
motives. Physicians again will be put into the spotlight
as we decide what ultimately is right for our patients.
I do not begrudge my patient's tirade in the ED. The urge
to believe in a "miracle cure" is an allure too strong for
many. Politics and paranoia are a dangerous combination
in the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic.
For too long, physicians have been passive to political
events, often to the detrimental effects to our profession
and our patients. However, if there was ever a time to
get involved in public health policy and politics, then
I would say a raging pandemic not seen in a hundred
years is a good place to draw a line, take a stand, and
find our collective voice; even if that does mean losing
a few Twitter and Instagram followers here and there.

1.	 Papakyriakopoulos O, Medina Serrano J. C., Hegelich
S. (2020). The spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories
on social media and the effect of content moderation.
The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review.
2.	 Oliver J, Wood T. Conspiracy Theories and the
Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion. American Journal
of Political Science. Vol 58 No 4, October 2014.
3.	 Uscinski Joseph E, et. al. (2020). Why do people believe
COVID-19 conspiracy theories? The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)
Misinformation Review. https://doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-015
4.	 Khatana S.A., Patton E, Sanghavi D. Public Policy and
Physician Involvement: Removing Barriers, Enhancing Impact.
The American Journal of Medicine. Vol 130, No 1, January 2017.
5.	 Evers-Hillstron K. Big Pharma continues to top
lobbying spending. OpenSecrets.org. October 2019.



https://www.doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-015 http://www.OpenSecrets.org

Bucks Montgomery Physician Fall 2020

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