The "long COVID" PSYOP
“Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”
I’m far from the first person to point out that the international response to the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 has many elements of a psychological operation (PSYOP).
From the obviously faked videos of people abruptly collapsing in the streets in Wuhan (my personal favourite is the guy at 38 seconds into the compilation; you’d think the people behind this farce would stump up the yuan to pay decent actors, for god’s sake), to the invocation of the 1918-19 “Spanish flu” (which had a death rate over four times as high as SARS-CoV-2 and disproportionately affected young, healthy people with their whole lives ahead of them, resulting in far more years of healthy life lost than our current plague, whose median age of death is higher than average life expectancy), to the hyperbolic claims of overflowing hospitals (helped along by CBS’s creative repurposing of footage from a COVID-19 ward in Bergamo, Italy) while record numbers of health care workers were being furloughed or laid off due to the failure of the promised apocalypse to materialise, to the social media frenzy over a photo of piles of coffins of COVID-19 victims in Italy… which turned out to be from the 2013 sinking of a boat full of African refugees, to the mass media frenzy over mass graves on Hart Island, New York… which turns out to have been the burial place for unclaimed bodies in that city since 1869… yes folks, it’s been a veritable tutti frutti of PSYOPs of every imaginable flavour.
While most of these flavours had a short shelf-life and hence rapidly disappeared from the COVID-19 ice cream stand, there’s been a few perennial favourites. And among them, “long COVID” deserves a special mention.
Australia’s taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, the ABC, has provided breathless (pun intended) coverage of the bogeyman of persistent post-viral symptoms after recovery from COVID-19 since July 2020. It has relentlessly barraged its hapless audience with horror stories of debilitating fatigue, a brain fog “that’s difficult to quantify”, shortness of breath and chest pain ever since (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here).
To be clear, post-viral syndrome is nothing new. Over the course of my 25 years in clinical practice, I’ve seen scores of clients who suffered persistent symptoms after recovering from a wide variety of infections, including influenza, glandular fever and Ross River fever. An abnormal immune response to the initial viral infection is believed to be the cause of the fatigue, pain, muscle weakness and cognitive impairment that may linger on for weeks, months and even years.
But the spectre of “long COVID” has, from the start, been invoked to push a particular narrative about SARS-CoV-2: that this virus with an infection fatality rate no worse than a bad flu is actually an existential threat to humanity, whose spread must be stopped in order to save young people from a tsunami of brain damage.
(For a while there, the ABC was even peddling the notion that getting jabbed could cure long COVID, even though the lead author of the tiny [44 participants, all of whom had been hospitalised for COVID-19 – that is, they were pretty seriously ill], as-yet-unpublished study hastened to point out that the “small overall improvement in Long Covid symptoms” that participants reported after receiving a jab were just as likely to be attributable to the placebo effect. Desperate much, Aunty?)
Oddly enough, despite the medical experts interviewed by the ABC clearly stating that the risk of long COVID is higher in older people who suffered more severe initial illness (see here and here, and confirmed here), the public broadcaster only seems to manage to find young people, most of whom had mild illness, to feature in its heartstring-tuggers about the travails of COVID long haulers (see here, here and here).
There are just a few teensy weensy widdle pwoblems with this whole long COVID narrative:
Long COVID is so poorly-defined and quantified that it’s impossible to assess its threat level and therefore to calculate a risk-benefit ratio for vaccination aimed at preventing it;
Most people who believe they have long COVID never actually had COVID in the first place;
Cognitive tests and brain scans find that people who report persistent brain fog after recovering from COVID-19 don’t actually have anything wrong with them; and
COVID jabs don’t prevent people from getting long COVID if they suffer a breakthrough infection.
But yeah, aside from that, it’s a perfectly sound story.
1. Estimates of the prevalence of long COVID are all over the map
Wait, what? That’s one hell of a range! How can you even begin to think sensibly about whether you’d rather take an experimental jab that is at least 5 times more likely to lead to your premature demise than COVID-19 itself or run the risk of natural infection with SARS-CoV-2 (for which safe and effective early treatments for those at high risk of severe illness are available), when no one knows whether long COVID afflicts one in fifty or three out of four people who get infected… or any random number in between?
To add to the confusion, when the ABC interviewed Professor Gail Matthews, lead investigator of the ADAPT study which found that about 20% of Australian COVID-19 patients had some type of long COVID, they quoted her as asserting – I kid you not – that
“The only things that predict it [the propensity to develop long COVID] are the severity of the initial illness… they tend to be older, to be men and have co-morbidities, and the other factor that predicted whether you were more likely to get long COVID was being female.”
Hang on a minute, Prof Matthews. Did you just say that either being a man or being female predicts one’s likelihood of developing long COVID? That doesn’t leave many people out, does it?
2. Believing you had COVID when you actually didn’t is more likely to lead to long COVID symptoms than actually having had COVID
Strap yourself in, this one’s a doozy.
