|A growing number of people are starting to question vaccine policies in the U.S. and around the world. Many, if not most of these people are asking questions for the very first time. I think there are several reasons for this. One is that children have been the focus of most vaccine mandates. For people who do not have children, or whose children are already grown, the decision about vaccinating children, or a mandate to do so has had little relevance for them personally.
But the suggestion has been made that the COVID-19 vaccination may be required for everyone. Officials in Massachusetts have already stated that all children starting at 6 months of age who attend day care and all students attending kindergarten through college will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Virginia’s director of health has stated that all humans living in Virginia will be required to get the vaccine. Healthcare workers who have always been pressured to get flu vaccines are being told that there will be absolutely no exceptions this year – wearing a mask will no longer be a viable alternative, and all workers must be vaccinated. Employers in many non-healthcare industries have started talking about requiring COVID-19 vaccines too.
It’s different now. It’s personal. It’s not the neighbor’s kids who are being force-vaccinated – it’s all of us who might face such a mandate. And the federal government’s announcements about vaccine development are moving more and more people to the “vaccine hesitancy” category every day.
Operation Warp Speed was announced in May 2020, and enormous sums of money have since been given to drug companies by the government in order to speed up the availability of vaccines; $1.2 billion was given to AstraZeneca and $1.6 billion to Novavax to make hundreds of millions of doses of their vaccines. These products are literally being manufactured before the completion of any trials. While sloppy and incomplete research is common with vaccines, this is the worst it has ever been, and also the most public the misbehavior has ever been.
Vaccine advocates are cheering for the federal government and the drug companies, but some people are noting that “anti-vaccination sentiment is going into the mainstream.” Heidi Larson is director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She says, “A lot of people you never would have imagined are now saying that maybe the anti-vaccination lobby has a point.”
Indeed, polls show that Americans have little confidence in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of July 2020 only 41% of adults said they would agree to a COVID-19 vaccine. While there is debate about the percentage of the population required in order to achieve herd immunity, many experts think that 41% would not be enough and this would make the vaccine useless.
The announcement that Astra-Zeneca had to suspend its trial because a participant developed transverse myelitis, a disorder involving inflammation of the spinal cord, increased concerns about the vaccine. A 37-year-old healthy woman was hospitalized after receiving her second dose. An internal safety report, obtained by CNN, stated that she had trouble walking, experienced pain and weakness in her arms, and other symptoms. U.S. officials have stated that the trials will being again soon. Feckless Fauci seemed completely unconcerned, and stated that he considered the episode a “one-off” and that trials should not be stopped based on one adverse event.
It also did not help when AstraZeneca officials denied publicly that the woman had transverse myelitis. The official report provided to CNN stated, “Reports claiming to be based on comments made earlier today by our CEO stating that we have confirmed that a participant in our clinical trial suffered from transverse myelitis are incorrect. He stated that there is no final diagnosis and that there will not be one until more tests are carried out. Those tests will be delivered to an independent safety committee that will review the event and establish a final diagnosis.”
The confidence problem is not limited to the U.S. According to a study by the Wellcome Trust, less than half of French citizens think that vaccines are safe, and only 29% of people living in Ukraine think they are safe.
What is really troubling to vaccine advocates is that those concerned about vaccinations tend to be better educated, and are equally divided between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. According to professor of public health Barry Bloom at Harvard, “If you want to map where the anti-vaccination movement is strongest, just look for your nearest Whole Foods.” It’s difficult to write this demographic off as ignorant and easily taken in by false information.
This is encouraging – the hesitant crowd is growing. And now that more people are open to learning more about the issue they are finding out about all kinds of things to be concerned about – such as the fact that the companies making vaccines are protected from liability claims for injury or death resulting from use of their products, an arrangement that would be unacceptable with any other product.
The resistance is so significant that a research project at Yale University is currently testing the effect of various messages such as guilt, embarrassment, and anger on convincing people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
As you might imagine, health officials and advocates who are concerned about this are proposing huge marketing campaigns, delivering vaccines in friendly environments instead of hospitals and medical offices, and promoting government compulsion. Bloom says compulsion is a bad idea and may backfire, making people even more suspicious and resistant.
Some doctors say that schools, universities, and employers could force people to get vaccinated, and even suggest that the government should provide liability protection in the event that the COVID-19 vaccine causes injury or death. Since liability protection is one of the issues of concern, this is also likely to backfire.
It seems that the best way to change minds would be to actually listen to what the people who are vaccine hesitant are asking for. They are not asking for a mandate from another source (employer instead of state). They are not asking for “warp speed.” They are asking for well-structured clinical trials, using inert placebos for control groups. They are asking for oversight by an agency that is not paid by drug companies (FDA), and long-term follow-up of vaccinated people to evaluate side effects. And they are asking for a comparison of health status between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people – many parents who have not vaccinated their children have offered to provide their children’s health records for this purpose and there has been no interest from government officials.
These are not unreasonable demands. The refusal to meet these demands is unreasonable. And now more people are aware. A good thing.
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Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield. Internal AstraZeneca safety report sheds light on neurological condition suffered by vaccine trial participant. CNN Sep 17 2020
David Crowe and Kiran Stacey. Why is the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement growing during a pandemic? Financial Times August 20 2020