Are you tired of extremism and party politics surrounding talk about COVID-19 vaccination?

Me, too. I think you will love an article that recently came to my attention, and which is billed as,

... an attempt by a physician and neuroscience writer and someone who got vaccinated, early and voluntarily, to understand those who have not made this choice. This essay is not about COVID-deniers or anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccines on ideological grounds. Nor is it about the activists or political figures who feed off and benefit from the corrosive discourse around vaccines. It is instead about the vaccine hesitant—those who are concerned and anxious about COVID but also anxious about these new vaccines. These are the people who are not yet vaccinated for reasons that the majority may not understand—and which are often more anchored in history and experience than the majority would suspect.

The article is called "Needle Points: Why so many are hesitant to get the COVID vaccine, and what we can do about it," by Norman Doidge. That link will take you to Part 1, from which you can click onward to Parts 2, 3, and 4. Or you can download a free, printable pdf of the whole thing. I found it fair, informative, and very important.

The only thing I know about Norman Doidge is that he wrote the fantastic book, The Brain that Changes Itself, which I read, reviewed, and loved back in 2010. I didn't even know he was the author of this article until after I'd read and appreciated it.

I have to warn you that it's a long article: 38 pages. It might be helpful to think of it as a very short book. I know many of my readers are turned off even by long quotation sections in my posts; how much more so by an article of this size? But it's worth it, really.

How do you eat an elephant?

I was hesitant to include quotations from the article, as it is an excellent whole that snippets cannot possibly do justice. But perhaps a few will whet some appetites.

Part 1 How vaccination is an approach to medicine that works with nature rather than seeking to conquer nature; How our primitive behavioral immune system contributes to the fear, disgust, and loathing that accompanies the vaccine debate; How the tyranny of the majority destroys democracy and impedes progress.

At times modern science and modern medicine seem based on a fantasy that imagines the role of medicine is to conquer nature, as though we can wage a war against all microbes with “antimicrobials” to create a world where we will no longer suffer from infectious disease. Vaccination is not based on that sterile vision but its opposite; it works with our educable immune system, which evolved millions of years ago to deal with the fact that we must always coexist with microbes; it helps us to use our own resources to protect ourselves. Doing so is in accord with the essential insight of Hippocrates, who understood that the major part of healing comes from within, that it is best to work with nature and not against it.

In humans (and other animals), any infection can trigger an archaic brain circuit in most of us called the behavioral immune system (BIS). It’s a circuit that is triggered when we sense we may be near a potential carrier of disease, causing disgust, fear, and avoidance. It is involuntary, and not easy to shut off once it’s been turned on.

The BIS is best understood in contrast to the regular immune system. The “regular immune system” consists of antibodies and T-cells and so on, and it evolved to protect us once a problematic microbe gets inside us. The BIS is different; it evolved to prevent us from getting infected in the first place, by making us hypersensitive to hygiene, hints of disease in other people, even signs that they are from another tribe.... We developed a system whereby anything or anyone that seems like it might bear significant illness can trigger an ancient brain circuit of fear, disgust, and avoidance. ... We see it firing every day now, when someone drives alone wearing a mask, or goes for a walk by themselves in an empty forest masked, or when someone—say with good health and no previous known adverse reactions to vaccines—hears that a vaccine can in one in 500,000 cases cause death, but can’t take any comfort that they have a 99.999% chance of it not happening because it potentially can. Before advanced brain areas are turned on and probabilities are factored in, the BIS is off and running. ... [It] is turned on in people on both sides of the debate. Those who favor vaccination are focused on the danger of the virus, and that triggers their system. Those who don’t are focused on the fact that the vaccines inject into them a virus or a virus surrogate or even a chemical they think may be poisonous, and that turns on their system. Thus both sides are firing alarms (including many false-positive alarms) that put them in a state of panic, fear, loathing, and disgust of the other.

