Vaccine hesitancy: a nonreligious defence

It is important to understand people you disagree with. A country without cohesion is dangerous, and we have enough of our own problems without having to cause further divides. 

Some agenda-driven journalism chalks everything up to party affiliation, where people buy their belief systems as an all-inclusive package, sense falls to the wayside and they blindly support every position put in front of them, so long as the right person presents it.

Vaccination has, sadly, gone in a similar direction, and though I respect the rights of all South Africans to seek medical treatments as they deem fit, I’ve been saddened by a wave of editorial articles that seem to intentionally misinterpret this issue and lambast everyone who is hesitant of the vaccine as stupid, antiscience and a religious nut.

While Facebook groups have no doubt been ablaze with conspiracy theories ranging from as tame as “reasonable hesitancy” to those who claim it’s “reptile blood”, there’s been little to no fair representation of the reasons people may choose not to vaccinate.

It begins with understanding

If you really want to win people over, you’d have to begin by understanding them properly. Assuming that they are ignorant or selfish or simply believe in prayer is not enough. Whatever other condescending accusation can be attached to the sentiments of those hesitant about vaccination does little to help. It simply creates two bubbles that don’t touch sides with each other.

If you want to get vaccinated, you should be empowered to do so. But don’t assume everyone who doesn’t is a moron. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of getting a vaccine, I’m just trying to tell you the honest reasons why someone may not want to. Frankly, there’s good enough reason to be hesitant.

Pharmaceutical companies are notoriously unethical. Johnson & Johnson paid out a record $4.7-billion in compensation and damages in a class-action lawsuit involving 22 women, six of whom died from ovarian cancer directly linked to J&J’s talcum powder. They’re still embroiled in the same lawsuits today.

Pfizer had to pay out $2.3-billion for fraudulent marketing of an anti-inflammatory drug as ordered by the US Department of Justice.

These companies research their own vaccines. While this is obviously subject to unbiased third-party review as well as the peer-review process, these are not beyond scrutiny either. 

The sciences are suffering under the replication crisis: peer-reviewed and established findings, when scrutinised later, are unable to produce the same results. 

Of 45 studies carried out between 1990 and 2003 claiming effective therapies, 16% were contradicted by subsequent studies, 16% found stronger effects than the subsequent studies, 44% were replicated and 24% remained unchallenged. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found flaws in 10% to 20% of medical studies. A 2012 paper by C Glenn Begley found that only 11% of 53 preclinical cancer studies could be replicated. 

Begley found that irreplicable studies featured common themes such as that “studies were not performed by investigators blinded to the experimental versus the control arms, there was a failure to repeat experiments, a lack of positive and negative controls, failure to show all the data, inappropriate use of statistical tests and the use of reagents that were not appropriately validated.”

A drug’s final approval is done by the FDA in America, and most other countries have their own equivalent. 

The FDA itself approved all sorts of dangerous drugs in the past: including quaaludes as sleeping pills; a drug called Cylert for attention deficit disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, which was later found to cause liver toxicity; and even a synthetic form of oestrogen marketed as DES, which was sold to mothers as a way to prevent miscarriages and premature labour, but instead caused problems spanning multiple generations, including birth defects, vaginal and cervical cancer, testicular abnormalities in children and a host of other issues. 

These products made it through all phases of research and were approved on the basis of being safe. 

I wouldn’t let America’s pharmaceutical industry or the FDA off the hook for its rampant opioid crisis, caused by unethical medical and pharmaceutical behaviour.

At the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), perhaps one of the most incompetent organisations I’ve ever seen, their advice for preparing for a hurricane or tropical storm literally has “Get a Covid-19 vaccine” as its first step. People are rightfully wary of advice issued by the CDC because throughout the pandemic they’ve not been a reliable source of information. 

The CDC announced that vaccinated people could engage in all indoor and outdoor activities maskless. Based on this advice, many countries abandoned their mask mandates. However, a leaked report to the White House indicated that 35 000 symptomatic Covid-19 infections occurred every week among vaccinated people.

That brings us to effectiveness. It’s true that the vaccine has been proven effective at reducing ICU admissions and deaths from Covid-19. 

In its current state, its effectiveness at reducing transmission is indeterminate. The official stance is that “the limited data available suggests the vaccines will at least partly reduce transmission”. Scientists have said that to fully study the vaccine’s ability to affect transmission would take human trials, adding that the “ethics of this approach are complex”. Which is a strange thing to say, since we’re being told the entire world should be vaccinated. 

If you are comfortable getting the vaccine, it prevents you from contracting serious symptoms. You are not reliant on other people being vaccinated as this vaccine is unlikely  to produce herd immunity. So stop worrying about who is getting vaccinated and be happy that you’ll be safe. If vaccine sceptics fall ill and have serious symptoms, then they knew which path they were taking too.

I’m a fan of vaccines. I’m terrified of polio, and I’m grateful to not have smallpox. But the Covid-19 vaccine in its current state has no appeal for me.

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Angelo Ryan
Angelo Ryan is a South African-based freelance journalist who has covered local and American politics since 2015. He has followed Herman Mashaba since his tenure as Mayor of Johannesburg and has been backing his bid for presidency pending the launch of his party.

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