Breda O’Brien: Suspicion of authority not only cause of vaccine hesitancy

Von der Leyen’s suggestion of mandatory vaccine will further alienate the wary

 ‘However big or small a threat that Omicron turns out to be, it appears vaccine hesitancy is a problem everywhere.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

‘However big or small a threat that Omicron turns out to be, it appears vaccine hesitancy is a problem everywhere.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

 

On first hearing about the Omicron variant, I assumed that it had emerged because of the wealthier countries’ refusal to share adequate quantities of the vaccine. Instead, it appears that the problem in South Africa was not lack of supply, but low uptake.

Last week, the South African department of health announced that it had more than 16 million doses of vaccine that had not been dispensed. Less than 50 per cent of the South African adult population is vaccinated, with some sources citing a figure as low as 29 per cent.

However big or small a threat that Omicron turns out to be, it appears vaccine hesitancy is a problem everywhere.

The South African population is young, with a median age of 27, which is 10 years younger than in Ireland. Younger, healthier populations are much more sceptical about vaccination. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has proposed discussing mandatory vaccination in the EU as a solution.

It is lazy, inaccurate and counter-productive to write everyone off who is unwilling to get vaccinated as some kind of right-wing nut job. People’s reasons vary wildly

I am pro-vaccination. I know some people who are anti-vaccination, one of whom is seriously ill in hospital with Covid-19. It is lazy, inaccurate and counter-productive to write everyone off who is unwilling to get vaccinated as some kind of right-wing nut job. People’s reasons vary wildly.

For example, at the end of October, according to Central Statistics Office figures, vaccination rates stood at 44 per cent among central and eastern European immigrant communities. The younger immigrants from these countries are, the less likely they are to be vaccinated.

Suspicion of State-sponsored initiatives is high among these communities, and with their history, who could blame them? There is also a minority in Ireland who are completely distrustful of the Irish State, who believe that getting the vaccine is antithetical to their belief systems and freedoms.

Many of these people are young. While I only have anecdotal evidence, it seems to me that young men are much more likely to be vaccine hesitant than young women.

I have heard young men express the belief that the risks of getting vaccinated are higher than getting Covid-19, because being young, healthy and fit means that their chances of severe infection are low.

These kind young men, who would help any elderly person to cross the road and then carry the shopping home, cannot seem to internalise that their decision to avoid vaccination imperils the vulnerable.

Treating people with whom we disagree as a basket of deplorables rarely ends well

There is a small minority of people who will not take the vaccine on conscientious grounds, including pro-life people who object to the fact that some of the vaccine trials involved so-called immortalised cells taken from aborted babies.

Unlike normal cells, these cells were modified to divide indefinitely in culture. They are highly valued because they are genetically identical and readily available.

This is a serious concern. Is using something originally derived from an act that ended the life of a human being at his or her earliest stages of development an implicit endorsement of abortion?

The abortions were not performed with the intention of obtaining cells. Nor do the vaccines contain foetal cells, as some believe. Nor will further abortions happen in order to facilitate testing.

Given how common the use of these cell lines is, one would have to refrain from virtually all modern medicines in order to avoid them. Take Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug favoured by some anti-vaccination people in the treatment of Covid-19, even though its use is untested and off-label. The mechanisms by which it works as an antiparasitic drug were investigated using the same embryonic cell lines as the vaccines were.

Virtually every common drug, from aspirin to cough medicines, from thyroid to stomach medication has been tested on the same embryonic cell lines, as have many cosmetics.

BBC Future highlighted how much of modern science relies on research carried out by Nazis, everything from rocket science to the invention of particle board. It then went on to list a grim catalogue of other breakthroughs resting on completely unethical research by others who were not Nazis, including a decision by doctors not to treat cervical lesions to see how many would go on to develop cancer.

As the article pointed out, we do not want to teach researchers that it is easier to seek forgiveness than permission. However, sometimes something can be rescued from these events.

In the case of research carried out on immortalised foetal cell lines, no further harm can be done to the child concerned and a great deal of life-saving good can be achieved.

Nonetheless, the involvement of foetal cells in any stage of the process of producing vaccines means that we are benefiting from an act of lethal injustice against a member of the human race. Those of us who are abortion abolitionists must pressurise governments and laboratories to develop methods that do not use cells obtained from foetal cell lines, perhaps by using umbilical cord blood instead.

Treating people with whom we disagree as a basket of deplorables rarely ends well. While some people are anti-vaccination because of reflexive suspicion of authority, many others are motivated by completely genuine worries. The suggestion by Ms von der Leyen that vaccines should be mandatory will do nothing except alienate the latter group even further.

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