The stifling of open debate is, by its very nature, hard to prove. In a country like China, the suppression of free speech and choice is obvious to onlookers, but China’s inhabitants aren’t always aware of how repressed they are. If information was being controlled and narratives manipulated in a similar but more subtle vein in the Western — ostensibly democratic — world, to what extent would we be aware of that?

When it comes to the pandemic, we must remember that the Western world followed in China’s draconian footsteps in March 2020. Yet now, we are largely ignoring the virus, with no apologies, regrets or a cost-benefit analysis. Anyone questioning whether it has all been ‘worth it’ is denied a voice in politics, science, and the mainstream media. China’s COVID policy has clearly backfired. Were elements of the West’s approach misguided too?

War of the Covid Clans

Each side has demonised the other. With a sinister, Big Brother-esque government and an unscrupulous pharmaceutical industry pitted against anti-vax conspiracy theorists, right-wing libertarians and selfish granny killers, the ‘let’s follow the science’ clan has reigned supreme. However, through careful research, reading, and an in-depth interview with a supply teacher, Eleanor Dobson, (who is a lockdown and vaccine critic), I have attempted to unpick the debate. What has been uncovered is a cultivated and propagandised narrative; a chorus of well-qualified sceptics with valid concerns; evidence of attempts to shun and silence these sceptics; and evidence of a lack of transparency in the government’s approach.

This is insidious not necessarily because it points to the existence of a nexus of political and financial power with sinister intentions, but because in a democratic society, it is ethically wrong to push forward a contentious agenda by censoring people and framing it as ‘combatting disinformation.’ As Dobson puts it: ‘to silence scientists and extraordinarily well-qualified people … is profoundly anti-scientific, it’s anti-democratic, it’s anti-freedom of speech.’

The discourse in the UK around the COVID-19 pandemic has largely been shaped by emotive rhetoric, government advertising campaigns and media sensationalisation. The population was deliberately intimidated to encourage compliance. Laura Dodsworth’s book, A State of Fear, offers an in-depth analysis of this. Lockdown and then salvation via the vaccine were presented as the only possible solutions to the pandemic. Robert Dingwall, a Sociology professor who sits on various government advisory panels, was interviewed by Dodsworth, and highlighted how the government was given a ‘narrow base of advice … following a very narrow subset of science.’ Doubts emerged around the social, economic and psychological cost of lockdown and school closures, but there was never any real public debate. Lockdowns were established as a self-evident necessity, based on the Chinese rationale.

Not as Scary as we Thought …

As the pandemic progressed, it became clear that the virus wasn’t as dangerous as originally thought — for most people. Yet lockdowns and fearmongering persisted. COVID was and is primarily dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Just 689 people under the age of 60 with no comorbidities had died from COVID in England and Wales by March 2021, according to ONS figures. Facts like this and data about recoveries were never reported, and death tolls were exaggerated, with a COVID death defined as that which has occurred within 28 days of a positive test. Is it ethically acceptable to wage a campaign of fear when the threat does not apply equally to everyone?

Later, the vaccine was incorporated into the narrative and presented as an obligation, not a choice. Well-qualified scientists with concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine such as Dr Robert Malone and Dr Aseem Malhotra were not given a platform to express their views, and have been vilified and misrepresented in the mainstream media.

Ivermectin, a cheaper and naturally-sourced alternative treatment for COVID, has been demonised and discredited, despite evidence pointing towards its efficacy. Dobson suggests this is because ‘they had to get rid of any alternative treatments … You can’t have an emergency use authorisation for a vaccine if there is a treatment available.’ Doctors in the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) in America and the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) in the UK have been excluded and ignored. Dr Tess Lawrie in the UK carried out her own meta-analysis of the evidence and sent numerous appeals to politicians, imploring that they consider using Ivermectin to combat the pandemic, but received no response. Meanwhile, Facebook prohibits content which promotes Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

Medical Misinformation or Pharma Knows Best?

