I have never had so many responses to a single letter.
I have been completely overwhelmed by emails about the vaccine piece that I wrote last week.
I am sorry to those I didn’t get a chance to reply to or properly engage with, but I have read every single email I got and all of them have informed what I’m going to write today.
I feel vastly better off for all the insights, ideas and information you’ve passed on to me, and I feel duty-bound to share it with the wider group of readers today, so that everyone can benefit.
Firstly, someone very shrewdly pointed out that giving the vaccine to the health service staff first is hugely risky, because if it goes wrong… we’re toast!
Today, for example, we have already found out that two health workers have had (very mild) allergic reactions to it. They have very severe allergies, but still…
It does however reflect the extreme confidence in the safety and efficacy of the process – so that’s the counter argument. We should take confidence in that, at least.
Here’s another email which raised an interesting point:
The existence of a vaccine means we can finally move to a situation of individual accountability and away from blanket, sledgehammer to crack-a-nut solutions (lockdown).
Only those people who are fearful of Covid or at risk from Covid should take the vaccine. Once that is the case there is no risk to that group. They can get on with their lives. See family, travel, eat out, everything.
Everybody who falls into the camp of not at risk, not knowingly at risk or simply willing to tolerate risk can then get on with their lives.
Their approach can be the same to COVID as it is to other, low mortality, contagious diseases. People catch them from time to time and recover. They keep our immune systems strong.
The impact of a vaccine now being available is to take the responsibility off ‘everybody’ as it has been up until now and place it on those who need to take it. There is now an option for those people, to keep them safe and allow them to live a normal life which didn’t exist before.
In that case the drink and drive analogy is different. It’s not that the non-vaccinated are drink drivers, killing pedestrians in 1% of cases. The onus will be on the at-risk category to get vaccinated so they are no longer at risk. It would be irresponsible for them not to – putting undue pressure on the NHS when a simpler, lower impact solution was offered to them.
This to me raises an excellent and interesting point.
People are growing to resent government imposition of lockdowns and rules more and more. It’s understandable.
What the vaccine can do is put the responsibility firmly back on our shoulders.
Collectively, it is now our choice whether to accept the vaccine and return to normality, or not. But if we don’t take it, and the virus does begin to spread again leading to more lockdowns, loss of livelihoods, loneliness and more, then we really can’t complain.
Taking it one step further, here’s a question which will probably end up in next year’s GCSE philosophy exam: should anyone who refuse to take the vaccine still be given free treatment on the NHS if they contract Covid-19?
People already get annoyed at smokers and obese people, whose personal choices take up disproportionate amounts of our health service’s time and resources. Perhaps this is a similar case. Take the vaccine, or you are on your own.
I, however, hope that this is not the case.
One of the main concerns people who emailed had, which I share, is the creation of some kind of social sub-class. That the government starts saying people who don’t accept the vaccine get segregated – can’t go on certain flights, or to certain restaurants or whatever.
That would be a disaster, and a dark path to go down.
Key points and concerns
That the key reason the vaccine was approved so quickly was that the regulator performed all of the due diligence processes in parallel, rather than sequentially.
Secondly, people responded to my citing of the thalidomide example by pointing out that it was 50 years ago, and an example from which the medical community has learned a lot.
It turns out to be a poor comparison, because it was 50 years ago, and the regulatory environment was completely different.
In fact, that sad episode pushed the regulatory environment to develop and improve. It’s not perfect now, and never will be, but it is a lot better than it was then. Lessons were learned and precautionary measures and requirements were added.
Another point which I found enlightening was about Andrew Wakefield, of whom I hadn’t heard. He wrote a small piece based on a small sample size, poor experimentation technique and with some far-out conclusions that the MMR vaccine might lead to behavioural disorders in children.
This paper was taken up with surprising vigour among large parts of the public, leading to significant falls in vaccination rates of children. As a result, the outcome of his mistake was a terrible worsening of public health and a decrease in trust of vaccinations, which continues to do damage today.
It is an important lesson to note.
Those who proudly state their sceptic credentials by saying we shouldn’t trust vaccines or this vaccine are, if they are wrong, very dangerous. Of course, they don’t believe themselves to be wrong and I’m not saying they definitely are.
What I am saying though is that people should be incredibly careful about challenging potentially life-saving medical improvements without exceptionally good reason. If wrong, mistaken or misguided, such an approach can be so harmful.
But the final point here is to wonder why we have conspiracy theories in the first place.
It’s because the government has floundered about in disgrace so repeatedly for so long now, that people are looking for alternative explanations. The extreme amount of information and misinformation flying around makes it so much more complicated to figure out a simple explanation for anything. In a sea of data and differing opinions, people all connect the dots in different ways, shaped by their existing tendencies and views.
Source: Cilip, on Twitter
However, that is not to say that all concerns about and criticisms of the vaccine and the forces which brought it into existence are conspiracy theories.
Here are some of the most common concerns that people had:
That the financial incentives for big pharma to win this medical arms race might bring out the worst in people. That greed can cloud judgement, alter risk preferences and make people cut corners and broadly operate with less caution than before.
When others are greedy we should be fearful, goes the old investment saying.
The unpleasant financial incentives leading to poor outcomes is illustrated best by this video, kindly sent in by one reader.
On a similar theme, the insider selling of shares by high-up executives close to their companies’ announcement of vaccines is quite disconcerting. Not to mention the timing – just as soon as the US election was all wrapped up.
Add to that the legal immunity that has been given to the companies delivering these vaccines, and there is plenty of reason to worry about the incentives involved.
