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VIDEO: Join The Cult of the Vaccine
Yesterday, I ran a story that had nothing to do with vaccines, about the seeming delay of the development of a drug called molnupiravir (see the above segment with the gracious hosts of The Hill: Rising for more). In the time it took to report and write that piece, conventional wisdom turned against the drug, which is now suspected of ivermectinism and other deviationist, anti-vax tendencies, in the latest iteration of our most recent collective national mania — the Cult of the Vaccine.
The speed of the change was incredible. Just a week ago, on October 1st, the pharmaceutical giant Merck issued a terse announcement that quickly became big news. Molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral drug, “reduced the risk of hospitalization or death” of Covid-19 patients by as much as 50%, according to a study.
The stories that rushed out in the ensuing minutes and hours were almost uniformly positive. AP called the news a “potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic,” while National Geographic quoted a Yale specialist saying, “Having a pill that would be easy for people to take at home would be terrific.” Another interesting early reaction came from Time:
Vaccines will be the way out of the pandemic, but not everyone around the world is immunized yet, and the shots aren’t 100% effective in protecting people from getting infected with the COVID-19 virus. So antiviral drug treatments will be key to making sure that people who do get infected don’t get severely ill.
This is what news looks like before propagandists get their hands on it. Time writer Alice Park’s lede was sensible and clear. If molnupiravir works — a big if, incidentally — it’s good news for everyone, since not everyone is immunized, and the vaccines aren’t 100% effective anyway. As even Vox put it initially, molnupiravir could “help compensate for persistent gaps in Covid-19 vaccination coverage.”
Within a day, though, the tone of coverage turned. Writers began stressing a Yeah, but approach, as in, “Any new treatment is of course good, but get your fucking shot.” A CNN lede read, “A pill that could potentially treat Covid-19 is a ‘game-changer,’ but experts are emphasizing that it’s not an alternative to vaccinations.” The New York Times went with, “Health officials said the drug could provide an effective way to treat Covid-19, but stressed that vaccines remained the best tool.”
If you’re thinking it was only a matter of time before the mere fact of molnupiravir’s existence would be pitched in headlines as actual bad news, you’re not wrong: Marketwatch came out with “‘It’s not a magic pill’: What Merck’s antiviral pill could mean for vaccine hesitancy” the same day Merck issued its release. The piece came out before we knew much of anything concrete about the drug’s effectiveness, let alone whether it was “magic.”
Bloomberg’s morose “No, the Merck pill won’t end the pandemic” was released on October 2nd, i.e. one whole day after the first encouraging news of a possible auxiliary treatment whose most ardent supporters never claimed would end the pandemic. This article said the pill might be cause to celebrate, but warned its emergence “shouldn’t be cause for complacency when it comes to the most effective tool to end this pandemic: vaccines.” Bloomberg randomly went on to remind readers that the unrelated drug ivermectin is a “horse de-worming agent,” before adding that if molnupiravir ends up “being viewed as a solution for those who refuse to vaccinate,” the “Covid virus will continue to persist.”
In other words, it took less than 24 hours for the drug — barely tested, let alone released yet — to be accused of prolonging the pandemic. By the third day, mentions of molnupiravir in news reports nearly all came affixed to stern reminders of its place beneath vaccines in the medical hierarchy, as in the New York Times explaining that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who initially told reporters the new drug was “impressive,” now “warned that Americans should not wait to be vaccinated because they believe they can take the pill.”
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