[Alexis de Tocqueville noted that] in democracies, as long as there is not yet a majority opinion, a range of views can be expressed, and it appears there is a great “liberty of opinion,” to use his phrase. But once a majority opinion forms, it acquires a sudden social power, and it brings with it pressure to end dissent. A powerful new kind of censorship and coercion begins in everyday life (at work, school, choir, church, hospitals, in all institutions) as the majority turns on the minority, demanding it comply. Tocqueville, like James Madison, was concerned about this “the tyranny of the majority,” which he saw as the Achilles’ heel of democracy. It isn’t only because divisiveness created a minority faction steeped in lingering resentment; it’s also because minorities can sometimes be more right than majorities (indeed, emerging ideas are, by definition, minority ideas to start with). The majority overtaking the minority could mean stamping out thoughts and actions that would otherwise generate progress and forward movement.

Part 2 The long and complicated history of vaccination; How the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act saved the vaccine supply while giving pharmaceutical companies incentives to take dangerous shortcuts with respect to vaccine safety; Stories of corruption, collusion, and deceit among government, academia, and pharmaceutical companies that could make any reasonable person begin to doubt everything that comes from public health authorities.

The kernel idea of exposing a person to a weakened form of a pathogen or toxin, known colloquially as “like to treat like,” long preceded modern medicine, and came in stages and through observation. ... The heal-harm paradox is a deep archetype in the human psyche. And it came not from Big Pharma but from everyday, often rural observations—one might even call them “frontline” observations about how nature works, and how the immune system behaves.

Because companies were indemnified [by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act] from any harm their vaccines might cause, they no longer had a powerful financial incentive to rectify existing safety problems, or even improve safety as time passed. Arguably, they were financially disincentivized from doing so. The solution shifted liability for the costs of safety problems from the makers onto the taxpayers, the pool that included those who were arguably harmed.

For a regular medication, a physician needs and has the ability to convince one patient at a time to take a particular drug. This is why pharmaceutical companies have huge marketing budgets to sway individual physicians and patients alike. In the case of vaccines, companies need to convince only a few key officials and committees, who then buy their product and market it for them to an entire population. For companies producing vaccines, mass marketing is replaced almost entirely by political lobbying.

The FDA bills Big Pharma $800 million a year, which in turn helps pay FDA salaries. Regulators also often get jobs in the pharmaceutical industry shortly after leaving the FDA or similar bodies; there is a huge incentive to impress, and certainly not to cross, a potential future employer. ...

This same compromised regulatory system allows Big Pharma to pay for, and play a key role in performing, the very studies that lead to the authorization of its own products. For decades, it was not just common for authors of studies to receive payments from the very companies making the medicines being tested; it was also systematically hidden. Drug companies secretly ghostwrote studies of their own drugs; Goldacre shows how they conscripted academics to pretend they had authored them. The papers were then submitted to mainstream journals, whose imprimatur would give the studies credibility, allowing these drugs to become the “standard of practice.”

In 2018, The New York Times’ pro-vaccine science writer, Melinda Wenner Moyer, noted with shock that she learned it was not uncommon among vaccine researchers to take the attitude that censoring bad news about their research was necessary.... "I’ve noticed that the cloud of fear surrounding vaccines is having another nefarious effect: It is eroding the integrity of vaccine science. ... When I tried to report on unexpected or controversial aspects of vaccine efficacy or safety, scientists often didn’t want to talk with me. When I did get them on the phone, a worrying theme emerged: Scientists are so terrified of the public’s vaccine hesitancy that they are censoring themselves, playing down undesirable findings and perhaps even avoiding undertaking studies that could show unwanted effects. Those who break these unwritten rules are criticized." ... If scientists play down their undesirable findings in potentially mandated medicines, as Moyer found them to be doing, they are not just missing opportunities for good science; they are potentially generating anti-scientific misinformation. “Vaccine scientists will earn a lot more public trust, and overcome a lot more unfounded fear, if they choose transparency over censorship,” she wrote.