The final one, which has been mentioned already, is any attempt to make those who don’t choose the vaccine somehow disadvantaged. A segregated society, with their own supermarkets, neighbourhoods, schools and bars. Not a happy picture, not at all.
So as always, we need to be cautious and hold people to account when wrongdoing occurs.
But equally, we need to be very careful about pushing any agendas against the vaccine, given the most likely outcome by far is that it is an incredible thing which will save us all from these grim, seemingly endless lockdowns.
To finish, here are a few final emails that I received and would like to share, including one which I found to be the most convincing of all…
Who in their right mind would:
Want to be the first to take it?
Want to delay taking what could be a life saver?
Nicely put, I thought…
Over 300,000 volunteers have been vaccinated in the UK trials with a tiny number of bad outcomes. In most vaccines, many of the problems appear to have been caused by the adjuvants that are included to stimulate the innate side of the immune system. In the past, these have included mercury, puss from sores on a cow’s belly and Aluminium. This vaccine uses messenger RNA to stimulate the acquired side of the immune system (T & B cells) and allegedly has no adjuvants.
This is a crucial point. The presence of adjuvants came up a few times, and one reader very helpfully sent this short video. Adjuvants were responsible for a scandal involving GSK’s vaccine for H1N1 back in 2009, leading to some concerns about the financial links between big pharma companies and the World Health Organisation.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which the UK has approved, JS is right in saying, has no adjuvants, as other readers also took care to point out to me. This was something I knew absolutely nothing about before, but it does seem significant, as it represents progress from the last time we screwed up this exact process.
To finish though, I’d like to share an email which resonated with me, perhaps more than any other.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, which I enjoy reading.
I feel I have to write to you regarding the vaccine(s). I watched Boris’ speech this afternoon via the Telegraph site and read the comments whilst listening. I was horrified by the fact that a noticeable majority of commentators were making strong anti-vax, conspiracy-theory, the government’s lying, big pharma’s just after your money, Covid is a hoax, no worse than flu, etc statements.
My partner is an NHS consultant, my sister-in-law is a nurse in an intensive care covid ward, a very good friend is Head of End-of-Life care at a major teaching hospital. Although I am not medically trained, I am very close to a lot of people who are, with whom I communicate regularly.
These dear friends and family face Covid daily, almost all of them have been brought to tears of sadness, or anger, with regard to the virus. Sadness at the horrific harm the virus can cause, and anger at the government and media’s responses. Many of them have had Covid.
They all have countless heart-breaking tales of the devastation that Covid has brought to their patients. Multiple generations of the same families dying. Children dying. Previously healthy folk dying. It is not only elderly folk with pre-existing conditions. Yes, the survivability is a very high percentage, but many of those survivors have a truly horrific time.
Yes, younger folk are highly likely to have no symptoms or very minor ones, though they may well still spread the virus to others who may not be so lucky. I have seen a slide of a 19-year-old woman’s Covid lung, instead of the healthy spongelike mass of branching tubes it was almost solid, with one or two tiny air holes left. Truly awful.
There are many reasons to criticise (and hopefully learn from) the responses to the pandemic. However, the accelerated development of vaccines is absolutely something to celebrate. People are scared and there are a great many ill-informed opinions out there shouting for attention.
I beg you, please use your position to ensure that fact-based knowledge, with all its uncertainties, gets out there and helps to calm concerned people. The vaccines are not some evil dodgy conspiracy, people should be elbowing each other to get it.
We as a species should be very proud of the speed of these vaccines and what has been achieved. Some scepticism is healthy, but the strength of illogical belief systems based on fear-mongering lies fills me with worry.
When I am notified that I’m approaching the front of the queue I will be delighted and will roll up my sleeve with relief. So should we all, and say thank you to those whose skills, intelligence and money have collaborated to produce them.
I agree with this almost completely it turns out, but for some reason, until now I had been keen to be sceptical, or critical. He reminded me that, like Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is often the best.
That a vaccine created by the best minds in medicine and tested by the leading regulators in the world, is probably okay.
That the vaccine, backed by the whole medical community, with its thousands of years of scientific and ethical advancement, its million PHDs and endless hours of study, practice and patience… Maybe we should respect that. We should definitely respect it over ungrounded posts on social media.
I think that it’s a natural human tendency to try and sound clever. Oh you don’t buy into all that mainstream nonsense, do you? Like there’s some secret truth that only I know. And I fell into it like many other people.
In Peep Show, when Jeremy says wishfully that their pub should serve lager and nuts because that’s what people like, Super Hans laments: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis… You can’t trust people, Jeremy.”
But the reality is, sometimes things are widely agreed on for a reason.
And the entire medical community seems to be behind the vaccine.
Yes, there are reasons to be cautious, or sceptical. A healthy dose is a good thing, but not too much.
For example, here is my favoured writer Tim Harford’s take on why the race to roll out the vaccine is an obstacle course.
But mainly, there are way more reasons to believe 99.9% of medical practitioners who support it. And the regulatory body and everyone involved in what seems to have been a very transparent process.
“Not perfect” or “might have some problems” is not a reason to dismiss something anyway. Instead, it’s a reason to look closer, and find out more.
Having gone through this exact process myself, I have come out significantly more convinced that we should all trust the vaccine, almost completely.
Up next on the save-the-world agenda, pollution – which causes roughly 16% of premature deaths globally (more than malaria, TB and AIDS combines). Introducing the new electric offering from VW – the VaccineWagen…
Editor, UK Uncensored
PS Are you a gold investor? If so, keep one eye on your inbox, as we’ve got some new research and insights to share with you soon. I’ll talk more about this on Friday.