The important, unexplored reasons why it’s good to allow those who wish it, to decline vaccination.
Covid vaccines are an extraordinary technology for people who want to avoid the disease. Nothing in this article seeks to detract from that.
The vaccines are also being proposed as necessary for everybody. This proposition is built from three ideas which are all subtly but critically flawed:
- the idea that refusing the vaccine endangers others’ safety
- the way that vaccine safety is being measured
- the widespread loss of confidence in natural human immunity, ushered in with covid.
We’ve heard this proposal from the left and right of media, the red and blue of politics, up and down science and industry and from the Queen. There’s never been a consensus like it, which either means it’s true, or we are in the midst of the most remarkable case of group-think in history. I want to demonstrate with simple, logical perspectives that the latter is true.
Last October I caught covid while away working. I had a relatively mild case.
I am a 49 year old man with a wife and two young children and we isolated as a family to deliberately contract the disease. We all stayed in close contact, my wife slept next to me throughout and, stuck in our little house together, everybody got a full dose of my virus. None of them developed symptoms.
That was ‘natural inoculation’. Anytime before these times, none of us would be thinking about taking a vaccine for covid. But remarkably, faith in natural immunity has been broken and a new logic says that we should still take a vaccine, both to protect ourselves and to stop the spread.
There are in fact substantial benefits to the individual and to society that come from allowing those who are strong enough — and have the appetite for it — to take the risk of natural inoculation (or to preserve the natural immunity that they earned by surviving covid).
Before we can look at these benefits, we must first disassemble the logic. None of these flaws is remarkable on it’s own but together they create the conditions for a uniquely dangerous cultural moment.
‘Stop the spread, take the vaccine’
“There’s no evidence that any of the current Covid-19 vaccines can completely stop people from being infected.” BBC Future, Feb 2021
Do the covid vaccines stop transmission? No. You can read it on the BBC or in any of the peer reviewed journals¹. Estimates of efficiency vary between 47% and 70% ².
The way vaccine passports are being proposed as proof that a person is not carrying covid, is absolutely misrepresentative. The true statement is more like: a vaccinated person is somewhat less likely to give it to you.
In scientific terminology ‘infection rates are being used as a surrogate for transmission reduction’ ³. In more simple terms, this means ‘when there are fewer people infected with the virus, there are fewer people spreading the virus’ . This sounds simple enough but as the article referenced here states, scientific opinion is very mixed — there’s no consensus on whether or how much covid vaccines are slowing transmission, mainly because we don’t understand enough about human immunity and how we contract or resist viruses ³.
“The relations between viral load, viral shedding, infection, infectiousness, and duration of infectiousness are not well understood.” BMJ December 2020
Consider additionally that
- only 50% of people contract covid when living in the same house as someone who’s got it
- Covid survivors are still the safest of all categories; the chances of getting it twice are infinitesimal ⁴ (about the same as for other infectious diseases — once you account for the incidence of testing errors ⁵)
- The risk of asymptomatic transmission has also been hugely inflated⁶ ⁷, again because our understanding of the transmission process is incomplete.
- Vaccination does not afford any protection against new strains of covid.
The covid vaccines then provide a marginal reduction to an already marginal risk. Instead of ‘stop the spread’, a truer statement would be ‘slow the spread somewhat’.
That’s still a big achievement in a crisis as deep as this one! And in a country with as refined a sense of civic duty as Great Britain there has been little resistance to ‘doing our bit’ and little patience with those who shirk it. Particularly in light of the second ubiquitous statement: ‘the vaccine is safe’. This is also only half true.
Safe and harmless are not the same.
The statement — ‘the vaccine is safe’ is not the same as ‘the vaccine is harmless’, but it’s being used as if it is.
To understand why, we first have to break a taboo and reveal vaccine science’s hidden blindspot: the study of vaccine side-effects is strictly limited to events that occur within 14 days of an injection.
Consider: the first ever whole-population pharmaceutical trial is underway; for a technology that has never been used on humans before; in the nascent field of gene science. That’s a triple compound risk, something that should generate intense study into possible downstream effects. But the opposite is true. The case for safety has been closed and attempts to draw attention to the risks are met with exasperation at best, most often smeared as antivax propaganda. This has got nothing to do with public health. Given how little we know about gene science, errors with the mRNA vaccines are likely (and we’re also unlikely to predict what kind of errors they will be ⁸).