As of a September 2019 Gallup poll, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Pharma was the least trusted of America’s 25 top industry sectors, No. 25 of 25. In the eyes of ordinary Americans, it had both the highest negatives and the lowest positives of all industries. At No. 24 was the federal government, and at No. 23 was the health care industry. ... At No. 22 was the advertising and public relations industry, which facilitates the work of the other three. Those inside the troika often characterize the vaccine hesitant as broadly fringe and paranoid. But there are plenty of industries and sectors that Americans do trust. Of the top 25 U.S. industry sectors .. only pharma, government, health care, and PR are seen as net negative: precisely the sectors involved in the rollout of the COVID vaccines. This set the conditions, in a way, for a perfect storm.

Part 3 This is by far the largest section of the paper (20 pages) and jam-packed with information on the debacle that was our response to the pandemic, from before the beginning ("gain of function" research) to shortly before the omicron variant appeared (the article was published in October 2021). No decent number of quotations can begin to do it justice. I'll put in a few; just be aware that there's so much more.

There were also disputes about lockdowns: Initially introduced as temporary to flatten the curve, they were later extended to become a new way of life, in order to save lives. But then some states like Florida, which didn’t impose long and severe lockdowns, had lower age-adjusted mortality than states like New York, which did. [emphasis mine]

Various observers argued that there was reason to consider that COVID may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and perhaps even may have been engineered by gain-of-function (GoF) research, in which a natural virus is made more contagious and lethal, ostensibly to see if the scientists can “get ahead” of nature, and to study how it operates in order to make new vaccines or medications, or for biological warfare. GoF is so controversial that in 2014 President Barack Obama put a moratorium on it. In 2017, Drs. Fauci and Francis Collins, then director of the NIH, who had opposed the moratorium, succeeded in having it lifted. But Fauci asserted that the scientists who were in a position to judge the COVID situation concluded that its origin was natural. The media followed suit, and called those who thought otherwise “conspiracy theorists.”

If you asked researchers or most physicians in the spring of 2020 how long it normally takes to produce a vaccine safe enough to administer to patients, many would have pointed out that the average fast vaccine takes 7-10 years, and that the first vaccine might just be one of several required to end a given crisis—because often the first is not the best.

Indemnification for vaccines was, as discussed above, not unique; what was new was that the companies producing them were indemnified before the vaccine was even made and fully assessed—knowing it would all be done faster than ever before.

AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna had each withheld their study protocols from outside scientists and the public. Withholding protocols guarantees that outside researchers can’t know how participants are selected or monitored, and how effectiveness or safety are defined, so they can’t really know what exactly is being studied. ... This is part of a kind of “traditional secrecy” in the field. Delaying protocol release conveniently means that it is a company’s press releases, not the verified science, that dominate the public’s all-important initial impression of its product. ... That the government’s regulatory agencies go along with all this—it is, in fact, standard practice—doesn’t assuage the public; for many, it makes the whole process appear corrupt. ...

The essence of the scientific method is conducting experiments that everyone can objectively see and verify; transparency is the bedrock of experimental science, and the means to ultimately dispel doubt. Moreover, in terms of the scale of public involvement, the experience of the summer and fall of 2020 was unlike any other in the history of medicine. Never before had studies of this size and consequence been run so quickly, or a medicine been produced so quickly to be given to hundreds of millions of people. ... How long were the patients followed ... after their second dose, to assess safety and efficacy? Two months. On that basis the vaccines were given to over a hundred million people. [emphasis mine]

What we shouldn’t do, if we want to maintain public trust and cohesion, is act as though there is no chance that any legitimate concern could ever possibly emerge, or that we know more than we really do after only two months of study. With complex biological systems, we simply can’t presume that just because we have a fantastic idea for a treatment, the safety we hope for and see at the start will necessarily hold over time.

“Efficacious” is the term used to describe how effective a treatment is in the artificial situation of a clinical trial with volunteer patients, a group not always representative of the wider population; “effective” is the term used to describe how a treatment works in the real world. The media quickly assumed the two were the same. To them, hearing that a vaccine was “95% efficacious” meant it was practically perfect, which the press repeated over and over.

