Vaccines: A Discussion but Mainly A Rant

Recently (week of March 14th) I found out that at least 3 of my very close friends will not be taking the COVID-19 vaccines. One of them had already denied it when it was offered to them about 2 months ago at this point (they have since gotten both their doses). Another could potentially get it within next month or two as the eligibility criteria is relaxed. And the third will not get it even when there are enough vaccines to inoculate every adult in North America and they become eligible. The conversation with them, all happening within few days of each other, has got me thinking, and thus here I am.

After more than a year of uncertainty, lockdowns and fear, when modern science made one of its quickest and biggest breakthrough; the next challenge waiting for the world was the distribution. As countries stumbled out of the gate and figured out proper distribution of the vaccines, the next big challenge in the rich first world countries became apparent: Vaccine skepticism and anti vaccination. Does it matter where these mistrust comes from? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but for the sake of this writing, I’ll at least mention all the ones I’ve encountered or heard of so far. Some don’t trust the science, some think there isn’t enough data on vaccines and their side-effects, some have religious and/or cultural beliefs, some are misinformed and/or have fallen prey to propaganda/disinformation campaigns, some simply lack the knowledge and understanding, some see it as a political issue while some are mistrusting because of the abuse and disregard suffered in the past due to systematic racism and some, well some people are just stubborn. Some of these reasons are genuinely worrisome and that’s why it is important for experts and public figures to come together and promote the vaccination campaigns and urge people to get the vaccines so that the world can finally start to put this pandemic in the rear view mirror. Let me give you another example. One of my parent were asked this by a member of my extended family, “Should we take the vaccine? We heard that if you take the vaccine, you’d die few months later”. So how do we combat these diverse reasons behind the skepticism and convince as many people as possible to take the vaccine that’s available to them? While I do not have the time or the expertise to dwell on each and every reason people may come up with and since there are many public figures and experts already working hard to address all the general issues, I am going to focus just on my friends and the direct follow up conversation I didn’t have with them.

Let’s go to friend 1, here’s the paraphrased version of their answer to my there must be a reason why you won’t be taking a vaccine question. “I just never get the vaccines, be it yearly flu shots or the H1N1 outbreak a decade ago. We believe in our body’s ability to heal itself.” To that I ask, why then bother to put a band aid or properly dress up a wound? Why bother to get treatment for burst appendix or cancer or any other disease or injury? Our bodies are marvelous and they can heal themselves quite a bit and quite well but none of us are the Wolverine and our body does have its limitations and it does need outside help or intervention to heal better, faster and properly.

Moving on to friend 2, they said, “can’t give you any scientific reason behind my belief. I just don’t believe a vaccine is what’s needed to combat this virus. Besides, for people who are very allergic, the stuff that they put in vaccines can be more detrimental than anything”. Our previous chats also lead me to think/speculate that this person believes herd immunity to be the way to go as eventually everyone will get this virus and I agree, eventually every person in the world will get this, almost the entirety of the world’s population of 7 billion+. And that is the whole point of vaccines, because that’s what vaccines are. Vaccines allow us to reach the herd immunity without the same high levels of fatality. By taking the vaccine, we are exposing our body to some version of weakened virus or part of virus so that the natural defense system of our body is activated and body can learn how to fight future exposures and infections. If I were to give you an example, vaccines are like the fire drills that are done as preparation in case a real fire breaks out in future. As for thinking that vaccines may not be the way to deal with virus, the only other way to achieve the herd immunity would be to let the virus go wild on the population. Most of the average population of the world may survive that but what about those who won’t? The estimated casualty of the 1917/18 Influenza pandemic is anywhere in between 17 to 100 millions lives (from estimated world population of 2 billion) before humanity achieved the herd immunity, do we really want a repeat of that? The world has already passed 3 million confirmed deaths due to COVID or complications due to COVID. Striving for herd immunity without vaccines means minimum of 6 times as many deaths even without adjusting for the population growth of the last century. The whole point of advancement in medicinal science is to reduce such unnecessary and preventable deaths with the help of focused studies and their peer reviewed findings. As for the point of allergies, most people don’t know if they are allergic to vaccine contents or not because we don’t need to go to a clinic every other day to drink a vaccine cocktail (or to get a vaccine shot). That’s the whole reason why everyone is asked to wait 15–20 minutes after vaccination so that if there is an allergic reaction of any kind, it can be treated and taken care of right away. Plus tell me this, what is worse, a severe allergic reaction for a small percentage of people (~11 per million) or death of large percentage of population (~400 per million as per current numbers)? The last point I’d like to add here (first brought to my attention by another friend of mine) is that, it’s not no side effects vs the side effects of the vaccines. It’s the known, short-term, minor (in majority of cases) side effects of the vaccines vs the unknown, potentially serious and long-term after effects of COVID. Fatigue, loss of smell and taste etc. are some of these long term effects that people who have recovered from COVID continue to suffer from.

