Day 554 – Communicating the science

Covid-19 can be scary.

For some, it could be scary because they’re concerned that they or their families might get infected, get sick or die.
For others, it could be scary because they are worried about the safety, efficacy or side-effects of the vaccine.

For many people, it could well be both.

As scientists, I feel that we have a responsibility to try to allay these fears as much as possible.

Information – accurate, proven information – is key to dispelling these concerns. But even if we do our level best to ignore, debate, rebut or ridicule individuals intent on sharing misinformation around the subject, and perhaps because of the mess on social media and throwing around of SO MANY numbers by both sides, it seems to be difficult for science to get what should be a fairly straightforward message, across to the general public.

It’s no use us reading and understanding a research paper and thinking that that’ll make everything ok, if that information isn’t then provided to the layperson in a usable form. We need good, knowledgeable, approachable scientific communicators to accurately decode the often high-level, technical language into something that everyone can understand. Whether we’re talking about scientific, legal, engineering or any other field, this translating of complex information so that everyone can understand is such a hugely important skill.

I think we’d all like to see an end to this pandemic. We’d like life to go back to something like we had before; we’d like to travel freely again and live our lives without the restrictions that Covid has placed upon us. If this positive potential scenario doesn’t describe your feelings, then this post isn’t for you. Your situation is beyond my remit. Sorry.

I’m very deliberately not going to use numbers in this post, nor am I necessarily going to link to papers and articles that support my points. I have done a lot of reading, and I understand a lot of the detail, but in the greater scheme of things, that detail is unimportant and can even muddy the waters: it’s the principles that actually matter.

Working from that standpoint above, we all have to understand that there is no silver bullet here. No one single 100% solution. Getting back to anywhere close to normality is going to require a combination of efforts, none of which by alone will end the pandemic. On the plus side, the more of these you personally put into place, the better protected you and those around you are, and the more you will be doing to end this horrible situation.
The more people that also put them into place, the quicker this thing is over.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

The first way is obviously the vaccines. The vaccines are undoubtedly very effective, but they’re not perfect. They aren’t 100% effective, so yes, you will hear of people getting Covid after they have been vaccinated, and you will hear that vaccinated individuals can pass the virus on. But your chances of contracting, becoming ill from, becoming hospitalised by or dying from Covid are massively reduced when you have been vaccinated. And just as importantly, your chance of passing the virus on to other people is hugely reduced as well. This is big news, because every person that you don’t infect can’t infect anyone else either. Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

It’s no surprise that the countries that are beginning to open up again and drop many of their Covid restrictions are ones with high levels of vaccination. The benefits of a lack of strain on their healthcare systems because of fewer people being infected and fewer people needing hospital treatment are clear to see.

And the vaccines are undoubtedly safe. Again, they’re not 100% safe (but then, what is?), but your chances of becoming ill or dying from the vaccine are absolutely tiny compared to the sickness and death rate of the virus. Sure, you will have heard many, many horror stories on Facebook, but take stock of where you are hearing them from and whether or not they are at all believable. This is not a new, untested technology, merely one that we have been using for a while and that can now be adapted to assist us in the fight against Covid.

The vaccine is by far the best and most important tool that we have in our armoury against Covid. It’s now readily available, free of charge right across SA and much of the rest of the world. There really is no reason not to get it.
If you are reading this and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please make a plan to go along and get it done. A bit of a sore arm for a couple of days is nothing – nothing – compared to even “mild” Covid.

But there are other things you can do – and should be doing – as well.

Self-isolation. I know it’s a pain. I know you want to get on with your life. But if you have been exposed to someone with a Covid-19 infection and you stay at home for 10 days, you can’t pass it on. And again, all the people that you might have passed it on to – at the shops, at the restaurant, on the bus etc. – they can’t pass it on now, either.
Remember: limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

And then these three. SO EASY TO DO, but if everyone just did them, it would make such a huge difference.

Masks – they won’t stop coronavirus completely. Wearing a mask will reduce your chances of contracting Covid-19 a little, but far more importantly, they limit your chances of spreading the virus a great deal. Remember that some people will be lucky enough to be unaware that they are carrying the virus at all. If those people limit their chances of spreading it by simply wearing a mask, we’d be a lot better off. And again, every little bit towards limiting the spread of the virus… you know the rest by now already.

Social distancing – The further away you stand from a smoker, the less strongly you’ll smell their smoke.
Same goes for Covid. Yep, sure, you could still get Covid from someone more than 1.5 metres away, but it’s very unlikely. The further away you stay from people, the less likely you are to get the virus if they have it. Even less so if you’re wearing a mask. Ever more less so if they’re wearing a mask. And if you’re both vaccinated? Basically no risk at all! It all adds up.
And I’m lobbing ventilation in with this one – just like the smoking analogy above – the better ventilated a public space is, the less likely the virus is to spread. So avoid crowds, avoid busy, indoor spaces, open the taxi windows (ok, good luck with that one) and choose to sit outside at your favourite restaurant.

Handwashing – Soap, water, santitiser. Use what you want. We now know that Covid isn’t spread much from surfaces, but high-traffic, high-touch areas like door handles, life buttons, light switches and escalator handrests can still pose a small risk. If you wash you hands after using them, you reduce that risk to yourself. If everyone washes their hands before using them, there is no risk. Again, it’s a tiny thing, but like the whole of Cape Town not letting the tap run while they brushed their teeth during the drought, if enough people do it, and in combination with everything else, it makes a difference.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic, and we all have access to the tools we need to achieve that.
An hour getting your jab. Asking a friend or neighbour to drop you some shopping in because you sat next to Barry at that meeting and he tested positive yesterday. Putting your mask on – properly – while you’re around other people. Choosing not to join huge crowds right now, going for an outdoor option whenever possible, and washing your hands, just like we were taught as kids.

It’s completely possible if we work together.

Day 492 – Dull and boring

Apologies for the continued short posts detailing general illness. It’s so surreal that there’s literally nothing else going on in our lives at the moment.

We still have another three days of self-isolation before we’re allowed out, but right now, I’m not sure quite how we’re going to manage to actually do anything once we’re released. Yes, it’s been ages since we locked ourselves away, but I’m concerned that real life is going to take more energy that we’ve got to offer.