Another autumn approaches and the world is still grappling with the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists have reported a new Omicron sub-variant that poses a greater risk to its parent variant. The past three years have been defined by pressure, death, and poverty. Despite not seeing the conclusion of the pandemic, many of us have already witnessed—and experienced— the financial, economic, and mental effects of COVID-19’s treacherous impact.
Upon hearing the news about the highly transmissible Omicron sub-variant BA 5, regions across the world are once again considering mask mandates in preparation for an updated vaccine in the fall. Those who have contracted the BA 5 variant have reported typical COVID-19 symptoms, such as sore throat and fatigue. However, they have also reported having experienced meningitis-like symptoms—such as brain and/or spinal swelling. Despite the severity of the BA 5 variant’s symptoms, there seems to be a lack of urgency and oversight when it comes to federal, state, and international governments and their coordinated responses to the spread of COVID-19. In America, a false sense of normalcy has captivated numerous people. Citizens are more than reluctant to return to mask mandates and a reinforced 6 feet of personal space.
The distribution of vaccinations was met with conflicting reactions. Some Americans felt unsatisfied with the length and barriers it takes to receive the vaccine. Others were unenthusiastic about getting vaccinations—considering them to be an infringement on their rights. Nonetheless, the discontent and overall confusion about COVID-19 prevention have prevented the United States from reaching herd immunity. In a state of confusion, many would assume that it is best to look to the medical community for advice and guidance. However, what if the medical community itself isn’t exempt from the distrust of citizens? Moreover, the safety of healthcare workers has not only been gravely compromised but reevaluated as a whole. Nurses, physicians, and hospital employees all became essential workers as a result of the pandemic. Their dedication to saving lives—and pulling the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic—revealed how the struggles of the medical community are overlooked. Healthcare workers from across the world have been subjected to workplace violence, harassment, and isolation for their roles in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.
A study conducted by Sigma Theta Tau International examined the treatment of healthcare workers around the world. Unprecedented disbelief in medical institutions has arisen as a result of the rise in popular COVID-19 conspiracy theories, along with real worries about how health care professionals treat underprivileged populations. The proliferation of "free thinkers" and "health coaches" spreading false information about COVID-19 has significantly affected discussions on immunizations and disease prevention. This false information has even persuaded doubters who are genuinely angry with the medical community.
Using the PRISMA guidelines— an “evidence-based” system used for systematic reviews and meta-analysis—researchers documented the identity, location, and severity of the harm healthcare workers experienced. The survey showed that 3,452 doctors, 5,738 nurses, and 2,744 allied healthcare workers have reported stigmatization and violence during the pandemic. Researchers concluded that 43% of the surveyed were affected by the stigmatization they received and 42% felt affected by the violence they have experienced.
Knowing that the best decision for government officials and citizens is to offer support to members of the medical community. Furthermore, there should be a coordinated effort to dispel misinformation online. Starting with holding hospitals and other medical institutions accountable for their treatment of marginalized groups. In hindsight, the two issues may seem like they are completely different—but are both relevant for the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, due to these discrepancies, people feel discontent with doctors and their peers. An overall effort to equitably educate the three involved parties will not only reduce the impact of misinformation but also guide the country towards herd immunity.
However, the reality of the situation makes these solutions complicated to achieve. Complicated—but never impossible. Not only is there rampant misinformation but people willing to capitalize on said misinformation for financial and political means. Furthermore, there is a lack of incentive to want to comply with the rules, especially when small businesses and essential workers put their lives in jeopardy to provide for themselves and their families.
Nevertheless, issues such as inflation, wage disparities, systematic marginalization, and oppression existed in and outside the medical space predating COVID-19. While combating the COVID-19 virus, a greater effort should be addressed on said issues. These issues have the potential to further destabilize communities far from our reach and close to home. Globalization—which entails Western countries benefiting from other nations—occurs at the latter’s expense. A serious disservice to the global community would result from assuming that conflict in one nation wouldn't spread to another. Moving forward, cooperation and constructive criticism— as opposed to disinformation and exploitation—would be the greatest method to not just protect people from COVID-19 but also to address the problems COVID-19 exacerbated.
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