After the protocols were released, Peter Doshi, an associate editor at the British Medical Journal who does research into drug approval processes and how results are communicated to the public, tried to sound an alarm: “None of the trials currently underway are designed to detect a reduction in any serious outcome such as hospital admissions, use of intensive care, or deaths,” he said. Only one of the studies, of the Oxford AstraZeneca, looked at whether vaccinated individuals were less likely to transmit virus.... So what were these clinical trial studies that showed 95% and 94% efficacy looking at, if not saving lives and viral transmission?

Though it would fall to the FDA to officially approve the vaccines, the advice to enact vaccine mandates would come from a small network, and would be based on studies that were authored in some instances by people who are employees of the companies themselves, which were testing their own products. And when a remarkably trusting public and a few scientists requested a look at the raw data, they got stiffed.

One can only imagine how enriched our knowledge would be if it were otherwise—if, to take just one example, the raw data were available and verified by the hive mind of world scientists, who, drilling down, could see for whom the vaccine was most effective, and who was most at risk of serious side effects, in order to follow them longer than two months and to protect those groups of people in the future.

In April, during a White House press briefing barely four months after distribution of the first vaccine doses began, Walensky announced that the “CDC recommends that pregnant people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.” But if you checked the CDC website that day—as many pregnant women and their physicians of course did—you would have found something different: “If you are pregnant, you may choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” but “there are currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people.”

The mainstream media in the United States also often downplayed potential problems, and even demonized those who took them seriously—portraying white Christian Republicans as the last redoubt of COVID vaccine skepticism in America. But if white Americans in red states have had high rates of hesitancy, African Americans and Latinos have too. As we’ve seen in the case of African Americans, hesitancy is based at least in part on well-earned distrust. In the U.K., in March 2021, vaccination rates were very high in the “white British” group (91.3%), and British Christians had the least hesitancy, whereas vaccination rates were lower in the Black African and Black Caribbean communities (58.8% and 68.7% respectively), and among Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus. ...

Given the WHO’s own definition of the “vaccine hesitant”—people who delay or are reluctant to take a vaccine—one could say that 52% of frontline U.S. health care workers were vaccine hesitant at the beginning of the year. It was hard to argue that these were people who got all their information from a few rancid conspiracy websites. ...

We are told that the hesitant are only those with the least education. But a Carnegie-Mellon and University of Pittsburgh study showed that “by May [2021] PhDs were the most hesitant group.”

On June 3, three scientists from an FDA advisory committee—Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Joel Perlmutter, M.D., a neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and David Knopman, M.D., a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic—resigned because of the way an Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, was approved. In a letter, Kesselheim claimed that the authorization of Aduhelm—a monthly intravenous infusion that Biogen has priced at $56,000 per year, which some worry could bankrupt Medicare—was wrong “because of so many different factors, starting from the fact that there’s no good evidence that the drug works,” that it was “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history,” and that this “debacle … highlights problems” with the FDA advisory committee relationship.

The Pfizer study [of booster shots] was surprisingly tiny: Only 306 people were given the booster. As vaccine researcher David Wiseman (who did trials for rival Johnson & Johnson) pointed out at the FDA meeting, “there was no randomized control” in the Pfizer study. The subjects were younger (18-55) than the people who are most at risk of COVID death or serious illness, and were followed only for a month, so we didn’t actually know how long the booster would last, or if adverse events might show up after the 30 days. They were not followed clinically, so there was no information on infections, hospitalizations, or deaths. ... The study was too small, and the FDA panel held two votes on approval. In the first, it voted overwhelmingly (16 to 2) against approving Pfizer boosters for all ages; in the second vote, the panel supported boosters only for people over 65 or special at-risk groups. And yet, in mid-August, Biden began publicly supporting boosters for all. 

Along with the widespread attacks on scientists who had criticisms of the simplified master narrative (including ones from major universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Rockefeller, Oxford, and UCLA), many average Americans learned that certain major stories weren’t as widely known as they might have been, thanks in part to censorship by Big Tech. In May, Facebook announced that it would no longer censor stories about the lab leak theory, which was how many people found out that it was in fact a viable scientific theory in the first place. (Facebook’s idea of transparency is telling you when it’s stopped censoring something; the same goes for YouTube.)

