Vaccine Hesitancy and Risk Management; whose choice?

Your Choice

I wrote this proposal for publication on Pearls and Irritations following increasing and incessant discussion of the “problem” of “vaccine hesitancy” in Australia – discussion which was not accompanied by any suggestion that such reluctance to get spiked with a poorly tested new drug was in any way justified. Only days later a new “outbreak” of the “Indian variant” in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs changed all that; vaccination hubs are now overwhelmed as the whole state of Victoria goes into collective paralysis.

The apparent “hesitation” of many people to be vaccinated against a disease that currently poses no risk of serious disease or death in Australia should not be dismissed as “ill-informed” or as evidence of anti-vaccine disinformation.

Constant reiteration of the “safe and effective” mantra and the apparent attempt to conceal evidence of side effects and risks associated with the novel mRNA vaccines can only increase “hesitators”’ reluctance. If there is one feature that has defined the SARS-2 Pandemic it is this “narrative management”, and the evident attempts by governments all around the world to define and standardize “the truth” on their terms.

 It is hard to think of any other circumstance in history where there has been such a weight of contentious evidence and conflicting claims than amongst the scientists and disease specialists on every aspect of this viral epidemic. Their selected advice has steered government policies, but has been comprehensively rejected and ridiculed by mainstream media and commentators where it contradicts the chosen narrative – at least in the Western world. Indeed the one contentious issue that might be compared – that of climate change – only highlights the irregularity of the COVID 19 story.

 Whereas scientific opinion has overwhelmingly recognized the dangers of global warming, governments and their conservative media allies have mostly been dragged kicking and screaming to take meaningful action or even acknowledge the problem. The situation is the opposite in those same governments’ reaction to the novel Coronavirus, as they draw on their chosen scientists and experts both to lead and to justify their actions. This is the more striking as those actions have been remarkably determined and often draconian, and often pre-empting scientific advice rather than following it.

  One might make a comparison with the Australian government’s actions – or inaction – to limit emissions in the face of climatic disasters, where following or leading the science should have seen coal-fired power stations closed down immediately in the face of the “climate emergency”. In order to avoid black-outs, the public would be told to limit TV watching, wear more clothes and wash them less often so as to reduce electricity consumption. Compared with the penury demanded of citizens during the COVID lockdowns, imposed on the basis of a theoretical but mostly invisible threat, such measures would seem rather minimal.

 The enthusiasm of governments including our own to take unprecedented and extreme actions to control the spread of a respiratory virus is hard to understand in pure scientific terms, particularly as many of the control measures are of doubtful benefit. There is a wealth of credible science demonstrating that masks and “social distancing” have minimal effect on the transmission of a virus mostly spread by close contact, and persuasive statistical evidence that lock-downs are similarly ineffective. Only the widespread use of hand sanitizer and hand washing has been shown to limit cross infection. Contrary to what many people now have come to believe about this virus, we are not dealing with polio, smallpox or ebola, but with an infection that is quite innocuous for the vast majority of people. Even with those deadly and highly infective diseases, isolation and quarantine was only ever applied to infected people.

 But these control measures have been imposed – often punitively – despite their extraordinarily damaging effect on society and the economy, and on people’s “mental health”. The effect on children in particular has been very severe – with masking and remote learning under lockdown having an undeniable negative effect on their healthy psychological and social development. Yet this seems hardly recognized, even as children now display an unnatural fear of physical contact and the normal risk-taking behaviour that enables them to learn their real limits.

  Another surprising feature of these unprecedented restrictions, imposed as part of the “COVID-safe” life-style ordered by unchallengeable health authorities, is that they are not challenged. In countries where significant numbers have died from complications accompanying SARS-2 infection, acceptance of the health dictates is more easily understood. The perceived risk to one’s health is clearly greater when the disease is prevalent and evident amongst friends and relatives.

 Such is the case currently in India, where part of the problem with oxygen shortages has been from the numbers of mildly affected people unnecessarily seeking hospital assistance due to their exaggerated fear of the infection. Regardless of “new variants”, COVID 19 disease remains lethal almost exclusively for the “old and sick”, and little danger to healthy younger people. Indeed it appeared several months ago that the viral infection had passed through most of India’s population with little serious consequence – except to induce immunity. Widespread use of cheap anti-viral drugs like Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, as well as Vitamin C and D also helped to keep people out of hospital.

