Having had a lot of coversations and read a lot of pieces about Covid vaccines lately, it’s strange how rare it is to hear opinions that allow for some ambivalence. Usually the ‘jab’ is either our saviour, or something that will result in a kind of health-doom. The latter view is the one heard mainly from sections of the natural health community, while the former is generally from a hopeful public and those parts of the medical community observing reduced cases of serious disease. At the time of writing (early 2021, but updated late 2021), most from the scientific, medical and government sectors that appear on media forums remain very much ‘on-message’ without referencing any trade-offs.
(For the record, I write as someone who is generally vaccine- and medicine-reluctant. I took 2 Pfizer jabs, during Summer-Autumn 2021, based on awareness that I have often experienced a greater than average susceptibility to bronchial and lung infections. At least in the first 3-4 months, I have noted no significant side effects, and have not at the time of writing had symptomatic Covid.)
So what are the key positions, observations, questions and points of controversy in this debate ? I doubt it’s possible to be comprehensive here, but here is a set of prominent ones:
- It is logical that we all start from a mildly ‘anti-vax’ position, as there is nothing inherently desirable for human beings to have lab scientists dream up concoctions of chemicals and biological derivatives to inject into us. We need to conclude that the benefit of doing so is a net positive, with benefits for the vaccinated individuals and those they interact with outweighing the inevtiable risks, however small or large those risks are perceived to be.
- The idea and practice of inoculation is rarely challenged when applied to high-impact diseases. Its increasing relevance in today’s densely-populated, highly mobile and globalised world is likewise taken for granted by the vast majority. The natural health community usually disagrees somewhat, but does so from an idealised position where uptake of many pro-active health-supporting measures, and non-pandemic conditions, are taken for granted.
- Political leaders have an imperative to prioritise health measures that can be driven by the machinery in their control, to make a big impact across the whole population very quickly. The democratic process will punish them if they are not successful.
- As a high-impact health intervention for life-threatening diseases in less developed countries, vaccines have been identified as giving a very high benefit to cost radio, hence their adoption as a priority by organisations such as the Gates Foundation, which is often either lauded or distrusted for its prominent role.
- The best-funded and most prestigious parts of the medical-scientific community in this era are closely interlinked with the pharma companies who make vaccines, and that product area has come to be a significant proportion of revenue for much of the pharma industry.
- Medical science acknowledges that the introduction of any alien substance (vaccine) to the immune system causes a reaction that has undesired effects, and that these must be minimised by a process of trials, finally accepting a certain level of side-effects, i.e that vaccinating populations is an imperfect method where trade-offs are struck. That said, these fundamental points are not spoken very often in public forums, but would be normal conversation between researchers and regulators.
- Vaccines are usually commercial products, where increased sales benefits the management and shareholders of the producer, but also traditionally exempt from product liability suits. This is a point of distrust and is ripe territory for blending with more explicit ‘conspiracy theories’. One pharma research director described how once his latest vaccine had gone into late stage trials, his choice was either to make the research team redundant or find a new vaccine to work on. The CEO said to him, ‘and don’t bring me one that is only good for brown people who can’t afford to pay’ ! So yes, commercial logic can be cruel.
- Vaccines are now recommended for a large number of conditions and pathogens. This is normally justified in terms of the specific statistical risk of harm from a given disease, with an increasing value placed on a case prevented as societies get wealthier. Little attention is given to whether negative health changes, beyond acute reactions, may be created by a proliferation of vaccines in one body.
- Natural health practitioners and their clients are often identified with a position that introducing any ‘artificial’ stimulus into the body is likely to be a bad idea and needs a high level of proof of safety, and for the alternative (i.e. getting the disease) to be a very threatening prospect.
- Many in the natural health community emphasise the idea that any kind of suppression of the symptoms of infections should be avoided if at all possible. This is a clear and simple respect for the processes of natural immune system development and its ability to maintain a strong species. (They would likely also be committed to avoiding the kind of destruction of natural habitats or the gain of function research that probably account for many of the infectious ‘surprises’ nature will be throwing at us.)
- Covid 19 (emerging from Wuhan, China) is fatal in a rather small proportion of cases but has a more dramatic symptom/effects profile than influenza (perhaps until Omicron variant) and brings surprises: in its capacity for rapid transmission; its ability to become quietly life-threatening without warning; and frequency of persistent organ damage. Its capacity to overwhelm medical systems is therefore high.
- Natural health practitioners spend much of their working time talking to and caring for people who show inexplicable symptoms. A proportion of these contracted their symptoms very soon after receiving a vaccine. In many cases these people tell that the medical profession have been unsympathetic or dismissive of their stories.