A study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine asked 26 823 adults from the population-based French CONSTANCES cohort whether they believed they had experienced COVID-19, and whether they had experienced any of the most frequently-reported physical symptoms of long COVID – sleep problems, joint pain, back pain, muscular pain, sore muscles, fatigue, poor attention or concentration, skin problems, sensory symptoms (pins and needles, tingling or burning sensation), hearing impairment, constipation, stomach pain, headache, breathing difficulties, palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, cough, diarrhoea, anosmia (loss of the sense of smell), and “other symptoms” – on a persistent basis since their supposed bout with the rona.
The researchers also used an antibody test to determine whether participants had actually had SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Here’s what they found:
“Persistent physical symptoms 10 to 12 months after the COVID-19 pandemic first wave were associated more with the belief in having experienced COVID-19 infection than with having laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
Or, in plain English, people who falsely believed they had experienced COVID-19 were more likely to have “long COVID” than people who actually had COVID-19.
Here are the results, tabulated by infection status and belief status:
Notice how people who believed they had experienced SARS-CoV-2 infection were more likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, impaired attention or concentration, headache, breathing difficulties, palpitations, chest pain and cough, regardless of whether they’d actually had it?
After mutual adjustment for belief and serology, the only persistent symptom that was actually more common in people who had laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection was anosmia, which is a well-known feature of actual COVID-19:
Oh, and by the way, 58% of participants (average age 49, so not exactly spring chickens) who had serological evidence of infection with SARS-CoV-2 didn’t think they had been sick in any way. Boy, this rona sure is a fearsome virus.
3. What brain damage?
Although “our ABC” was more than happy to fan the flames of moral panic over “the impacts of COVID on children’s brains”, and brain imaging showed some short-term changes in grey matter in recovered COVID-19 patients, there is simply no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infection poses any such risk in children; “long COVID” simply doesn’t exist in children or teens despite the constant media squawking to the contrary.
For that matter, when adults who complained of persistent neurocognitive symptoms (impaired attention, memory, and multitasking abilities, word-finding difficulties, and fatigue) as part of “long COVID” were put through a battery of neuropsychological tests and some fancy-schmancy brain imaging, no significant abnormality was found:
“Cognitive testing showed minor impairments only on single-patient level approximately six months after the infection, whereas functional imaging revealed no distinct pathological changes.”
The authors concluded that fatigue, rather than persistent cortical dysfunction, may be responsible for long COVID.
4. COVID jabs don’t prevent long COVID in breakthrough infections
Pretty much every country that manages to persuade a high proportion of its citizens to get jabbed enters what Alex Berenson has dubbed “the happy vaccine valley” – a transient dip in COVID-19 cases and deaths, followed by a sharp resurgence as the transient, partial protection conferred by these leaky vaccines wears off. It’s happened in the UK, Israel, Denmark and Germany, among others.
So it can reasonably be expected that everyone will eventually get infected with SARS-CoV-2, as the virus transitions from epidemic to endemic.
And that makes this six-month follow-up study of almost 10 000 people who developed breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infections (i.e. infections after being “fully vaccinated”) worth paying attention to.
Not only did being “fully vaccinated” offer no real protection against serious outcomes of infection in people aged over 60 (you know, the only age group that’s actually at any statistically meaningful risk of severe illness), it also failed to prevent long COVID in any age group.
The study authors also noted that protection against serious outcomes of infection was strongest in the early phase of follow-up. Hello, happy vaccine valley. Be seeing you soon, unhappy vaccine plateau.
Defending yourself against PSYOPs
It’s an unfortunate fact that PSYOPs are part of modern life, and as such, it’s important to have a toolkit to recognise and defend yourself against these “campaigns for your mind”. I highly recommend reading this article in its entirety, but here’s a quick summary:
Be alert for the telltale signs of a PSYOP, in particular constant repetition of a key idea or meme. (Side note: watch out for portrayals of long COVID slipped into upcoming television and film productions; that’s what the ‘Educating Audiences on COVID-19 Vaccines’ summit of the Writers Guild of America has instructed its members to do.)
Think like your enemy: if you wanted to persuade another person to believe or do something that you wanted them to believe or do, how would you go about it?
Cultivate a widely divergent list of specialist sources, and read what the experts on a subject read rather than the dumbed-down mass market version. And yes, that includes the gosh-darned ABC.
Beware the mob. If most people believe it and if it can be reduced into a soundbite or chant, it’s probably wrong.
Don’t jump to conclusions. First impressions are often incorrect.
Question authority. Always. Enough said.
Consider the other side. Remain open to new information that contradicts your pre-existing beliefs.
Detox your mind. PSYOPs work on stressed minds, so get out in nature, enjoy your hobbies or go for a walk.
I’m not by any means dismissing the idea that long COVID may occur; as mentioned above, I’m very familiar with postviral syndrome.
Dr Bruce Patterson has identified changes in the activity of monocytes (a type of white blood cell) in people experiencing persistent symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection, and has developed testing and treatment protocols to address these immune system abnormalities.
No one’s suffering should be dismissed. However, there’s a long and inglorious history of pathologising human suffering for profit, and the reification of “long COVID” is a veritable Swiss Army knife of memetic warfare.
Forewarned is forearmed.