Vaccine Skeptics Have a Healthy Basis for Concern

The Government Is All Too Fallible

Credit: Bob Englehart, PoliticalCartoons.com

Over the past few months, several opinion pieces published in the Independent have, in either form or effect, admonished people to “shut up and get the vaccine.”

Many of those writing appear to hold the belief that skepticism or concern about the COVID vaccines derives from an ideology that runs counter to their own. A few others — very few — are apolitical: They feel that COVID can be eradicated through aggressive vaccination. In either case, the common denominator is faith in the government to produce vaccines that are safe and effective. Those who feel differently have frequently been painted as “anti-vaxxers,” and in one column recently published, members of the “Flat Earth Society.” This is too broad a brush.

Those who don’t have the requisite level of faith in the government to allow themselves to be subjected to either literal or de facto forcible vaccination are by and large not globally “antivaxxers,” but rather people who:

(1) Believe that the government has no right to mandate the injection of a drug into their or their children’s body when that drug has not been around long enough to definitively know what the long-term effects are, or

(2) Understand that the virus affects different subpopulations differently, and they have concluded that when applied to a new drug for which the myriad downsides are still being learned, for most, the cost-benefit analysis does not weigh out in favor of taking it.

Many of these same people willingly accept myriad vaccinations for themselves and their children against pathogens such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and mumps, to name but a few. One difference between these vaccines and the COVID vaccines is that they have been around long enough for people to know with a reasonable degree of certainty what the long-term effects are.

Another is that some of these diseases have a significant fatality rate across the entire population, whereas COVID fatalities are almost entirely limited to specific, highly vulnerable subpopulations that comparatively few people fall into. This latter consideration factors into any assessment as to whether it makes sense to accept a vaccine that brings as-of-yet unknown long-term effects, especially in light of what increasingly appears to be a limited ability of the vaccines to actually prevent COVID. It’s unnerving to watch the U.S. government, the pharmaceutical companies, and their supporters continually backpedal, readjust, and recalibrate their positions with respect to efficacy — stating in effect that the vaccine is so new that we should expect such mistakes and errors in understanding — while also insisting that we must accept that the vaccines are unquestionably “safe.”

If history is a guide, this level of faith in government infallibility is not warranted, especially when influential, moneyed interests come into play. As an example, in the 1990s big pharma and the government got together to battle another “crisis” of “epidemic” proportions: untreated pain. The chief weapon against that pestilence was narcotics. Doctors were all but compelled to liberally administer and prescribe opioids to their patients, and were punished for noncompliance. The dogma held that these medications were not only appropriate, but also safe — the risk of addiction was negligible when administered in a health-care setting. One year in, there was no indication of a problem. Twenty years later, many tens of thousands of Americans have died, and they continue to die — all as a direct result of a headlong rush to get pharmaceuticals into the population with nary a consideration of a possible downside — and there is always a downside, usually not realized until some time has passed.

As another example, people who first presented information about potential health problems from smoking were initially dismissed as paranoid loons in much the same manner as those calling for a more judicious approach to COVID vaccines are now. Even 60 years ago, skeptical outliers were no match for special interests with a great product and congressional influence. In fact, if we only look at an 11-month time frame — roughly the same length of time the vaccines have been around — the same “safe and effective” campaign being aggressively pushed today could also be made with respect to cigarettes. Cigarettes are unquestionably effective at improving concentration, recall, alertness, and overall cognitive performance. They probably improve driving. (Try to imagine it: “My smoking protects you, your smoking protects me.”) Furthermore, unlike the vaccines, which have been shown to increase the risk of myocarditis and other serious cardiac complications in the short-term, after 11 months of cigarette use, the health effects of smoking are negligible. Forty years later, however, it’s a different story.

An understanding and appreciation of these facts does not make one an anti-vaxxer, and it certainly doesn’t make one a member of the “Flat Earth Society.” Rather, it reveals a healthy, wide-minded skepticism about the wisdom of unquestioningly trusting a government which, in similar circumstances, has not infrequently been off the mark.

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