A truer statement for vaccine safety would be: ‘no serious immediate risks; longer term risks are unknown’. But a statement like that would dramatically reduce vaccine uptake, as we shall see later, and the UK is currently running a continuous campaign to discourage individual risk assessment, emphasising instead our civic duty. ‘The vulnerable need your help. The vaccine is safe, just take it, even if you’re not at risk from covid.’
We are already at a stage of the vaccine roll-out where the number of vulnerable people is very low. How can a marginal risk-reduction for this small group, outweigh exposing the whole population to an unknown risk, especially when the virus presents virtually no risk to people like me as a covid survivor, to my wife and children, most teenagers and adults under the age of 40? ⁹ ¹⁰ ¹¹
It’s time to look at some of the benefits that come from allowing those who wish it, to remain unvaccinated against covid.
Maintaining a control group
There are still people who simply prefer natural immunity. This is a valid choice ¹² and it offers a hidden benefit to the rest of society: we have a singular opportunity to evaluate the effect of this novel procedure by comparing two enormous cohorts for their general health outcomes.
We can’t see the effects on the vaccinated population unless we have an unvaccinated group to whom we can compare them. Scientific ethics prevent us — rightly — from asking someone to be part of the placebo section of a vaccine trial ¹³. But in this case we don’t need to: we have a control group, self-selected by dint of their desire to exercise the precautionary principle — itself a right that ethics requires us to defend.
It’s basic research, perfect for the ‘big-data’ age: how well is each group faring against seasonal viruses, other acute and chronic diseases, over time? This research is important not only for safety reasons, but as part of the development of mRNA vaccines, gene science, and our understanding of immunity in general. Positive results would also silence the antivax campaign, one of the most inflamed and polarised debates of all time.
Currently, vaccine companies will not even share all the side-effects results that they have done ¹⁴ and continue to refuse to do any longer term study. This secrecy and denial naturally creates suspicion, a syndrome to which we’ve sadly become acclimatised.
Don’t mention the..
This brings us to the second taboo in vaccine science; a white lie that’s now so old it’s faded into the background.
If you tell a million people that vaccines are only dangerous to one in a million people, many thousands of them will believe that they themselves, will be the one. This simple fact has led to a longstanding, worldwide, tacit agreement; it’s better not to talk about vaccine risks because it stops people from taking vaccines, and the needs of the many outweigh the risk to the few ¹⁵.
The result is a multilaterally adopted trope, ‘vaccines are safe and effective’. However beneficial vaccines are, this statement denies the truth that they sometimes don’t work and sometimes harm people. We’ve damaged our integrity, in the way that white lies always do, by eroding trust — the glue of society — and by subtly normalising lying.
This white lying has felt tolerable because it’s an essential part of keeping vaccine acceptance rates high, which is considered very important in the fight against dangerous diseases. For the lie to be ‘necessary’: the disease must be very dangerous, which for many of us it’s not ¹⁶: or the vaccine must stop transmission, which the covid vaccines do not; or there is a chance to eradicate a disease, which is not possible in the case of corona viruses ¹⁷. Covid does not qualify.
Offering vaccines to everybody, rather than just to the vulnerable, has some risks of its own, marking the transition to their routine use; something we already know to be dangerous.
The danger of routine medical procedures.
‘100 strains of anti-biotic resistant bacteria found in the average kitchen sink plughole’ New Scientist 2020
When antibiotics are misused or used routinely, they create the conditions inside our bodies for bacteria to evolve. This leads to antibiotic resistance, which the WHO describes as ‘one of the biggest threats to global health’, causing between 700,000 and several million deaths per year. This number will continue to increase and there is currently no solution in sight ¹⁸.
The sobering truth is, it is very likely that vaccines and viruses relate in a similar way to antibiotics and bacteria. The illustrative example is the case of Marek’s disease in Chickens ¹⁹. This disease was fatal for 30% of chickens in the 1950’s, when commercial vaccination started. It is now fatal for 100% of chickens. This means that all commercially raised chickens now die of Marek’s disease unless you vaccinate them.
The virus evolved into a ‘superbug’ through a phenomenon known as ‘leaky vaccine’ where the low level protection of a vaccine nurtures aggressive mutation in viruses, just like antibiotic resistance ²⁰. Using vaccines during a pandemic — while a virus is already live in the population receiving the medication — is thought to be one of the main factors that creates the conditions for a virus to mutate. The same thing that happened with Marek’s disease could happen with corona virus.
