Busting Pandemic Myths with Dr. Zain Chagla


Dr. Zain Chagla

This installment features Dr. Zain Chagla, Medical Director of Infection Control and the Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine Physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

Welcome to the final installment of our series: Stories from the Frontlines, produced in partnership with Mint Pharmaceuticals. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the dangers of misinformation and dispelling some pandemic myths with the help of Dr. Zain Chagla, Medical Director and Physician.

We've been reading a lot of information about COVID-19 this year, not all of which has been factual. A recent study, conducted by Statistics Canada, found nine in ten Canadians (90%) used online sources to find information about COVID-19. While some misinformation can be innocuous, others can run the risk of putting the general population’s health at risk.

Dr. Chagla finds that while his roles as a physician and medical director demand different skills from him, they both depend on interpreting information correctly. “Misinformation is such an interest of mine because you have to just scour the evidence everyday to keep up on an individual standpoint and an institutional standpoint as optimally as possible.”

Without further ado, let’s dive into some pandemic myths with Dr. Chagla and understand just how much truth is behind them.

Myth 1: COVID-19 itself is a myth.

“[People are] calling influenza, COVID-19 now [but] they are extremely different. It’s the same as saying a dog and a cat are the same.”

Myth 2: I don’t need to wear a mask if I don’t feel sick.

“Much of this disease transmits in the two or three days before having symptoms and that has really informed using masks - not for personal protection but for source control. So if I’m infected and I’m asymptomatic right now, I am catching my droplets and that protects everyone around me. A lot of recommendations for better masking came from the idea that wearing a mask is not only benefiting you but it’s also benefiting me from you.”

Myth 3: The percentage of alcohol in my hand sanitizer matters.

Soap and water is effective enough and Health Canada wouldn’t approve of hand sanitizers being sold if they weren’t effective. “I wouldn’t necessarily home brew anything [but you] don’t have to worry about the actual percentages.”

Myth 4: I am wearing gloves so I am safe.

This actually gives people a false sense of security and it ends up doing more harm than good. “If you are touching a million things with your gloves, you are essentially spreading contamination. You create an unsterile environment really quickly.”

Myth 5: COVID-19 only affects older people.

Young people can get hospitalized for COVID-19 and it can be fatal. The odds are simply lower. “We don’t want young people having long-term complications and needing the medical system for the rest of their lives. There is still a huge need for young people to get immunized to reduce their personal risk.”

Myth 6: Flights are safe.

Flights carry some risk as do the activities we conduct before flying. “The risk comes from travelling from your home to the airport, interaction with other people, eating around other people, staying at a hotel, waiting at the airport with other people, [and] visiting family members.”  

Myth 7: The vaccine trials were rushed, and not reliable.

The clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines went through the same criteria as other vaccines in circulation. The data was being communicated to Health Canada in real time allowing them to make a decision quickly, as opposed to waiting the standard six months to a year. “That’s not a rush process. It’s putting a couple of those steps together or doing them in a cascading pattern. In reality, there were more people enrolled in these trials than in any other vaccine.”

Myth 8: This vaccine doesn’t work against the variants.

“The good news is all the vaccines seem to work fine. The [recent] South African variant is a little bit different. Vaccines may not have as much of an effect to prevent people from getting [the South African variant] as compared to other variants. [But] it’s important to know that patients who got a vaccine were not hospitalized or did not die. That is still important. [COVID-19] is a disease that leads people to hospitals so having five vaccines that prevent people from hospitalization is a huge win.”

“There is no simple answer to getting out of this pandemic. A lot of people are desperate to find a way out. In reality, there is such a complexity to all of this. [I encourage everyone to] read reliable sources, look to your public health agencies for information but recognize that this is complex. There are multiple factors at play here.”

We all need to work together to overcome this pandemic and as Dr. Chagla has pointed out, we need to look for trustworthy sources that can inform how we protect ourselves and those around us. While Dr. Chagla has helped us dispel some common misconceptions, this is by no means a definitive list. For more information, please visit the Government of Canada website here or refer to your local health authority.

Thank you for joining us through Stories from the Frontlines. From the necessity of effectively equipping our frontline workers and the healthcare system to understanding the world of medication access to dispelling pandemic misinformation, we hope you’ve found these articles helpful and informative. TEDxToronto’s mission is to help spread important and timely ideas, and we’re so proud to have brought you this series in partnership with Mint Pharmaceuticals as we all collectively seek to find new ideas and perspectives that will help us navigate these Uncharted times.

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