Confusion over Covid-19 could erode people's trust in science

The race to find the coronavirus vaccine is nearing the final stage. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking 196 vaccine studies.

The race to find the coronavirus vaccine is nearing the final stage. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking 196 vaccine studies.

Published Jun 13, 2020


DURBAN - Miscommunication about the virus is raising concern that people's trust in scientific data and scientists may falter, public health experts have warned.

According to Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW Madison the recent events like the two studies that had to be retracted due to questionable patient data collected by Surgisphere could potentially erode the trust that we have in science in general.

“It's important to stress to people that science is built upon uncertainty. It's better to say, look, we do everything we can to find out what's going on and there's a lot of uncertainty, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Brossard.

In a


published Tuesday in the journal BMJ Open, researchers examined 201 clinical trials around the world on drugs and plasma therapies to get a snapshot look at how they were conducted. One-third lacked the endpoints needed to define success/failure; one-half enrolled fewer than 100 patients, and two-thirds could be subject to bias as the patients and doctors knew who was receiving which therapy.

“The push for fast research is a double-edged sword. A majority of registered clinical trials for Covid-19 treatments from early to late March had many, many shortcomings of various degrees of seriousness,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.

"The reason they are cutting corners is that they have to, or they wouldn't get the studies done fast enough. Without trust in science, people can't make informed decisions about the risk of getting Covid-19, treatments for it and any potential future vaccines,” he added.

On Tuesday the World Health Organization (WHO) came under fire again after its technical head dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic made a statement regarding the transmission of the virus from asymptomatic patients. Since that day, the top health institution has retracted its statement and tried to clarify the misunderstanding.

“Recent actions taken by the WHO are also causing confusion. The WHO waffled on whether or not to include hydroxychloroquine in its studies changed its mind on masks, and then miscommunicated the role of asymptomatic people in the pandemic. At the end of the day, it's better to say 'the best practice is this, although we're not 100% sure and we'll let you know as soon as we know more'," concluded Brossard.

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