Now moving on to friend 3, they said, “It’s my choice, I don’t want to take it as there isn’t enough research. And you still have a chance to get COVID even after the vaccination. And there is also a chance of infertility so my doctor didn’t allow me”. First things first, absolutely, your body your choice. That being said, this isn’t something that only affects your life, this affects life of everyone around you and that means you also have a responsibility. As for enough research, what constitutes as enough? 6 months of clinical trials, 1 year, 2 years, 10 years? If the leading experts in the world authorized and approved the carefully peer reviewed studies and clinical trials involving on average 40,000 people for each vaccine, what more do you want? If these numbers cannot convince you, are there any numbers that can? Also of course there is still a chance to get COVID after, that’s what the effectiveness is! Once again the whole point of the vaccine is to prepare your body against the future infection because they will happen as viruses don’t just disappear (no matter how many times someone says that it will or says that they prayed it out of their country). As for the infertility talks, that originated after a German doctor and former Pfizer employee’s petition to delay vaccine approval in December 2020. For more details on it, you can review the webmd or healthline or theJapantimes articles on the matter. The main point is that this petition was picked up and widely shared by anti-vaxxers in their misinformation campaigns against vaccinations. Though with that in mind, if one were to search online, there is a very good chance that for every article that debunks the infertility claims or says that there is no merit or evidence to backup any such claims, one will find absurdly large number of articles or posts that propagate those claims without any shred of scientific evidence or backup. Even the original petition did not include any evidence, only speculations originating from the similarities between the spike proteins involved. (This person has since gotten both their shots, first one around end of March/beginning of April, and second dose a day before they read this and reached out to me.)

One final thing I’d love to touch upon is the global eradication efforts of various contagious diseases. The only human disease to have been completely eradicated via human intervention is Smallpox, while global eradication efforts are still underway for various other diseases including Malaria and Polio. All these diseases have been eliminated from various parts of the world and countries. The major eradication drive around the world happened after the second world war, starting in the 1950’s and most of the eliminations were certified before 2015. This is a slow process, to reach the entire global population and vaccinating them, it took years and years of effort and international collaboration and goodwill. So the question I want to pose is, would this have been possible if the same level of resistance was shown to the vaccines for these diseases? Can you imagine a world where people were still getting smallpox? Or a world in which your child were to be exposed to Polio and live their entire life with an additional physical challenge? Would the elimination of these diseases or any other new diseases be possible in the future if significant amount of people refuse the vaccines themselves or refuse to get their children vaccinated?

The issue of vaccine resistance is highly amplified in the rich developed countries so far but in this globally connected via the web world, how long before the poorer and developing nations also start facing this as another major hurdle? These developing nations are already struggling with acquiring enough or in many cases any COVID vaccines for their population. Some of these nations are still fighting their final battles against the diseases that have been eliminated from majority of other parts of the world. Everyone has their own struggles, no matter where they live or how rich they are and yet we all sometimes forget that there are others below us, no matter how high or low we are in the socioeconomic chain. So, to all friends and family and anyone else reading this, if you have any skepticism about COVID vaccines or any vaccines in general, please keep an open mind and listen to the advice of the experts. But above all, please don’t say no to the COVID vaccine and get your shot as soon as you become eligible and get your appointment for it.

Last Updated April 29, 2021

Theoretical Particle Physicist at the moment, who knows about the future!?