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Disease Deception Is Dangerous, And More Common Than You Might Think

A study states that 4 in 10 Americans intentionally misrepresented their vaccination or viral status or neglected to adhere to pandemic prevention measures at some point since the appearance of COVID-19.

By Sam Walters
Oct 13, 2022 6:20 PMOct 14, 2022 1:50 PM
Covid Mask
(Credit: Giulio_Fornasar/Shutterstock)


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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, advised precautions like testing, tracking, quarantines and vaccinations were the best possible ways for people to protect themselves and their loved ones from the novel coronavirus. But just how many people have been straying from this advice?

A new study in JAMA Network Open says more than you might think. According to the study, around 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. say that they've misrepresented their vaccination or viral status or that they've violated pandemic precautions at some point in the past two-and-a-half years. And that's a serious problem — the study authors say — since it could prolong the current coronavirus pandemic or promote the spread of new pandemics in the years to come.

"This study goes a long way toward showing us what concerns people have about the public health measures implemented in response to the pandemic and how likely they are to be honest in the face of a global crisis," says Alistair Thorpe, another study author and a post-doc in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah, in a press release. "Knowing that will help us better prepare for the next wave of worldwide illness."

Pandemic Prevention

Epidemiologists and other disease experts say that pandemic precautions — in addition to public mask and vaccination mandates — all play a part in stopping the spread of pandemics, particularly when people are open and acquiescent to the policies themselves. But because they can be perceived as inordinately challenging or costly, some individuals opt to flout these prevention policies.

As such, the authors behind this new study surveyed adults in the U.S. to determine whether they were generally sincere about their vaccination and viral status, as well as compliant with COVID-19 preventive measures. Approximately 42 percent of those surveyed reported that they had been less than sincere or less than compliant in at least one instance during the pandemic, more often than not out of a personal desire to feel normal and free from restrictions.

According to the authors, such a widespread unwillingness to speak openly about one’s own health status and to adhere to policies like mask and vaccine requirements could have real consequences. Not only could it place individual people at an increased risk of COVID-19, but it could also contribute to the prolonging of the current pandemic as well as the production of new pandemics in the future.

"COVID-19 safety measures can certainly be burdensome, but they work," says Andrea Gurmankin Levy, one of the authors behind the study and a psychology professor at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut, in a press release. "When people are dishonest about their COVID-19 status or what precautions they are taking, it can increase the spread of disease."

Surveying Sincerity and Compliance

In the course of the study, over 1,700 adults from all around the U.S. reported whether or not they had neglected to tell the truth about their vaccination or viral status for COVID-19 or had neglected to follow any coronavirus precautions at any point. Surpassing all previous studies on the topic with its large sample size, this survey also included a wide range of respondents who had contracted COVID-19 and who had not, regardless of if they had received any doses of the vaccination.

For the 42 percent of respondents who reported that they had engaged in such misrepresentations or violations, some of the most common behaviors included telling someone that they were vaccinated when they weren’t, not telling someone that they were infected when they were and violating quarantines.

Ultimately, the authors warn that the number of transgressors could be even greater than 42 percent, since some respondents may not have felt entirely comfortable with providing answers that could be viewed negatively by others. Furthermore, they add that although the respondents with a demonstrated distrust of science engaged in these behaviors more frequently, no similar patterns existed between these behaviors and a person’s political party or religious affiliation.

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