2nd Place - How Has 2020 Changed Attitudes Towards Medicine?
By Zara Saleem, Dubai College
The widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic considerably altered the mindsets of millions of people around the globe, making 2020 a breeding ground for fear and suspicion. With most of the world stuck in self-imposed isolation, this left ample time to focus on thoughts of a cure, whether taking it would be worth the risk, and whether we should re-evaluate our thoughts towards medicine.
In May of 2020, González-Sanguino et al. conducted a 7-minute online survey in a sample of the Spanish population to investigate the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that 18.7% of the sample population were depressed, 21.6% developed anxiety and 15.8% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. These detrimental effects on wellbeing do not only make the isolation period much more difficult, but it can be suggested that it has helped foster elements of mistrust and cynicism in the general population. In countries such as England and the USA, confidence in national governments’ ability to respond to the crisis has dropped significantly, with only 37% of UK respondents believing their national government can effectively respond to and deal with the virus. Increasing numbers of people instead place their belief in ‘conspiracy theories’, such as claiming, without evidence, that the COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese laboratory. Furthermore, a US national survey conducted by Leede Research found that 58% of respondents cited their doctor as their most trusted source of information. This decline in attitude and wellbeing, coupled with increased scepticism towards governing bodies has led us to find alternative places in which to put our trust, the most obvious being in those who deal with medical issues on a day-to-day basis, with attitudes to advice given by medical professionals becoming more and more positive.
An online survey conducted in over 15 countries, in partnership with the World Economic Forum showed an overall increase in the number of individuals contemplating or intending to receive a COVID-19 vaccination between the months of December and August.
Diagram: World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey, page 3
Furthermore, when asked the reason(s) as to why they would not take a vaccine, the majority of individuals’ answers included statements such as: “I am worried about the side effects”, “I don’t think it will be effective” and “I am against vaccines in general.”
Diagram: World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey, page 4
As seen in the above chart, between 57% and 80% of respondents in each country are primarily concerned about the resultant side effects the various COVID-19 vaccines may give rise to, followed by up to 45% of respondents dubious as to how effective the vaccines will be. It can be said that the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine on such a global scale has prompted individuals – many of whom may not have had prior medical knowledge – to undertake their own forms of ‘research’, with the primary explanation behind the statement “I am worried about the side effects” being concern at how the COVID-19 vaccine took only 1 year to develop. The standard time for vaccine development is 10-15 years, suggesting to some that the contents and effectiveness of the vaccine may be subpar.
Despite this, it can be said that amidst all the chaos of a raging pandemic, our adaptability as a society has been incredible. With the exception of key workers, most individuals have been confined to their homes, finding new ways to reconnect with others (in a socially distanced manner.) For students, the introduction of ‘online learning’ (teaching in a lecture-style manner using online meeting platforms) has been widespread, encouraging other industries such as retail and public service to introduce virtual, online methods of operation to make things easier and more accessible than ever. Using data from the same Leede research survey, 72% of US respondents seeking healthcare changed their use of healthcare services, preferring virtual healthcare over the traditional, in-person approach. It is widely known that health centres and hospitals have been overflowing with COVID patients, with 2,928 hospital beds in England occupied with confirmed COVID-19 patients as of the beginning of April 2021. The large proportion of individuals willing to make the transition suggests the level of patience in the general population has increased, with individuals understanding the stress healthcare centres and key workers are put under.
In conclusion, while the predominant emotion of 2020 was widespread anxiety, faith has once again been placed in medical professionals and their profession. In the general population, distrust in medicine is largely due to suspicions about the COVID-19 vaccine, which for many, was almost as if it appeared overnight. Perhaps it can be said that as a society, the general population has simultaneously become more independent and more sceptical; we are now more likely to research unassisted, but make use of a discerning eye.
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1. González-Sanguino, C., Ausín, B., Ángel Castellanos, M., Saiz, J., López-Gómez, A., Ugidos, C., Muñoz, M. (2020). Mental health consequences during the initial stage of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in Spain. Retrieved 20 March 2020 from Sci-Hub: https://sci-hub.tf/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.05.040.
2. Lacey, N., Boyon, N., Feldman, S. (2021). COVID-19 one year on: Global public loses confidence in institutions. Retrieved 25 March 2021 from Ipsos: https://www.ipsos.com/en/covid-19-one-year-global-public-loses-confidence-institutions.
3. Alliance of Community Health Plans Press Release. (2021). RELEASE – COVID-19 Shifts Consumer Behavior, Attitudes Toward Health Care Services. Retrieved 1 April 2021 from Alliance of Community Health Plans website: https://achp.org/release-covid-19-shifts-consumer-behavior-attitudes-toward-healthcare-services/.
4. Boyon, N. (2021). U.S. and U.K. are optimistic indicators for COVID-19 vaccination uptake. Retrieved 2 April 2021 from Ipsos: https://www.ipsos.com/en/global-attitudes-covid-19-vaccine-december-2020.
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