“I am planning to get my Covid vaccine shot this week” I told a very dear German friend of mine the other day over the phone.
“No! Don’t do that!” came the immediate response.
“Why?” I asked.
“They will inject nanobots into your bloodstream!” he said, with all sincerity and genuine concern for my well-being.
I immediately realized I was speaking to someone I thought I knew well, but obviously didn’t. I also realized, from hard experience, that the fiction he was spouting could not be fought with facts – I needed to come up with even better fiction.
“Hey, nanobots sounds cool! Right now, I don’t have even one. I wouldn’t mind having a few inside me” I said.
“Are you crazy? They will be used to control you for life!” he said.
“I am totally out of control these days and some guiding nanobots would be nice!” I gushed.
The conversation ended when I told my friend that I was actually interested in the vaccine only because I read on WhatsApp it would help me grow my hair back!
I know all this sounds like I am making fun of someone for being a vaccine sceptic and a conspiracy theorist to boot. Let me clarify – I am someone who is very sympathetic to sceptics of all kinds – irrespective of what they are questioning. I really think, that those who doubt do more service to humanity than the ones who blindly accept everything.
And when it comes to vaccines, being suspicious about injecting a strange liquid, with mysterious ingredients, into your veins is perfectly justified. Apart from the invasive procedure and associated fears involved, the record of Big Pharma rigging their pills and potions to make profits is also quite long and sordid.
From the Thalidomide scandal of the early sixties to the more recent indictment of a French pharma company for wilfully marketing its weight-loss drug Mediator, despite fatal side-effects – money-hungry medicine companies have been guilty of everything from brazen lies to mass murder.
The history of vaccines too is littered with scandals, the most infamous one being the Cutter Incident in 1955, when some batches of polio vaccine given to the public contained live polio virus, even though they had passed required safety testing. Investigations traced the toxic vaccines to one company: Cutter Laboratories and revealed 40 000 cases of polio, leaving 200 children with varying degrees of paralysis and killing 10. While, the vaccine was recalled, it led to far more stringent regulation of vaccines worldwide.
In 1976, following an outbreak of swine flu, over 40 million people in the United States were given vaccines, that were later revealed to be responsible for an increased risk of a serious neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Following the revelation the immunization drive was immediately stopped.
In the evolution of modern medicine incompetence has not been the only problem though with deliberate fraud and even racist ideas passed off as ‘science’. Though there are supposed to be many rules in place to regulate the development of pharmaceutical products a lot of research is still done without consent, without oversight, and without consequences for those manipulating evidence.
So if someone says they don’t want to use a vaccine, that too one produced at record-speed in the midst of a raging pandemic and with no long-term data to prove its safety, I am immediately sympathetic. Yes, even if you don’t believe that Bill Gates is trying to ‘reset’ the entire planet, you have all the right to be worried about what the vaccine could do to you five years down the line.
I also think the harassment of vaccine-sceptics in any form is absolutely obnoxious and a violation of their fundamental rights to both free speech and free existence. Their choices should be respected and nobody who does not want it should be forced to get vaccinated. (Anti-maskers are a different category altogether, as their choice can be fatal to others)
For me the problem with those hesitant about vaccines is the simple fact that many of them happen to be my friends and I am seriously worried about their own safety. The question I have for them is, while a healthy scepticism about medicines and the health system is fine, why not adopt this attitude across the wide spectrum of activities we indulge in every day?
Should such extreme caution be confined to just vaccines and medical products or also extended to everything one ingests into the human body, with the slightest potential to cause harm? And if we do take such an approach, wouldn’t we have to question the quality of food, air, water we imbibe daily without a second thought as to their real content or impact?
If one were to do a truly thorough risk-benefit analysis of everything we consume and that too every time we do it – I have serious doubts if it would be possible to consume anything at all! All of us – and that includes vaccine sceptics- constantly make decisions all the time based on imperfect information, as that is built into the very nature of our existence.
For example, I am yet to hear about cases of vaccine-sceptics exhibiting ‘breakfast hesitancy’ or ‘breathing hesitancy’ anywhere on the planet and disappearing as a result. Sure, some are more fussy than others but in the end they move on in life by taking a deep breath and gulping down their packaged cereals.
So what is really at work here is the simple concept of ‘relative risk’. While almost everything in life comes with its own dangers, real choices are made based on comparing the options available and the different levels of threat involved.
To give another example, when chased by a hungry tiger one should not hesitate to clamber up a tree or wait to ponder under its shade on the risks posed by the tree itself. The tiger and fate would not be very kind to such vacillation.
In the end it boils down to the realization that we cannot subject everything we encounter or do to endless questioning. Nothing will ever get done that way and one has to prioritize, taking into account what is likely and what is not.
The Covid pandemic poses a dilemma to all of us ordinary mortals trying to understand what it is really all about. Yes, it could be part of a diabolical plot to reduce the global population by half. True, there is a chance that the Covid vaccines could be full of DNA-altering enzymes that could see those who take it grow horns in a few years from now.
Safety of the vaccines in the long term could also be a real issue. And I really don’t have the evidence or means to disprove any of these theories convincingly.
What I do know though, is that over the last year and half, I have lost several friends, relatives, neighbours to Covid – people who would have been alive today, if not for this damn virus. With several million dead around the globe my experience is perhaps shared by a vast number of people out there. Even among those who have survived the infection, often there has been a sharp fall in quality of life through the effects of ‘long Covid’, a pretty scary phenomenon that is still not well understood.
In sharp contrast, I don’t I know anyone personally who has died due to the vaccine as yet. I know many who have taken the full course – of different types of vaccines – and all of them are perfectly fine. There is nothing to show they will not be well anytime in the near future either.
Getting vaccinated is like wearing a helmet while driving a two-wheeler on an Indian road. It will not prevent an accident from happening or even save your life if hit by a truck, but it is the only protection my soft head will ever get in a routine accident.
So the vaccine is neither part of an evil plot nor a magic potion of some kind. It is just another layer of protection on top of your masking and social distancing measures – that can moderate a severe blow from Covid in the short run. The simple circumstantial evidence involved in the Covid story so far is enough for me to get vaccinated, as the risk involved seems insignificant when compared to getting infected with Covid.
Unfortunately, the only alternative to the vaccine at the moment seems to be the ventilator. Now, why on Earth would you want to give all your life savings to a corporate-run hospital?
Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker who can be reached at email@example.com