Covid, vaccines and conscience
This personal reflection was prompted on hearing of a highly principled individual seriously suffering the ill effects of Covid. Whether you get a vaccine or not is your business. If you decide not to do so, then it should be for well-considered reasons.
I hope this article can be understood in the honest spirit in which it has been written. The delta variant of the virus is highly transmissible. Months ago, it may have looked that the virus could be dodged, giving rise to a different set of moral considerations then. It now appears that everyone will get Covid eventually. That likely means you. The more widely it circulates in society, as is the case in winter months when we shelter more indoors, the sooner that day will come. There are preventative measures, but these require lifelong commitment with no guarantees of success.
Most people who get the virus will get over it. Some will be relatively unscathed. Many will say they would not wish it on their worst enemy. Others may reflect deeply on why they had chosen not to get a vaccine. This article may be asking you to make that personal consideration now.
There are some uncontested (hopefully) statements of fact. Whatever its origins, Covid-19 is a killer virus. There are vaccines which protect against catching it (these have time-limited effectiveness), from being hospitalised by it (very effective) or being killed by it (very effective).
All other things being equal, one would presume that taking a vaccine like this would not create a crisis of conscience for people. But it has, thus there continue to be significant numbers of people unvaccinated, posing some variable level of threat to themselves.
There are other facts, and fictions, and known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, and speculation all available at our fingertips, which are designed to enlighten or to confuse depending on the source.
Conscience primarily informed by reason
A significant factor in one’s decision making is the question of trust. It is important that this remains at the rational level and does not descend to an emotional one. Yes, there are liars and charlatans and self-seekers out there, even in highly prominent decision-making positions. It may madden us, but we cannot allow feelings to override our reason or dictate any conscientious decision we ourselves must make.
Politicians may have hidden agendas behind lockdown plans; drug companies may be suppressing information for competitive advantage; our health officials may display tunnel vision; but we still must make rational decisions.
What do we know to be true?
The availability of ‘news’ from everyone and everywhere creates an information crisis. We either have information overload or information deficit, depending on sources. By our nature we are more likely to find something which confirms our suspicions and pursue it, while perhaps ignoring facts which may confirm the opposite.
We seek to be scientific. The bias effect of social media makes that impossible. A ‘big brother’ suppression effect works in the opposite manner, also undermining any scientific approach. We then must decide who we can trust.
If you trust me as an informed source, this is what I have to say:
- There are rightful moral concerns about the creation and manufacture of vaccines. As a pro-life activist, I see this as a battle which must continue to be fought for the sake of the unborn. Insofar as there has been adjudication on these, the Catholic Church, in its highest role as a teacher of faith and morals, has clearly indicated that one can take a Covid vaccine.
- The risk to life or to serious illness varies substantially depending on your age and underlying health conditions. Like you, I would much prefer that our health services would not engage in PR exercises when presenting Covid data and would also respect my right to make my own decisions. I still don’t fully know what the relative risks are, but for most adults the virus’s associated health-risks substantially outweigh the vaccine risks. Admittedly the vaccine risks may be understated, but even allowing for that, the margin of protection the vaccine provides is very significant. This is why I think that, in general, people should get vaccinated.
- When it comes to children, the risks to them caused by the virus are extremely rare and may be so low as to be comparable with the risks of the vaccine itself (not fully measurable given that we cannot know the long-term risks of the vaccine). Either way, there are risks, but these are extremely low for the average healthy child.
- As the vaccine – for a period of perhaps around a year – reduces the risk of contracting the virus, then a vaccinated child (by not contracting the virus) is probably less likely to spread the virus to a more vulnerable person. But then, if the more vulnerable person has been vaccinated, the risk of they contracting the virus is substantially reduced. On these probabilities we are being left in the dark, so the public health case for vaccinating children (or not) in my opinion is unproven. In any event, it would be very wise that a child showing respiratory illness symptoms should keep their distance from vulnerable adults.
- If one already has had Covid then he/she has developed antibodies against future illness. No proper case has been made for such people requiring a vaccine. Anyone can get an antibody test (on their bloods) to establish their present level of protection against the virus. The PR done on behalf of the vaccine – advanced through vaccine mandates and passports – may make it appear that it offers the best protection, but I am unaware of any studies to indicate that it adds a further layer of protection to those who have already contracted Covid.
Accept the likelihood that Covid will find you, vaccinated or not, and make your decision accordingly. Overall, for adults, the vaccine provides worthwhile short-term protection, certainly for the present. Later on, we may find that the protection will always require renewal, but at that stage there may also be reliable anti-virals to mitigate Covid’s effects.
Independent observers must be disappointed with the lack of emphasis on key proven protective measures like proper ventilation, use of Vitamin D, and possibly some preventative or early-response drugs compared to the attention given to other possibly misleading advice. Citizens must do their best in insisting on higher standards from their public health service. Unfortunately, we may be past the stage where we can expect our media alone to hold public institutions to proper account.
I have not footnoted this brief article as I would neither know where to start or to stop. Please accept it for what it is, my considered view – written with the hope that it may help you to keep safe. The article is time sensitive, and we get to know more as each month goes by, but for the present it is my best read on where we stand.
Mark Hamilton (www.sowhat.ie)