- The proportion of people who may be ‘vaccine-injured’ is probably rather small across the whole population but can make up a large proportion of a given practitioner’s clients. This is the effect of any ‘specialism’ but in this case it is not an offically recognised specialism, and such practitioners who speak out about their experience are often not well-treated.
- Most natural health practitioners are not statistically-trained and may tend to under-emphasise the ‘confirmation bias’ that they experience from spending a lot of time with the relatively small number of people who have had the experience of suspected vaccine injury.
- General health workers likewise are exposed repeatedly to the side-effects of vaccination in their patients, though mainly in a shorter-term sense. This contributes to higher than average vaccine resistance among health workers, who also understand the dynamics of the disease better than average.
- Many health workers have a strong suspicion that, along with other dietary and lifestyle factors, the variety of medical products, including vaccines, that are introduced almost routinely into the human body, contribute to the epidemic of chronic diseases that exist in the more medicated (richer) societies. Such links may or may not be easy to study if they are long-term and there are few possibilities to find control groups.
- Epidemiology and immunology are complex sciences with many counterintuitive aspects to their conclusions, hence gaining public confidence in well-founded scientific reasoning, even when well-evidenced, may be difficult. Simplistic and often unquantified counter-arguments that may easily be falsified statistically, can still find extensive traction with a willing media and a sector of the public that want to punish a government for some reason.
- As individuals we have both a perception of our self-interest influencing our choice about receiving vaccines, and a public-benefit perception that may play a role in our choice. It is quite possible for those two perceptions to be in conflict. Psychology shows us that such contradictions are often not present as ambivalence but rather with one position being suppressed.
- Persuasion, coercion and mandating around vaccines has paradoxical effects and different personality types will be moved to different behaviours by these strategies. Rebels will tend to reject the coercion (and hence the vaccine), while ‘authoritarian followers’ will comply and condemn the rebels.
- On an individual level, most of us have quite a bit of choice over the effectiveness of our immunity, through diet and lifestyle (and in epidemic conditions, how much we interact), though how much change we can make in the very short-term is arguable.
- Some families and other groups place a large emphasis on building good health via nutrition, exercise, microbe exposure, avoidance of negative stress, to the point of it being an ‘identity’. These people strongly resist the imposition of medication they believe will even slightly compromise their well-being and ‘natural functioning’, and actively emphasise the benefits of an immune system maturing by contact with wild pathogens.
- Public health policy in the West is very weak on encouraging healthy lifestyle as it conflicts with both the idea of personal freedom, and the wishes of business to be free to market health-reducing products to consumers.
- The latest approach to vaccines using mRNA technology is quite novel, and has no long-term record of success in any field of medicine, and is being rolled out at a massive scale.
- The perceived importance of sustaining public confidence in vaccines (during a pandemic particularly, to acheive a certain % uptake) results on any scientific work that challenges efficacy or safety having to clear a very high hurdle to be publicised, and any mistakes punished by the most dramatic kind of shaming. (Wakefield) This contributes to a suspicion that information on negative effects is being suppressed.
- Once the pandemic moves into its later stages, more nuanced conversations about vaccine efficacy and about whether the recommendations to keep on taking more doses are well-informed begin to surface in the popular media and include scientists in what get seen as the ‘establishment group’.
- Skeptics often latch onto scientifically well-understood concepts such as Antibody Derived Enhancement as if they are new discoveries that have been kept secret, when the perceived risks have already been studied by regulators prior to approval.
- Vaccine skepticism in the current pandemic has become intertwined with particular political positions and this has generated a very strange set of alliances between traditionally opposing groups. It has also seen movements fall out of alignment with their original leaders when the leaders change their position on the wisdom of the vaccines, with Donald Trump being the most obvious example.
- In the later stages of this pandemic with large proportions vaccinated, hostility to those who are not becomes an outlet for people’s frustration, even when there is no evidence that transmission is more likely from an unvaccinated person. Is this a kind of scape-goating, or is it rational ? It may be rational if the unvaccinated people are not conscious of their health, but in some cases those unvaccinated people are the most conscious of their health and transmissibility.
- While population-level statistics show that the majority of ICU patients are unvaccinated, and this is used as a justification for mandating vaccinations, among the people I know who very actively look after their own health and advise others on this as a profession, experiences of unvaccinated Covid have been managed without much distress. Whether this is just good luck or reliable cause and effect is something medical science could benefit by paying attention to.
Being conscious of all these observations does start to shed some light on why the opinions that are expressed are so polarised. Vaccines are a very big deal for humanity and the disagreements are unlikely to disappear entirely. If each party can begin the debate with a recognition of the points above, the argument can at least move into more productive territory.