Worth Watching “Contagion” Again

Ever since I saw Infection earlier this year, I couldn’t stop thinking about the guy pumping forsythia, the analogue of hydroxychloroquine in this universe. In the 2011 film, pandemic disinformation is personified by one blogger who claims the CDC is suppressing the bogus drug. People run around in panic and rob the pharmacy to get it.

The infection has been well studied , with scientists and doctors consulted to determine how it describes the development and response to the deadly pandemic. After watching it in February , I appreciated how it introduces viewers to contact tracing, fomites, the fact that vaccine production takes time, and even epidemiological concepts like R0 .

At the time, I thought the fictional pandemic was much more dramatic than ours could ever be. Masked Americans? Are schools and shops closed for months? Yes, right. But these predictions came true. (The mortality rate of 25%, fortunately, has not changed.)

But the authors have not gone far enough in presenting the disinformation network that has emerged from the pandemic. They needed to limit the cast of characters and keep the storylines simple, but during this pandemic, we learned one thing: people will believe what they want and change their understanding of everything else accordingly. We also learned that influencers, including world leaders, are not immune to the slavery of conspiracy theories.

As John Oliver pointed out , people want a big scary explanation for a big scary life-changing phenomenon. And so there are people connecting the dots in different ways, many of which are incompatible with others. For example, in real life there are people who say that the virus does not exist or is completely harmless, while others say that it is a foreign conspiracy to kill Americans. Some say that masks are useless and that the virus has nothing to fear; others say masks make us sick and the police will soon pull us out of our homes to force microchips and population control devices under the guise of vaccines. (Of course, none of this is true.)

At first I thought that the most surreal part of the film is when a forsythic scammer is arrested for cheating. Now I think the most unrealistic thing is that he was operating in a world where everyone agreed that the virus was real, that it was bad, and that it would be good to stop it.

The stories we tell make the difference. Sonia Shah wrote this summer that the stories we tell ourselves about pandemics shape our responses to them in real life. When antibiotics and vaccines were first discovered, the story arose that all you needed to defeat the disease was a product that you could buy and sell. Of course, this turned out not to be the case for very many diseases, but the idea remains.

As a result, Shah writes, “the biomedical establishment is focusing most of its attention and resources on finding magic cures for infection, rather than eliminating the underlying factors.” The film focuses on a fake medicine and a real vaccine. We’re doing something similar with our virus, with a lot of focus on hydroxychloroquine or some vaccine study, where social measures like providing universal income and health insurance or getting people out of overcrowded prisons could potentially do much more to stop it. distribute.

In addition, the film did not reveal how politicized the virus can be. There were opponents of the vaccine in 2011, and the film hints that a scammer could do unthinkable damage if he dissuades people from getting vaccinated. In 2020, vaccine opponents not only have more options than ever before, but many have linked their views on vaccines with their views on masks, blockages, politics, and more.

Another thing that catches your eye in retrospect is the curiosity of both researchers and the public at first to find certain pieces of information. Where is the epicenter, asked the film’s epidemiologists? And how quickly can we figure out R0?

In the film, as in real life, none of the answers mattered much. The virus’s base multiplication number, R0, tells us little about the rate at which it spreads, but it is not a missing piece to formulate a response. It was much more important to know how the virus is transmitted – for example, aerosols may be more important than surface contamination.

And we still don’t know where the coronavirus came from. Early reports centered around a seafood market in Wuhan, but it probably didn’t start with that . In Contagion, the characters never get it. Instead, we get an omniscient flashback to peek into its origins just before the closing credits.

Observing the infection in late 2020, I found that I wished this pandemic could happen in a world where a vaccine could be safely developed in a matter of months, where the government is mostly trying to do the right thing, and disinformation is just one guy. with a blog.

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