Meanwhile, three U.S. medical boards—the American Board of Family Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine, and the American Board of Pediatrics—went beyond censorship by threatening to revoke licenses from physicians who question the current but shifting line of COVID thinking and protocols. This forced doctors who had any doubts about the master narrative to choose between their patients and their livelihoods.

Things got so bad globally that Amnesty International eventually issued a report on this crisis: “Across the world, journalists, political activists, medical professionals, whistle-blowers and human rights defenders who expressed critical opinions of their governments’ response to the crisis have been censored, harassed, attacked and criminalized,” it noted. The typical tactic, the report’s authors say, is “Target one, intimidate a thousand,” whereby censors justify these actions as simply banning “misinformation” and “prevent[ing] panic.” The report goes on: “Evidence has shown that harsh measures to suppress the free flow of information, such as censorship or the criminalization of ‘fake news,’ can lead to increased mistrust in the authorities, promote space for conspiracy theories to grow, and the suppression of legitimate debate and concerns.”

Science, as the Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman pointed out, requires questioning assertions: "Learn from science that you must doubt the experts … When someone says science teaches such and such, he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach it; experience teaches it. If they say to you science has shown such and such, you might ask, “How does science show it—how did the scientists find out—how, what, where?” Not science has shown, but this experiment, this effect, has shown. And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but we must listen to all the evidence), to judge whether a reusable conclusion has been arrived at."

Note how emphatic Feynman is that it’s not just the few who conduct the experiments, or even just “the experts,” who have a right to discuss and judge the matter. This is especially true in public health, because the field is so broad and composed of many disciplines, from those that deal narrowly with viruses to those that deal with mass behavioral changes.

When public health and allied medical and educational organizations censor scientists and health care professionals for debating scientific controversies—thus giving the public the false impression that there are no legitimate controversies—they misrepresent and grievously harm science, medicine, and the public by removing the only justification public health has for asking citizens to undergo various privations: that these requests are based on a full, unhampered, and open scientific process. Those who censor or block this process undermine their own claim to speak in the name of science, or public safety. [emphasis mine]

If we didn’t get to have a properly open scientific process, what did we get instead? Government enmeshment with legally indemnified corporations, public health officials misleading Congress, multiple honest regulators leaving the FDA because of inappropriate approvals, FDA heads taking Big Pharma jobs directly related to products they had just been involved in approving, a possible lab leak that couldn’t be discussed as such for more than a year so that it couldn’t be clearly disconfirmed, faceless social media platforms admitting that they control what we see and don’t see, and institutional censorship of many kinds.

Throughout the pandemic, Israel had extensive lockdowns. In contrast, Sweden became famous for never having locked down. Israel and Sweden have about the same size population (9 million and 10 million, respectively), and have almost identical rates of double-vaccinated people, if you take in all ages including children (63% Israel, 67% Sweden). If anything, Israel has the edge over Sweden because 43% of Israelis are also triple vaccinated. Yet the difference in the number of hospitalized patients is staggering. For the week of Sept. 12, 2021, Israel had 1,386 COVID hospitalizations, which was four times that of Sweden (340). Israel had a rolling seven-day average of 2.89 deaths per million, compared to the much lower number of deaths in Sweden (0.15).

What can account for this? Many argue that because Sweden (where public health works on a voluntary, participatory basis) never locked down, many more people there were exposed and got natural immunity. The Swedes had hoped to protect the most vulnerable in nursing homes, which they failed to do because of poorly trained staff—but in this they were no different from most Western nations that did lock down. Sweden also suffered more deaths per 100,000 than Israel overall. But through the summer of 2021 Sweden dropped to about 1.5 deaths a day from COVID. Its hospitals were never overwhelmed, suggesting that, once Sweden’s natural herd immunity was established, combined with its vaccines, it was now more protective than Israel’s largely vaccine-based immunity.

This wasn’t what the master narrative had promised. 

The FDA had originally said that a vaccine less than 50% effective (defined as reducing the risk of having to see a doctor) would not be approved by regulators. Now something that appeared to the public to be significantly less effective was being not just approved but mandated. [emphasis mine]

U.S. government officials and the media chose to assert, soon on a daily basis, that the country was now in “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” even though it was now clear that the vaccinated could get infected and transmit the virus. ...

