When The Irish Times invited people not taking the Covid-19 vaccine to explain their reasons, we received more than 250 responses inside two days. Here, we present a selection of their stated reasons – alongside comments from medical experts.
The motivations are many and varied. Some say that as healthy, physically fit individuals, they feel they don’t need to be vaccinated against what they see as, in the majority of cases, a relatively mild disease.
Others baulk at what they perceive as the coercive nature of vaccination programmes and express anger at the restriction of travel and indoor dining for unvaccinated people.
A large number feel that, as the Covid-19 vaccines have been authorised for emergency use only, there is not yet enough research into their long-term safety and efficacy.
And the fact that a small number of vaccinated people can still get Covid-19 – even if they are very unlikely to suffer from serious symptoms or to be hospitalised – is enough to make some question the value of getting the jab.
A number of readers have decided not to get a Covid-19 vaccine because they have had the disease and believe their natural immunity is as strong as the vaccine to ward off serious illness from Covid-19.
A smaller number of readers express fears about how Covid-19 vaccines might cause damage during pregnancy, to fertility and to children. Side-effects of the vaccine are another concern.
And, some believe that vaccines are simply a way for the pharmaceutical industry to make more money from a compliant public.
These readers' statements are analysed below by two doctors: Dr Anne Moore, vaccinologist at University College Cork; and Dr Eoghan de Barra, consultant in infectious diseases at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital and senior lecturer in the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicines at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.
Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated
“As a young healthy male, I don’t feel in any danger from Covid. The pandemic is blown out of proportion,” writes one respondent.
“We are a healthy family. I have four children aged between 17 and 2 and none have ever been sick. We’ll wait until next year until there is more complete data and a clearer picture of the situation,” says another.
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "Waiting to get a vaccine later risks getting infected and transmitting the virus on to others. The longer this virus can circulate unchecked, the more likely variants are to develop. Our best chance to limit its ability to grow and replicate is by vaccinating as many people as possible as soon as possible, everywhere."
Dr Anne Moore adds: "Being healthy or never being sick will not protect you against infection and disease. We currently cannot predict who will suffer from mild or moderate/severe disease, however being healthy but unvaccinated places you at much higher risk of disease compared to being vaccinated; irrespective of your health status. Although many people have only experienced mild symptoms, many thousands have had much poorer outcomes, including long hospital stays and death, as well as long Covid.
“The vaccines that are currently authorised are life-saving; they prevent moderate/severe disease and death. They do this by educating your immune system to build up the required defences that will protect you against this disease.
There’s no long-term research into Covid-19 vaccines
Many say the main reason they aren’t being vaccinated against Covid-19 is because of the lack of long-term data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and the because the vaccines have received emergency use authorisation only, because their clinical trials won’t be completed until 2023. One says simply: “I’m against being a part of the world’s largest clinical trial.”
A self-described farmer who has used vaccines in animals writes: “Having seen vaccine breakdown in animals with catastrophic consequences, I would not use experimental human vaccines even at gunpoint.”
Another writes: “I wear masks, socially distance and get PCR tests at the first sign of illness but I am very hesitant to get vaccinated. I want to see the long-term data on these specific vaccines before I consent to a procedure that might be irreversible.”
Another says: “We are seeing numerous breakthrough cases where people who were supposedly vaccinated, went on to die from Covid-19 but are being chalked up as having suffered with other complications.”
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "These are the most studied vaccines of all time. Over 4.7 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered, which generates a huge amount of surveillance data, particularly across developed countries where enhanced systems are monitoring for possible adverse events and effectiveness."
Dr Anne Moore adds: "The European Medicines Agency is the key body that protects our safety. Their standards and their complete independence ensures that only the safest medicinal products will be allowed to be used. If there is any doubt about safety then the vaccine producer will not be authorised to sell their vaccine. Furthermore, vaccines receive even more scrutiny than drugs which are given to sick people because of the extra risks of giving a medicinal product to healthy people. All material that is submitted to the regulator is freely available.
“In the history of immunisation, there has never been issues of long-term side effects of any licensed vaccine that have been manufactured and used according to the required regulatory standards.”
Natural immunity better than vaccine immunity
Many of those who contacted The Irish Times say they favour natural immunity over vaccine immunity. One reader explains how, one year after having Covid-19, he still tested positive for antibodies. “There is not a single published study showing more potent immunity from vaccination compared to natural immunity,” he writes.
Another reader asks why GPs aren’t interested in finding out information on people with antibodies.
Another says there is scientific evidence that, following Covid-19, the virus remains permanently in the bone marrow.
One says: “I trust my immune system more than this injection”.
Another argues that because “vaccines don’t stop the transmission of Covid, we will not reach herd immunity from them”.
One writes: “I don’t believe in this vaccine. I prefer to deal with getting Covid with available remedies. I am optimizing my immune system with Zinc, Vitamin C and D. I don’t socialize outside my bubble and I wear a mask.”
Dr Anne Moore replies: "Sars-CoV-2 infection can result in the generation of immunity to the virus in some but not all people. Those with a low level of infection generally have poorer immune responses that can be transient. We know that the strongest immunity induced by infection is mostly induced in patients who have the most severe disease. Do you want to have a severe infection to get the best immune response or do you want to receive a vaccine to provide similar or higher levels of immunity? There is no evidence that supplements will protect your against the virus. They can maybe help keep your immune system a little healthier. There is quite a lot of evidence on the relative potency of vaccines compared with natural immunity in patients in hospitals and ICUs."
Dr Eoghan de Barra adds: The issue about natural immunity is the delay in acquiring it and its durability. It's simply not feasible or ethical to naturally infect large numbers of people at one time. Health services would be overwhelmed. In order to reduce the amount of circulating virus, rapid vaccination is needed. This reduces the 'breeding ground' for variants."
