I would like to pretend that I have known the word for years but, the truth is, it was new to me. Nocebo, I mean. It was a report I read last week detailing some research carried out in an American university that showed that the majority of people who receive a covid-19 vaccine will have phantom side effects. That is, a general anxiety over possible side effects will result in the patient believing they are actually experiencing them. It’s called the “Nocebo effect”. You can see where the idea comes from. It is the mirror image of the placebo effect where people take the pill believing it to be the drug that will help them and, while it is just sugar, it works because they think it will. With nocebo they can be hyper-alert to how they are feeling and imagine all sort of horrible things are happening to their bodies. This is important, because if people experience a side effect, it may simply be put down to anxiety triggered by reading scare stories on the internet. You know the sort of thing: stories of blood disorders, deep vein thrombosis, acute cardiac issues, infections, herpes, immune system disorders, blindness, eye disorders, deafness, spontaneous abortions, skin disorders, psychiatric disorders, migraines and headaches, central nervous system disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome, facial paralysis, vertigo, tinnitus, respiratory disorders, seizures, paralysis, tremors, reproductive disorders and other mild and rare side effects, as well as death. That sort of thing. Professor Ted Kapchuk who is behind the study thinks it’s a mistake to hide or downplay the reported side effects he wants people to be told more information not less. “Honesty” he says, “is the way to go”. Well, it’s encouraging, of course, when a professor tells us that it’s good to be truthful.
I wish the BBC and all the usual suspects would heed that too. Last night on their late evening news programme they had a report from Covid wards with Clive Myrie walking around talking to patients and staff. It began with the consultant following the camera around a ward pointing to patients “unvaccinated, unvaccinated, unvaccinated, unvaccinated, unvaccinated….” It was pretty gross, but the message was clear. Our Covid wards are full of the unvaccinated and this places the NHS under considerable stress. But is not the truth. It is simply not true. We know that from the government’s own reports. In each of the four nations, the majority of patients in Covid wards are actually vaccinated and those who do not have a vaccination are in the minority. In some cases, the ratio is almost five to one. So why would a journalist produce something so misleading and so seriously mis-representive of the actual facts? Is it just laziness and sloppy reporting? Or has someone been lent on to tell a particular story with the aim of encouraging the hesitant “to do the right thing”? An alternative, but truthful report, showing that vaccination could mean you are more likely to end up in hospital, wouldn’t quite be the thing. It would raise the difficult question – why are more vaccinated patients ending up in hospital than unvaccinated? But ignoring the facts is always a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Which brings me back to Professor Ted Kapchuk and his study. Maybe it is the “Nocebo effect” on a world-wide scale. We watched scary videos on the internet of people dropping in the street gasping for breath, of piles of coffins stacked high and massive graves being dug, we heard the doom-laden prophecies and our collective anxiety made us hyper-alert and believe that we were actually experiencing a pandemic. Maybe some of the time we were simply fulfilling our own prophecies. The governments and media controlling the narrative certainly did their level best to make sure that this was so and only told one side of the story. Any suggestion that things might not be a bad as portrayed was treated with scorn and ridicule. There was hardly any good news (the reported benefits of the vaccine rollout being the exception). Goodness me, the relentless nightly ritual of covid statistics detailing the cases, the hospitalisation, the ICU figures and the deaths while failing to mention the statistics on those who had actually recovered, was scare-mongering on an industrial scale. The facts are that UK 150 thousand have died with Covid in the UK, while 12million have recovered. (in the world it is 5.6 million against 283 million). Why were we not told these figures? Surely being honest and open and telling us all the facts, would have been a welcome boost to morale? For some strange reason in the fake war against the virus raising morale was never part of the plan. That might have stiffened our resolve, given us a reason to pull and stand together. Instead, we were encouraged to hide and to run so we hid and we ran.
Maybe someone should carry out a study to examine this Nocebo effect. But don’t hold your breath, that study is not likely to be carried out anytime soon.