Headlines about waning vaccines expressed despair that this pandemic might never end. ... Instead of addressing how this disappointment might affect people, U.S. public health talking heads and Twitter-certified human nature experts turned now to behavioral psychology, a very American form of psychology, to deal with the crisis—treating their fellow citizens like children or lab rats to be given rewards when “good” and punishments when “bad.” Some seemed to relish telling people that if they didn’t just do what the experts told them to do, they’d lose their jobs, their place in school, or some other basic need, like mobility.

On Aug. 23, FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine came through. It was based on the same patients who were in the study that previously included only two months of follow-up, but which now had six months of follow-up. With the approval, Pfizer officially stopped the randomized control trials and informed the controls they never got the vaccine. Now that they know they are not vaccinated, the controls may well choose (or be mandated) to get vaccinated, so we won’t be able to follow them as a control group any more. That means the only randomized control trials we have of these vaccines are just six months long. Should some independent party—not a drug company—want to do a new RCT of the vaccine, they will find it almost impossible to do so, because it will be hard if not impossible to find people who were not vaccinated, or not already exposed to COVID. ... This is especially important because we don’t yet—we can’t yet—have any good randomized control trial data to rule out long-term effects. [emphasis mine] ...

We could use good studies comparing the COVID-induced myocarditis rates and vaccine-induced myocarditis rates by age and sex. Which is why it’s so unfortunate that the RCTs were not much larger, and that they didn’t go on longer. Had they continued, and if their data ever became transparent, it could really help us in assessing long-term safety in a more reassuring way—that’s what RCTs are good at. One can more persuasively demonstrate that a vaccine doesn’t have these effects if there is a proper vaccine-free, COVID-free control group. But if vaccines continue to be pushed as the one and only answer, we will never know if certain health problems emerge, because there will be no “normal” vaccine-free group left for comparison. It’s a development that is quite disconcerting, for it suggests a wish not to know.

When the pandemic first broke, many were certain that the developing countries—with their inability to afford vaccines, malnutrition, crowded cities, and lower numbers of health care workers—would be universally devastated. But that prediction turned out not to be true. The population of Ethiopia is about 119 million—just over one-third of the United States. COVID vaccination rates are very low there: 2.7% have had at least one shot, 0.9% have had two. As of Sept. 28, 2021, the country recorded only 5,439 COVID deaths over the course of the entire pandemic. If the United States had such a death rate per capita, it would have lost just over 16,000 people, rather than over 700,000.

The very fact that we frame the threat debate between the “vaccinated” and the “unvaccinated” has always been peculiar; some epidemiologists point out that the categories we should be thinking of instead are the “immune” and those who are “not immune.” The European Union has a Digital Covid Certificate, which is not limited to proof of vaccination. You can get one and travel if you have been vaccinated or if you have “recovered from COVID-19.” This allows travel among all EU member states. American officials always proclaim they are “following the science,” but obviously, if the science gave clear orders, then European scientists would have received them too.

Vaccination is a tool, a means to an end: immunity. But the American government has made the means, vaccination, the new end. This strange substitution, or reversal, reveals the master narrative to be the expression not of science, but of a new kind of scientistic ideology, which we might call “vaccinism.” But vaccinism is not a treatment; it’s a mindset, one that takes a wonderful invention—which, if used properly and carefully, can be outstandingly productive—and makes it the only tool worth having, until it becomes, at times, counterproductive. It makes no exceptions; indeed, it is insulted by the idea of any exemptions. In its all-or-nothing approach, it is the ideological mirror of anti-vaxxism. [emphasis mine]

Part 4 Returning to the concept of the behavioral immune system (BIS); Why herd immunity through vaccination is not an achievable goal with this virus; The critical importance of natural immunity (i.e. getting COVID and recovering from it); The disastrous consequences of vaccine mandates and vaccine passports; and Some ideas for restoring trust in our public health system.