Vaccines and antibiotics have probably saved more lives than any other health interventions. Both are now under serious threat — by the way we are using them. What kind of approach ought we to expect in the face of such a dire threat?
The scientific principle asks for a sincere, unbiased enquiry; to look and see whether something might be happening, not to reflexively assume that it’s not. But after the runaway success of covid vaccine development, government, media and industry have united behind the vaccination campaign, generating unstoppable momentum and a total loss of patience for objections.
Even opening to the possibility of an issue like leaky vaccines also exposes businesses (and the state) to the very real threat of liability and damages. Businesses live within a legal system that defines the corporate stance to damage claims, that we know so well: it’s the stance that big tobacco took to the health effects of smoking, that big oil has taken to the possibility of climate change and habitat destruction, that chemical agriculture takes to soil erosion and ecosystem destruction:
To any given claim, the accused denies all negative consequences and commits all their energy into disproving the claim, whether it’s true or not. The effect of this phenomenon in the covid crisis is uniquely alarming: a whole-population medical trial with unknown consequences is being conducted alongside the systematic prohibition of enquiry into the downstream effects.
A crisis scenario demands the opposite stance. Imagine if a collaborative atmosphere of public benefit were animating the worldwide research community , with open data and common goals. That would be both exciting and appropriate for an existential threat. That’s the movie scenario. Instead the ranks are closing in on a premise that is as dangerously thin as it is widely held. These are echo-chamber conditions, for confirmation bias, and group-think.
Consider finally, in just the last few weeks, the WHO silently changed it’s definition of herd immunity ²¹. No announcement. It used to read: “herd immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.”
The reference to ‘previous infection’ has been removed and herd immunity is now described as “..a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.”
That’s like changing the hands on Big Ben without telling anyone. It’s also the clearest possible signal of the official, high level abandonment of trust in natural immunity: the third, flawed plank in our new approach to public health.
The case for Natural immunity
Natural immunity alone would protect upwards of 98% of Europeans from covid ²², significantly outperforming any vaccine. People can be forgiven for wanting to avoid getting it, which is the great victory of a vaccine. However, that does not negate nature’s demonstrable superiority: anyone who survives covid successfully created their own defences, as did anyone who was exposed and didn’t get symptoms — and they did it in many more ways than just making antibodies, many of which we don’t understand. It’s a symbiotic system comprising human, bacterial, fungal and viral components at a scale and complexity that’s still well beyond the human mind.
For viruses that come around on a regular basis, like corona viruses, immunity acts in a linear way: your contact with the virus last year teaches your immune system to survive it this year ²³. That’s why people who’ve never contacted covid before still show a familiar T-cell defensive response. It also works in a lateral way: our encounters with the diverse challenges in mud and cuts and kisses and colds, translate into a non-specific ability to meet varied immune challenges ²⁴. The immunity we earn is also life-long and can be passed on to our children.
Most fundamentally, it is adaptive and cumulative. We grow as children, meeting increasingly greater threats, each one ‘training’ our immune response — not too hard we hope — to eventually establish robustness. Our species has survived impossible odds over the aeons thanks to this process, which is as miraculous as it is thanks to hundreds of generations of iteration.
If a person is not robust enough to cope with a disease, or if the disease is foreign, or horribly deadly, then a vaccine may save their life. But, if the disease is not foreign, or deadly and you’re in good health, there is a very good reason to refuse a vaccine.
Every time we survive an illness, it trains our whole immune system; every department, learning in consort. The vaccine ideal envisions a population taking thousands of vaccines for every disease, removed from suffering. This vision has a fundamental flaw that’s so obvious we can almost miss it: if we stop training our immune systems by removing all threats, we will become immunologically unfit. We live in an environment predicated on survival of the fittest. No one should be obstructed in this endeavour. And no one need be.
We have a pandemic of respiratory illnesses every year. Every year they mutate and spread around the world. Every year we ‘allow’ the spread of these viruses, which kill many people. At least 3 times in the last 50 years these illnesses have killed many, many more of us than covid ²⁵. Every year all of us are probably part of a chain of connections that lead to someone’s death.
What this framing obscures, is that every year the overwhelming majority of us naturally survive these diseases — most don’t even get symptoms. None of that group need any medication, other than staying healthy, which is disease prevention.
