Freedom, Public Health, and the Vax/Anti-Vax Dilemma

Image of nurse holding syringe

Truth Lies at the Center of Opposing Perspectives

The launch of rapidly produced COVID-19 vaccines helped catapult the Vax/Anti-Vax Debate from the dark corners of the internet onto the front pages of mainstream media.  Honest efforts to explore opposing sides of the debate quickly reveal how fearful people are of truths that challenge their paradigm.

This resistance to debate is unfortunate because argument lies at the very heart of intellectualism. To avoid argument promotes ignorance. In the midst of a global pandemic, can we afford to let ignorance guide our decision making?

I say no matter what stance you take on the vaccine issue, it is well worth your time to study what the other side has to say.

Fear of Argument Is Too Prevelant Among Academics

This fear of debate has promoted widespread censurship, not just of outright lies, but also of uncomfortable truths.  Sadly, much of this censureship is coming from academic institutions.

For example, A recent quote from University of Washington’s Rachel Moran (NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, to always look to voices coming from government authorities like Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.  My concern with this advise, particularly when it comes from an academic, is that it discounts the voices of too many unique individuals whose knowlege is based on experiences that were not included in government datasets.  Why should the public wear blinders?

Moran’s statement reminded me of similar values shared by an agricultural extension program director I once interviewed with.  At the time, I was interested in working as an extension scientist.  However, when the program director told me that she never reads anything on the internet that does not come from a *.gov or *.edu prefix, I began to question the public mission of the program I was exploring.  How can an educational institution serve the public if it won’t even listen to what the public is saying?

Truth Is Dependent On Time, Space, and Other Variables

More importantly, how can any member of the public make an informed decision by only reading information that has been filtered through a few authorities?  No doubt, universities and government agencies go through great lengths to fact check information.  However, even those who believe that truth is always black and white recognize that truth can vary with time and place.  For example, it was once true that humans could not leave the earth.  Then, it became true that only astronauts could travel in space. This week, an all civilian space flight is ready for take-off.  Indeed, truth changes.

This is why, if I want the whole truth, it is essential that I explore many sources of information.  I might analyze what is coming from the CDC, but I also look at information coming from private industry and from individual experiences.  For example, if I rely on the CDC website to advise me on the potential for the COVID-19 vaccine to aggravate my fibromyalgia, I am going to come up empty handed.  As of September-14, 2021, I found no such data on that website.

Fortunately, there are educated physicians and natural health professionals all over the world who have extensive expertise in fibromyalgia.  While they don’t share a united perspective, any one of them can provide me with important insights on which to base my risk-benefit analysis.  If I listen to these experts critically, and compare their opinions to what I already know about my condition, I am going to feel much more comfortable with my decision than I would feel about stepping blindly into the nowhere land of CDC silence.

All Vaccines Bring Risks and Benefits

    What many vaccine promoters fail to acknowledge is that every vaccine comes with some risks.   Yes, industry works hard to minimize these risks.  Yes, government agencies review data from many studies before approving any vaccine.  Yes, data indicates that many diseases have been reduced by vaccines.  

However, all vaccines still bring risks, and these risks vary with the health, lifestyle, and living environment of the individuals.  Even the Centers for Disease Control report risks associated with mainstream vaccines.   In government and academia, it is common to assess data based on minimization of type one errors.   In lay terms, this means that data are managed to reduce the odds of saying something is true when it is not.  In one sense, this allows presentation of “the truth.”  However, it results in only a partial truth.

This is because every time you reduce the risk of making a type one error, you increase the risk of making a type two error.  That is, you increase the odds of dismissing information as “not true,” when it is.  For example, if a study fails to meet the cutoff statistic indicating that a treatment is useful for treating a disease, the researchers reject their hypothesis, and consider the drug a failure.   However, the small probability that the researchers were wrong remains.

My objection to the premise that everyone should have to take vaccines because the CDC says the risks are small is that it violates the dignity of each person to decide for themselves what risks they are willing to take.

That said, I also believe that private businesses, churches, and public institiutions should also have the right to restrict passage of individuals who present a significant public health risk in order to protect the safety of their patrons.

Support Freedom to Choose With Reliable Information and Responsible Actions

      At the end of the day, having the freedom to choose your own path is essential to your personal welfare.  However, protecting that freedom requires the responsibility to ensure that your choices don’t detract from the freedom of others.  In a pandemic, the lines between your freedom and that of others are blurred because a virus knows no boundaries.  It can infect anyone who lacks the natural immunity to resist it. 

     When you read both sides of the Anti-Vax debate, it becomes evident that the efforts to mandate vaccines for everyone are driven in part by fear of the opposing side.   As vaccine proponents see Anti-Vax information circulating around the internet, they fear that contact with an unvaccinated person will overpower their own vaccine, and make them sick. They recognize the real risk of vaccine breakthrough, but they fail to recognize the odds that the unvaccinated person has the disease in the first place.  They also fail to recognize the power that their own health, diet, and lifestyle have on their personal resistance to disease, with or without a vaccine. In otherwords, they are putting all their faith into the vaccine itself, without recognizing that multiple variables play into whether or not someone gets sick. 

      Fear among Anti-Vaxers is promoted in part by information from agencies that promote  pharmeceuticals while ignoring the remaining suite of prevention strategies that can also be effective at reducing the spread of disease.   Information coming from these agencies is so biased in favor of pharmaceuticals that many who experience benefits from vitamins, herbs, and alternative medicine have lost all faith in the information these agencies provide.  Those who have experienced severe and adverse side effects from prescribed medications are also reluctant to hear medically biased information. This reluctance to listen comes from the perception that the agencies promoting the vaccines  are unreliable.

Fear is always a threat to freedom.  If Anti-Vaxers want to retain the right to choose, they need to avoid the behaviors that provoke fear, and accept responsibility for minimizing the spread of disease.   Actions like washing hands or wearing masks when you are working in close quarters with others shows respect for those around you who may be more vulnerable to disease, and halts the cascade of fear that might otherwise propagate among the vaccinated.

Vaccine proponents should show equal responsibility by demanding unbiased studies examining the power of good nutrition, a healthy immune system, and the efficacy of natural health alternatives.   They should study the data about vaccine risks so that they understand the variations in circumstances that lead some individuals to suffer greatly from vaccines, while others benefit.  They should also understand why diversity in our approach can boost our overall resilience to this and future pandemics.

If people on both sides of the debate can embrace the information and responsible actions necessary to build respectful relationships with the opposition, public effort can turn away from politics and promote public health.

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