2020 Concept of the Year: Immunity

At the First Clear WordMerriam-Webster tells us that the word of the year is pandemic. (That was easy.) Oxford says that one word is not enough for this year, so the Oxford lexicographers have a produced a report to explore the many words and trends that define this weird year. But our approach to this question is simple. We zeroed in on the concept that captured our attention and fueled our aspirations this year: immunity.

Everyone has spent the year wishing for it. Some have imagined they have it. Others are promising to sell it to us. The hunger for it is unmistakable.

Fuel for Obsessions and Scams

“I’m immune,” said the U.S. president after his Life Flight to and from Walter Reed Medical Center. A few foolhardy souls apparently thought that getting COVID-19 might be a way to gain immunity. That tends to end badly.

So the more common approach to this obsession with immunity was various diet and nutrition scams. For example, Nina Teicholz proposed that low-carb diets could fight the pandemic. That was enough to make our eyes roll right out of our head.

Another popular obsession was vitamin D. Of course, a deficiency in this vitamin is not a good thing. But the suggestions that high doses could somehow protect or cure folks from COVID-19 don’t have much of a foundation in evidence. Just speculation that scientists are testing – as they should. True believers are undaunted. Any words of caution meet with howls of protest and earnest testimonials. “Since I’ve been taking it, I’ve never had a cold or the flu” is the prototype that floods our inbox.

“Boosting” Immunity

The theme that weaves through all of these scams is a fervent wish that we might simply and easily boost our immunity and thus protect ourselves from this now raging pandemic.

Timothy Caulfield has collaborated on two studies that document the exploitation of this wish. An analysis of internet content about immune boosting strategies found it was quite common to suggest that such strategies could actually help one avoid COVID-19. In another analysis, he and his colleagues looked at immune boosting posts on Instagram. They found that all of them were promoting commercial interests.

Such scams work by pairing the concept of boosting immunity with otherwise sound ideas for promoting health – a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep. Caulfield et al point to an insidious issue:

“Results demonstrate how the spread of misinformation is complex and often more subtle than blatant fraudulent claims.”

Want Immunity?

The facts here are quite simple, really. Good health is a fine pursuit, even though it won’t make you immune to COVID-19. For that, the only proven option is to get a well-tested vaccine, backed by real effectiveness data. Immunity is indeed the concept of the year – and that’s precisely why some people are using it to sell a load of bunk.

Click here and here for Caulfield’s studies on immune boosting. For more on the words of the year, click here, here, here, and here. Finally, for more on anti-COVID bunk, we recommend this.

At the First Clear Word, painting by Max Ernst / WikiArt

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December 28, 2020

4 Responses to “2020 Concept of the Year: Immunity”

  1. December 28, 2020 at 8:40 am, Myrna said:

    The word of the year here in Iowa is derecho. Until this type of storm devastated huge trees and flattened crops most of us had never heard of it. (Took a wide swath west to east across central Iowa and in to Illinois)

    • December 28, 2020 at 10:07 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for that important reminder, Myrna. Unfortunately, much of the country seemed immune to understanding the devastation the derecho brought to Iowa.

  2. December 29, 2020 at 10:10 am, John DiTraglia said:

    It is possible apparently to get COVID-19 twice but it is very rare in the short term – so rare that there are probably better explanations for why somebody gets it twice.