There are some signs that vaccine hesitancy is becoming more respectable. The following appeared in the mainstream media (Newsweek). The views in this article are the writer’s own.
I’m not vaccinated against COVID-19. The decision wasn’t a drastic one; I thought of it as a personal decision that every person should make in consultation with a trusted health professional, which is what I did.
It didn’t occur to me that this decision merited justification to others. But that was before the current climate of social and political pressure, before the Delta surge, and before unvaccinated people like me started getting blamed for vaccine-resistant variants. Now I feel that explaining my decision has become necessary.
In explaining my decision, my hope is not to convince people to change their minds about whether to vaccinate but rather to help others understand why some may choose differently.
Let me start by saying that I agree that the COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool in reducing the severity of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19. In general, I am supportive of the availability and accessibility of safe, potentially life saving medications and preventative measures for anyone at risk of any serious illness. The more options when it comes to preventing and treating COVID-19, the better! But this does not mean that all options should necessarily be utilized by all people en masse, and this is how I arrived at my current decision to opt out of the vaccine.
The reported adverse events and risks of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines are rare, and most people don’t seem to have any serious adverse reactions. But though rare, the risks are still real. Cardiac issues, blood clotting, stroke, and autoimmune disorders are all acknowledged adverse events that can occur as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A colleague of my parents reportedly died from complications of the Moderna vaccine, a friend suffered from deep vein thrombosis, and a teenage nephew of another friend now has chronic cardiac issues. These are three examples from my immediate network of family and friends, and I know many others with their own stories. And while it’s true that these are anecdotes and do not represent the majority, they are powerful nonetheless.
Now, we know that age, weight, and other comorbidities play a role in how COVID-19 impacts the individual, and for someone at serious risk from COVID-19, these rare risks are probably worth it. But what about for someone who is not at risk from COVID-19? The risk/benefit analysis for otherwise healthy, young individuals may be a different calculus.
Public health messaging has consistently portrayed the vaccines are safe and effective, and therefore everyone eligible should get vaccinated. But companies like Moderna and Pfizer are protected from lawsuits related to their COVID-19 vaccines until 2024.
It’s just one of the many facets of the inconsistent public health messaging and moving of goalposts when it comes to the vaccine and herd immunity, which makes it hard to trust such guidance. A cocktail of mixed messages on who is at risk from COVID-19 and dubious masking guidance coupled with a lack of clear messaging on what exactly is the goal and rationale of these measures and policies adds to the skepticism many of us feel. The focus has now shifted from deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 to a new hyper-focus on breakthrough cases, though the majority of them are benign.
Why I’m not vaccinated
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that as of August 16th proof of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination will be required to attend indoor restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues with enforcement of the mandate to begin on September 13th.
But even while the experts push the vaccine, they have undermined it by arguing that vaccinated individuals spread the virus as effectively as unvaccinated individuals. It begs the question: If everyone now has to wear a mask because everyone is now back to being suspected asymptomatic carriers, why get the vaccine at all?
The personal risk/benefit analysis still plays a role and preventing serious illness is definitely important, but getting the vaccine to protect others (and calling unvaccinated adults selfish) no longer seems to be relevant if the vaccinated can spread it, too. In fact, some experts have advised only individuals at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 to get vaccinated, in order to prevent the evolution of even more vaccine resistant variants.
Along with the mixed messages is the obvious role that politics has played in COVID-19 policy. There was Kamala Harris saying she wouldn’t trust a vaccine produced by President Trump—then doing an about face. There was the way that Democratic politicians and even the CDC itself justifying Black Lives Matter protests during lockdown while criticizing Trump rallies as “super spreader” events. Most recently former President Obama hosted a huge, maskless birthday party in the midst of renewed mask mandates and concern over the spread of infection.
The inconsistent policies and public responses, the repeated “do as I say, not as I do” from those pushing restrictions, has led many like me to skepticism of any government issued guidance. And adding bribes, mandates, and censorship to the mix has only served to heighten that sense of mistrust. Perhaps most unnerving has been seeing experts who question and warn about adverse reactions to the vaccine being censored or blacklisted.
Why censor the adverse effects? Why not publicize them so we can make informed decisions?
Still, I didn’t arrive at my decision on my own. I am lucky to have a relationship with a health professional who I feel comfortable asking questions without fear of judgment. I trust her guidance, having built a history with her and knowing that she has my best interests in mind. In fact, had she unequivocally recommended the vaccine specifically for me to the best of her clinical judgment, I would have gotten vaccinated that day. Unequivocal recommendation, however, was not the message I received in my case as a young, otherwise healthy individual, who is also pregnant. Another doctor I consulted with also generally recommends vaccination, but added that in my case, the concerns are understandable and waiting made sense. He connected me with an obstetrics clinic that has experience treating COVID-19 in pregnancy in the event I should require it, since the location where I normally receive medical care does not offer treatment unless hospitalization is required.
The bottom line for me, and perhaps others who are similarly ambivalent about the COVID-19 vaccine, is that trustworthy information and guidance is key. And those of us opting out of the vaccine are not doing so out of ignorance or selfishness. We have simply been paying attention to the mixed messages, the hypocrisy, the changing standards, and the censoring of counter-evidence. And we have not been convinced that this is something we need to do, for our own good or that of our communities or country.
The COVID-19 vaccine remains one effective tool among many in the fight against COVID-19. Clear, transparent information about what the vaccine does, what its risks and limitations are, and what other options exist especially for prevention and early outpatient treatment are what is needed to restore trust.
The mandates, bribes, social pressure, censorship, and ever changing policies that don’t present clear scientific rationale need to stop. But at least the doctor/patient relationship should be prioritized in the meantime, so that we as individuals can make informed decisions for ourselves, enabling us all to emerge sooner rather than later from this seemingly never ending health crisis.
The views in this article are the writer’s own.
Suri Kinzbrunner previously worked as a teacher and preschool director and is currently homeschooling her 7 children. She studied cognitive neuroscience as an undergraduate at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. and worked briefly in this field before becoming a parent. She is especially passionate about issues related to parenting and education.