Fears of side effects, especially relating to fertility, unborn babies and children
Some write about the potential of the vaccine to affect male and female fertility, its impact on the menstrual cycle, the risks during pregnancy and potential risk to babies born to vaccinated women.
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "Due to the unique way that mRNA vaccines in particular work, the vaccine does not get into reproductive organs. The m (messenger) RNA is not retained in our bodies and does not change our DNA. There is no evidence that they impact on fertility or the menstrual cycle. The risk of Covid-19 infection in pregnancy are now well established and a daily reality. Sars-CoV-2 has been found in the placenta and shown to cause stillbirth. Vaccination is part of reducing the risk to mother and baby.
“There is no long-term data yet on babies born to vaccinated mothers but mRNA does not cross the placenta and thus there is no biological plausibility that damage might occur.”
One reader says. “I had anaphylactic shock from flu vaccine in the past and I have a lot of different allergic reactions from medications so I’ve decided not to take the vaccine.”
Another points out that the HSE itself has stated that boys aged aged 12-15 have a 1 in 16,000 chance of myocarditis (a treatable inflammatory heart condition) versus the 1 in 100,000 chance of getting very ill with Covid.
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: It's important to discuss your option with your GP if you have allergic reactions. Myocarditis is typically a benign condition, treated with oral anti-inflammatory medications. Severe Covid-19 is not a benign condition."
Dr Anne Moore adds: "We know that all the authorised Covid-19 vaccines have side-effects that are felt by a high number of people (sore arm, tiredness, headache, etc). Some side-effects are rarer, and some extremely rare. Anyone who is worried about this should carefully read all the HSE information provided and ask a health professional for clarity."
Coercive vaccination and restrictions on the unvaccinated
One reader says: “The discrimination against people who have chosen not to get vaccinated is unethical and bizarre. What someone does with their own body is none of anyone else’s business.”
Another writes: “I’m now a second-class citizen because I don’t want to inject myself with this vaccine, which is just flat-out discrimination.”
One respondent quotes a supportive letter to the unvaccinated from a group of Canadian academics. “You are inaccurately accused of being a factor for new Sars-CoV-2 variants, when in fact, your natural immune system generates immunity to multiple components of the virus”….
Another writes: “The narrative around vaccines has left me angry. The use of subtle coercion, one-sided reporting and a total disdain shown to those who dare to question anything about a still experimental vaccine has left me questioning the whole vaccine programme. I’ve never been anti-vax, yet I’m labelled a conspiracy theorist, a looney, selfish and much more, when all I ever wanted was all the relevant data – good and bad – so I could make an informed decision.”
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "The Covid-19 vaccines are not experimental. All are authorised for use in the EU and are on enhanced monitoring while in widespread use.
“This phase in the use of a new medicine is common. Similar to other public health messaging such as wearing seat belts, speed limits, exercise, smoking or alcohol, the public is advised on the positive and negative health impacts of their actions and encouraged to make choices with personal and societal benefits.
“The difference here is the concern about taking a product into your body. While understandable, the benefits – both individual and societal – are with vaccines.”
Dr Anne Moore adds: "The vaccines that are currently licensed are life-saving; they prevent moderate/severe disease. However, they can't prevent a person from being infected in the nose and respiratory tract. This is analogous to seat-belts not preventing all severe injuries or death in car crashes. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions and critically evaluate all information to help them make the decision around consenting to vaccination."
Industry making money from vaccines
Some of those who responded to our call-out suggest that the vaccine roll-out is less about health and more about control, money and power. One writes: “I don’t believe any conspiracy but I do not trust Big Pharma due to their lack of transparency and ethics in general being proven in courts numerous times.”
Another says: “It’s very obvious this is money for Big Pharma and the elite of the world – like Obama having his big 60th birthday bash …and the G7 attendees including the 95-year-old queen all huddled together enjoying their drinks and entertainment with no masks or social distancing because obviously they know the truth and they are exempt.”
Another points out that pharmaceutical companies insisted on and were granted indemnity against liability for vaccine adverse events.
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "This last claim is true. Ideally countries would move to having indemnity schemes as has been done in Australia. This adds further assurance and confidence to the public and health professionals."
A self-described fit and healthy 70-year-old reader says: “I will never take a vaccine as the vaccine wasn’t made for Covid, Covid was made for the vaccine.”
Some suggest that other treatments for Covid-19 such as off patent Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine weren’t encouraged for use because vaccines were deemed to be the solution.
A few of those who responded say that life should have gone on as normal. “I’ve lived my life as normal as possible for the last 18 months, no masks, breaking any restrictions I can, meeting friends and family… and still the only person I know that got Covid-19 (a nurse friend) described it as being about as bad as a cold. Thankfully, very few people I know have gotten these injections.”
And, finally one reader writes: “I’m not taking the vaccine because of the vaccine inequality issue. Why should I have it when vulnerable people in poorer countries don’t have access to it. It’s disgusting and a disgrace but I wouldn’t expect anything more from our greedy, colonialist, capitalist system.”
Dr Eoghan de Barra replies: "The current global system of medicines development is led by private companies, with robust checks by regulators. It's not perfect but it does continue to produce safe, lifesaving treatments. There continues to be global inequity in vaccine distribution, and in order to end the pandemic vaccines must be made available to all of the world's population. Declining to take a vaccine in a country where it is offered will not result in it being given in a resource limited country. Unicef is asking people to get a vaccine and give one, to enhance the supply of vaccines to poorer nations."
Dr Anne Moore adds: "A lot of these views represent a general mistrust of organisations and government. People have a duty of care to themselves and their families to dig down into such information. They need to critically examine the source of their information and the quality of this source and to be very mindful of mis-information."