More spectacularly than ever before, all of the preventative strands of health have been subordinated in favour of ‘the cure’:
- stay inside (no vitamin D, no exercise, no connection with nature, no recreation)
- stay away from each other (no social connection*, no biome interchange)
- stay afraid (fear is a major driver of illness ²⁶)
All of these impacts seriously weaken us against the disease itself, as well as the challenges of life in general, yet they do not even register in our public health decision-making process.
This is the pivotal rubicon. Our culture has become obsessed with medicine and forgotten health, focussing on cures to the exclusion of prevention. The source of health has moved from nature to science, for which responsibility has moved from the person to the state, or more accurately, from the person to a product.
We all know the reason for this, which makes the tragedy all the more unbearable: the ear of government, science and education has been won by industry, in a relationship that is now so intimate and longstanding, there seems to be nothing we can do about it.
Policy in the UK has precisely followed the industry prescribed playbook for a corona virus pandemic ²⁷, indicating that for now at least, stewardship of public health has passed into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry.
Whilst these companies have the technology to deliver lifesaving medicines, they lack the character to direct public health. This industry’s most notable characteristics overlay exactly with the three flaws in the logic driving the total-vaccination campaign:
- criminal convictions on every continent for dangerous overselling and overstating of their products ²⁸
- a reputation for unscrupulous evasion of liability and damage claims ²⁹
- an incessant campaign, nearly 100 years long, to undermine and defame the preventative approach of natural health ³⁰
This third element represents the real ‘dark matter’ of the pandemic, the accumulated force of probably the longest running, most comprehensive smear campaign in history, which has defined the modern conception of medicine.
This is best illustrated in the case of vitamin D therapy for covid. Has there ever been a sense that vitamin D might be offered on prescription? Or vitamin C, universally understood to increase resistance to covid and disease in general? Or the free provision of organic fresh fruit and vegetables? Of course not. It’s not part of the strategy that a pharmaceutically oriented political system adopts against disease, where natural health is the de facto inferior class.
But it is the strategy that almost all of us adopt in our lives. We try to eat well, use supplements if we can afford them, get as much exposure to nature as possible, stay fit and happy — which for most of us means regular, varied human contact. Somehow covid has divorced our public health strategy from this perennial wisdom.
Look at our cultural landscape now: people wearing masks when alone in the fresh air, refusing to embrace their loved ones even when they’ve had the virus or been vaccinated. Nobody knows quite what to do. The black and white of the newspaper age has become an agonising digital kaleidoscope. Research has defined public policy — only to be retracted, half-truths have been made into slogans to engage ‘buy-in’, fear has been used as a tool to restrict public movement.
It should be a source of great cultural shame. I can’t help thinking of what our grandmas and grandpas would think of this fanatical risk-aversion and commercialism, with it’s disregard for the spirit of the law and the sanctity of the scientific principle, both of which have been savaged in this crisis and both of which form the central planks of the western historical legacy.
I wonder whether this insult to our heritage is sufficient to shock us into resistance. And what form that might take in a scientifically and legally minded culture such as ours.
How might we establish an appetite in corporate science to pursue its own defects rather than deny and defend them? Without this, all of our most noble efforts for public health may be in vain.
There is a solution to this conundrum. Like many of the solutions to today’s problems, it’s as obvious as it is unlikely. Covid vaccines should be moved into a new category, a not-for-profit, ‘planetary good’.
Today’s world functions as it does by virtue of the free market, which operates on principles. When covid vaccine companies won their indemnity from prosecution for damages resulting from their products, they severed their connection from the market’s key regulatory mechanism. The market is deemed trustworthy because it is a self regulating system, so entities operating outside its regulatory mechanisms are rogue and definitively unsafe. This kind of partial participation should be disallowed.
Those working in the covid vaccine industry would still be paid for their work — which must surely continue. But the ‘profit’ portion of the industry, set to be substantial, should be rescinded. The resulting new ‘fund’ used to pay for research into the long and short term health implications of vaccination. (It is striking that so little attention has been drawn to the not-for-profit basis which sets Astrazeneca apart from the other vaccine manufacturers. In this new framing their product might also attract a ‘profit’ margin, for the same purpose.)
It would probably be prudent to assign a portion of the fund for compensation for any unforeseen damages discovered in the research.