Many people’s mental set for the pandemic was formed early on, when the BIS was on fire, and they were schooled by a master narrative that promised there would only be one type of person who would not pose danger—the vaccinated person. Stuck in that mindset when confronted by unvaccinated people, about half of whom are immune, they respond with BIS-generated fear, hostility, and loathing. Some take it further, and seem almost addicted to being scared, or remain caught in a kind of post-traumatic lockdown nostalgia—demanding that all the previous protections go on indefinitely, never factoring in the costs, and triggering ever more distrust. Their minds are hijacked by a primal, archaic, cognitively rigid brain circuit, and will not rest until every last person is vaccinated. To some, it has started to seem like this is the mindset not only of a certain cohort of their fellow citizens, but of the government itself.

For many, trust was broken by the lockdowns, which devastated small businesses and their employees, even when they complied with safety rules, such that an estimated one-third of these businesses that were open in January of 2020 were closed in April of 2021, even as we kept open huge corporate box stores, where people crowded together. These policies were arguably the biggest assault on the working classes—many of whom protected the rest of us by keeping society going in the worst of the pandemic—in decades. That these policies also enriched the already incredibly wealthy (the combined wealth of the world’s 10 richest men—the likes of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Larry Page—is estimated to have risen by $540 billion in the first 10 months of the pandemic), and that various politicians who instituted lockdowns were regularly caught skirting their own regulations, solidified this distrust.

And yet, it is the unvaccinated whom many leading officials still portray as recklessly endangering the rest of the country. “We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” President Biden has said. The unvaccinated are now presented as the sole source of future variants, prolonging the pain for the rest of us. For those in favor of mandates, the vaccine is the only way out of this crisis. To them, the vaccine hesitant are merely ignorant, and defy science. We tried to use a voluntary approach, they believe, but these people are Neanderthals who must now be coerced into treatment, or be punished. Among the punishments called for is not just loss of employment, but also of unemployment insurance, health care, access to ICU beds, even the ability to go to grocery stores.

So, if it’s correct that we can’t eradicate the virus, and we can’t get a lasting vaccine-induced herd immunity, what is our goal? It would be, to use Monica Gandhi’s phrase, “to get back to normal.” It would mean accepting some natural herd immunity and putting more focus on saving lives by other means alongside vaccines—including better outpatient medications to catch COVID early and keep people out of the hospital; lowering our individual risk factors; and speeding delivery of vaccines to the highly vulnerable when an outbreak occurs, and prioritizing them over people who are already immune.

“Right now with these vaccine mandates, and vaccine passports, this coercive thing is turning a lot of people away from vaccines, and not trusting them for very understandable reasons,” [says Harvard’s Martin Kulldorf, a leading epidemiologist and expert in vaccine safety]. “Those who are pushing these vaccine mandates and vaccine passports—vaccine fanatics I would call them—to me they have done much more damage during this one year than the anti-vaxxers have done in two decades. [emphasis mine] ...

In tackling the trust problem generally, we can return to the two kinds of public health systems, the coercive and the participatory. The United States has all sorts of mandates, but also continues to have significantly high rates of vaccine hesitancy and vaccine avoidance. In contrast, Sweden is the leading example of a participatory public health model. “Sweden has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and the highest confidence in vaccines in the world. But there’s absolutely no mandate,” Kulldorff notes. “If you want to have high confidence in vaccines, it has to be voluntary.... If you force something on people, if you coerce somebody to do something, that can backfire. Public health has to be based on trust. If public health officials want the public to trust them, public health officials also have to trust the public.” Just as pharma’s indemnification removed its incentive to improve safety, so do mandates remove public health’s incentive to have better, more consistent communication—to listen, understand, educate, and persuade—which is what builds trust.

And finally, let's return, as the author does, to Alexis de Tocqueville, and a quotation I'm certain I will pull out in other contexts:

Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

As usual, that was more than "a few" snippets from the article. I hope they encourage you to read the whole thing, rather than giving you the impression you know all that's important in it. It is the clearest, most comprehensive, and most reasonable explanation I have yet encountered for what has been happening to the world in the last two years. Once again, here's the article link.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at 12:00 pm | Edit
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