Nearly two years on from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Adare GP Dr Pat Morrissey, who did not give vaccines to patients in his Co Limerick clinic, still believes the vaccine campaign was a lie, with money and greed at its heart.
“It’s the greatest power-grab ever, the greatest consolidation of power and wealth ever,” says Morrissey, who insists that he is not against vaccinations but rather against those that are still experimental.
"We have seen the throttling of free speech due to the ongoing witch-hunt against [Spotify podcaster] Joe Rogan, absolutely ridiculous. The people who are most vociferous against him have never listened to him. He's a very open-minded, fair guy," he said.
Morrissey is one of the 250,000 adults in the State who chose not to get vaccinated despite restrictions, or being blamed for spreading the virus, or for prolonging the epidemic.
The January 21st lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions was greeted with bewilderment and anticipation by a weary vaccinated public, but it was also greeted as a vindication by those who refused to take the jab. Their stance has often put them in conflict with friends, family and employers.
Breandán Murray (49), an IT project manager who lives in Dublin, was one of those unconvinced by the mRNA vaccine. He might be persuaded to get vaccinated if Novavax is released next year, a vaccine using an older technology.
“I am not anti-vaccination, but I am anti the vax mandate. My wife has the vaccination, I drove her to the centre get it,” he said. “My reluctance to take mRNA vax is nuanced. My doubts grew as the rollout happened both for its effectiveness and the side effects.
"Since I returned to Ireland from Belgium in August, I've found it hard to explain this to some friends – the issue has become so polarised. I was called an anti-vaxxer, and I took exception to that. I have my three children all vaccinated."
David O'Neill (64) from Waterford has been vaccinated against most things, but similarly believes the mRNA vaccines are untested. "I was waiting for Novavax or Valneva but events have moved on," he said.
A chartered engineer, O’Neill said the unvaccinated were seen as a “dangerous minority”. A friend had sent out a group email saying the unvaccinated should be “locked away”, not knowing that he was one of them.
Saying he could not make sense of the regulations, he went on: “The vaccines have had a beneficial impact, but the other side is what are the dangers of them? Nobody is actually giving any real assessment of the risk.”
"There are very few journalists interested in hearing the opinion of people like me," said Eamonn, a father of four from Kildare, who believes that his opinions are moderate, but never reflected during the pandemic.
He, along with others who spoke to The Irish Times, said the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, were untested technology, a viewpoint that is not shared by most people in medical science.
Eamonn said he has neurosarcoidosis, an inflammatory condition of the brain, and is wary of taking the vaccine as a result. “Very little has been done in terms of research. The vaccines have not been around long enough.”
John C*, a 41-year-old man living in Dublin, had a heart defect since birth and pericarditis in 2010. He too demurred on taking the vaccine for health reasons.
“So I decided with a brand new vaccine it would be more sensible to wait three to five years before taking it as that would be enough time for accurate safety data to be compiled and published. By the way, this is the first time I have declined a vaccine in my life.”
Laura*, a woman in her 30s who grew up in south Dublin and works for a multinational company, said she declined the vaccine as a result of her mother getting pericarditis after her second shot.
Before the Covid pass was lifted, her wedding was in jeopardy because she was unvaccinated, but she would not budge.
“I had Covid and recovered, it was two days of a bad flu. I have had pneumonia before and the pneumonia was a lot worse for me. I am pretty well read up on everything Covid. I have listened and read from both sides the last two years. Immunology 101 would say natural immunity always wins over vaccinated immunity. So why would I now get three injections for a virus I already had? I am not some anti-vaxxer, I regularly got the flu vaccine in work over the years.”
Kevin* (30s), a gym trainer from north Dublin, stressed that he was not against the Covid-19 vaccination, describing it as a “hugely helpful tool in reducing severity of outcomes for those most at risk from Covid”, but said he is young and healthy and saw no reason to take it.
He never asked his gym clients for their Covid-19 passes and they never asked him for his.
The Omicron-caused infections surge copperfastened his vaccination views. “It’s now January 2022 and I simply don’t see the benefit of getting vaccinated given my age and health profile. I am of no greater threat to anyone that is double vaccinated or boosted. We can all catch it, we can all spread it.”
Lia, a 36-year-old scientist and PhD candidate based in the west of Ireland, is one of those who cannot take the vaccine because of a reaction to polyethylene glycol, a component of the vaccine, which can lead to anaphylaxis.
“I had to weigh up the risk benefits. We lost a family member in 1998 to anaphylaxis. I am not anti-vaccine. Myself and my partner are vaccinated for everything under the sun. I would have taken the vaccine if I could have done.
“Honestly, it’s disheartening that people online push the narrative that there’s no medical reason not to avail of the vaccine. It’s simply untrue.”
Her inability to take the vaccine came at a personal cost at Christmas when she was unable to take her children to see Santa Claus.
A health researcher, who provides data for Nphet and is in her 50s, said she had come to the conclusion that the vaccines were useful for those in the vulnerable age category, but not for her.
The end of the lockdown has changed the atmosphere for the better, she believes. “It should have happened sooner. Dissent was not allowed. The big issue for me is that the vaccine did not prevent transmission and you have the Minister for Health [Stephen Donnelly] coming out and saying they do prevent transmission and Nphet sitting quietly by and letting him say that.
“You have to have evidence-based accountability. It was clear from early on who was at risk. I was never at risk. It was never backed by the evidence.
“If all that money and focus was put on protecting the vulnerable we would be in a better place. The sooner we get rid of the masks the better. They were never supported by evidence either.”
The unvaccinated still face limitations, especially on foreign travel which requires a recovery certificate, not an inconsiderable restriction. But otherwise they will be free to go about their lives.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming feeling is relief. “To be honest I just want to forget about Covid now. I’m sick of being called an anti-vaxxer when I’m nothing of the sort,” says Bob*, an ultra-marathon runner.
Back in Adare, Dr Morrissey insists that face mask rules in school should be dropped immediately.
“How does this make sense? So, people can go to a nightclub and be close and personal with each other, while young children are stuck in school wearing masks for eight hours a day, impeding their learning, impeding their ability to learn and develop social and linguistic skills?”
The move to vaccinate children from five upwards has been “appalling”, he says.
“There is no benefit, zero benefit – what are they to gain from it, and you are depriving them . . . Omicron is the natural vaccine. I’ve had dozens and dozens of children I’m aware of who’ve got it – it’s a sniffle, it’s a high fever for one or two days and then they’re over it.
“They are not going to get myocarditis, they’re not going to develop a heart attack, and we don’t have to worry about their future fertility.”
Dr Morrissey is facing an investigation by the Medical Council for promoting and treating his patients with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which have been debunked by others as treatment for Covid-19.
Defending his decision to use ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as “early treatments”, Morrissey said the patients he has treated were those who had come to his door “looking for another way, and I offered them another way and none of them have died”.
“I’m treating people into their 70s, 80s, 90s. I’m treating cancer patients. I’m treating people who are considered very vulnerable, whose consultants and GPs had told them you’re going to die if you get [Covid-19].
"They refused to take the injection that they were being threatened with literally every time they came near the door of a clinic or a surgery," he says, declaring: "Albert Einstein said that blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of the truth, and I can see that they want to throttle the truth."
*These names have been changed