 The situation in Australia however is quite paradoxical. Contrary to the official and widely accepted narrative, there has been no “pandemic” in Australia, and barely even an epidemic of SARS-CoV-2, with half the number dying with the virus than die from Influenza in a typical year. In pronouncing recently that every one of the 910 deaths from COVID 19 was “a tragedy”, Scott Morrison was being slightly disingenuous. Most of those people were in their eighties, and many over ninety – at which age death becomes inevitable from one cause or another.

 Putting the COVID death toll in perspective, around 5000 people died last year from chronic lower respiratory diseases, and over 10,000 from respiratory diseases of all kinds. That there was an excess of such deaths amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a tragedy.

  It is however on the intersection between mortality from – or with – COVID 19 and the risk of death from vaccination for the SARS-2 virus that I want to focus, in order to clear up some misconceptions around so-called “vaccine hesitancy”. As with every other aspect of this problematic disease and the pandemic of disinformation and misinformation about it, a purely scientific and rational analysis is lacking, while the influence of multinational pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists must also be considered.

 Much publicity has surrounded the incidence of a rare but specific – and lethal – type of blood clot associated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which initially came to light when a UK trial of the vaccine on teenagers was abandoned, and the vaccine advised against for those under thirty. While it appears that this rare immune reaction against the body’s platelets is more likely in younger people, its incidence in Australia where AZ is only given to those over 50 remains around 1 in 100,000 of those vaccinated.

 The reason for restricting it to those over fifty is however not principally because of this lower danger, but rather because those over 50 would have a greater chance of serious illness or death should they catch the infection. Equally it is the very low risk of serious illness or death from COVID 19 infection amongst younger people which heightens their relative risk from the Astra Zeneca-induced blood clots. However – and it is an important point – this calculation only applies in countries with a significant rate of SARS-2 infections, such as was the case in the UK three months ago. It does not apply in Australia.

  Currently in fact, it would be hard to justify exposing people to any risk of serious illness or death from a vaccine against this virus when the risk of dying from COVID 19 is effectively zero. The relative risk is also the same whether you are young or old, which means there is little rationale for restricting the AZ vaccination to those over 50. While there might be an argument for vaccinating those more at risk should the SARS-2 virus escape into the community in the future, we might also consider the possibility that the current vaccine may be less effective against some new variant. It must also surely be the case that being vaccinated now with a view to travel abroad in mid-2022 could be pointless, and expose you to an unnecessary – even if minuscule – risk.

 Many older Australians appear already to be making this calculation in “hesitating” to be vaccinated. But they are making the calculation without sufficient information, and particularly in  the false belief that the Pfizer mRNA vaccine is “better” and perfectly safe. Amongst the many disturbing aspects of the current push to get all Australians vaccinated – albeit in a leisurely fashion due to the lack of current threat – is the unspoken assumption that the Pfizer-Biontech mRNA treatment is free of any serious side effects or danger of death. It is an unspoken assumption because no-one questions it, nor the safety in general of mRNA “vaccines”, despite the fact that these drugs only have emergency use authorization. Yet not only are there reports of over 4000 deaths in the US so far, and tens of thousands of serious side effects following Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, but there is a complete lack of long-term safety data that could reveal dangers to pregnant women and the foetus, or disruptions to the immune system.

  Also unknown to the majority of people considering vaccination with one of these still-experimental treatments are the significant and increasingly strident calls from many specialists around the world for the mRNA vaccines to be abandoned now, before the feared escalation in serious side effects becomes uncontrollable. Thanks to the quarantining of these alternative sources behind a “conspiracy theorist” wall, the actual and highly credible science is dismissed – to our peril.

  And even if some of these fears finally turn out to be groundless (how long should we wait?) it is still relevant and necessary to consider the relative risk, particularly if we are going to start talking about vaccinating children here – as has already started in the US. It is unconscionable that parents would allow their children to be given a vaccine treatment with unknown but likely long-term side effects, against a viral infection which poses an absolutely minimal danger to them, and to which they may gain natural immunity from normal exposure. As has been pointed out by the renowned expert Prof. Didier Raoult of Marseilles, this natural immunity to the SARS-2 virus in children offers the opportunity to defeat the viral disease without resort to vaccination. Such immunity is also of a broad-based variety, effective against “variants” without the need for “booster” shots.

 You don’t need to be a “conspiracy theorist” to see how such justifiable “vaccine hesitancy” represents a serious threat to the multi-billion dollar fortunes of the pharmaceutical giants, and why we should always question the advice from their advocates and beneficiaries in government, and all the more so when they tell us not to. They have to earn our trust.