We now know that some of the claims made by pharmaceutical companies about the vaccines’ effectiveness were misleading. A well-evidenced documentary about the vaccine, Safe and Effective, revealed that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine was declared to be 95 per cent on the basis of relative risk reduction. In actual fact, 119 people would have to be vaccinated to prevent just one from catching COVID. The main effect of the vaccines has been to prevent serious illness and death, not infection and transmission. On this basis, some have questioned whether it is necessary or ethical to vaccinate children given the associated risks. Dobson says, ‘on average, you’ve got about one adverse event for every 800 vaccinations. Given that the number of children who died [from COVID] can be measured on the fingers of one hand, it makes no sense at all.’ One recent study concluded that ‘the excess risk of serious adverse events … points to the need for formal harm-benefit analyses.’ Yet commentators with concerns about vaccinating children, such as Neil Oliver, have been excluded from the mainstream media.

Backbench MPs who publicly expressed scepticism about the costs of lockdown and the safety and efficacy of the vaccine were generally painted as controversial dissenters, not valid contributors to a debate. Andrew Bridgen made a speech in Parliament in December about the harms of the vaccine. It was well-referenced, but the mainstream media barely reported on it. Safe and Effective sheds light on adverse reactions and deaths caused by the vaccine. There have been almost half a million ‘yellow card’ reports of adverse effects from the public, but this is thought to only represent 10 per cent of the true rate. Safe and Effective has been removed from YouTube, presumably because it promotes ‘disinformation,’ but it is available on Oracle Films.

The Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART) is a group of qualified doctors, scientists, economists and psychologists with concerns about the UK government’s approach to the pandemic and the quashing of open scientific debate. HART’s website contains dozens of evidence-based articles and open letters on topics such as the psychological impact of the Government’s communication style, vaccination of children, natural vs vaccine immunity and alternative treatment options for COVID-19. However, their Wikipedia page and the mainstream media depict them as a group of illegitimate, inflammatory conspirators.

What’s Driving Secrecy and Opaqueness?

When investigating the use of propaganda and nudge theory to ensure compliance with lockdown and vaccination, Dodsworth scrutinised the activities of shady governmental units which exist to silence dissenters and promote the official narrative. For example, the Counter Disinformation Cell — about which the government has refused to provide information — works with social media platforms and disinformation specialists, operating ‘behind closed doors to control and censor otherwise lawful things people say online.’ The Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) uses strategic communications to bring about behavioural and attitudinal change. Dodworth struggled to find people willing to talk to her, but one of her anonymous sources claimed propaganda is outsourced from the RICU to external agencies, enabling the government to stay distanced from the propaganda and deny involvement. Examples of these covert propaganda campaigns include ‘Clap for Carers’ and the video created by Adil Ray to promote vaccine take-up among ethnic minorities. The secrecy and opaqueness shrouding the UK Government’s approach to the pandemic remain a concern.

So why have the critics been censored? Whom does it serve? Dobson believes that ‘a large part of it is the vested interest of the pharmaceutical industry because they’ve hijacked the regulatory bodies in the States, in the UK, in Europe. The World Health Organisation’s largest single donor is Bill Gates, who has enormous interest in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in vaccines.’ It would be easy to dismiss this as a conspiracy theory. However, it happens to be true — and problematic — that medical regulatory bodies like the MHRA in the UK, the FDA in the US and the EMA in Europe are not independent. For example, the BMJ showed that 86 per cent of funding for MHRA (a government agency), came from the pharmaceutical industry — the very companies they are supposed to be regulating. This could explain why the vaccines were authorised so quickly, and why the government have been pushing back against ‘vaccine hesitancy.’ There is a lot of money to be made from maximising the number of people getting vaccinated, and big businesses are generally willing to put profit before ethics.

Of course, we shouldn’t overestimate the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Other factors, such as a genuine desire to save lives and fear of the NHS becoming overwhelmed, alos played a role in the Government’s decision-making. But regardless of how well-meaning the motivation, it remains unethical to covertly stifle one side of a debate. We are quick to condemn China for repression and totalitarianism, but perhaps we should scrutinise our own government more closely from now on.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.