This article is not an attempt to support so-called “anti-vaxxers” who oppose using time-tested vaccines on various grounds. This article is an effort to broaden the very narrow conversation surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. There are people with legitimate concerns—on scientific and moral levels—about COVID-19 vaccines. Moreover, this is not a clear, black-and-white issue. As with everything, there is nuance and complexity to it.
Two primary categories drive vaccine hesitation. First are the moral and ethical issues that have arisen during the pandemic. And second, there are scientific objections to the vaccine—especially Pfizer’s variant. Addressing the moral and ethical issues first might help contextualize scientific objections to the COVID-19 vaccine.
If we return to the beginning of the pandemic, a source of contention was the use of masks and the mandated use of them to reduce the spread of COVID-19. To many Americans, this change was the first of multiple transgressions that further degraded their faith in the government. In many ways, Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the face of the scientific discussion involving the pandemic and came to represent the federal government in their response to the pandemic. Early on, as reported from a June 15, 2020 Insider article, Americans were told that masks were not a necessity and that they would do very little to reduce the spread of the virus. Currently, if we look around, everyone is wearing masks. As reported by The Street in June of 2020, it became clear that medical experts misled the general public to avoid a mask shortage for healthcare workers. Regardless of the intent of this deception, it was a deception nonetheless; a deception that practically destroyed their trust in the federal government’s pandemic response.
A second major element of vaccine hesitation is a deeply-rooted mistrust in pharmaceutical companies. The opioid crisis is still fresh in the minds of many who lost loved ones, not to an external virus, but to the horrors of addiction that were packaged and stamped by the same companies that have produced the vaccines. According to ABC News, Pfizer is a company that has paid the most significant criminal fine in history (2009)-––for misbranding a painkiller with the intent to “defraud or mislead.” In 2004 Pfizer paid $430 million in fines for marketing a drug for unapproved uses—even after scientific evidence showed the drug to be ineffective. Suddenly, Americans are being asked to trust these companies despite their history of lying and manipulation.
Even to this day, a cloud of deception lingers around ‘Big Pharma.’ Though a judge struck down this action, the FDA attempted to delay the release of the Pfizer vaccine safety data by 75 years—not to be seen by the public until 2097. Even more recently, Pfizer has attempted to support the FDA in the delay to protect trade secrets and business proprietary information. As of this writing, that lawsuit is still being reviewed. Even to a non-skeptic, this information seems suspicious. It is very difficult to justify the delayed release of safety data under any circumstances, particularly given the widespread use of the vaccine.
Now, let us turn to potential scientific objections to the vaccine. One of the mantras of the vaccine has been “safe and effective.” Many people know that the vaccine is 95 percent effective, as indicated in the safety and efficacy data per the clinical trials. Here is our first issue. The original Pfizer trial report data said that the vaccine was safe and had a 95 percent efficacy rate seven days after the second dose. What does that 95 percent mean? 95 percent represents that relative risk reduction. That is to say, the risk of contracting COVID-19 at the time of that trial was 0.88 percent if one was unvaccinated. The risk then fell to 0.04 percent when vaccinated. That 95 percent is the relative difference between 0.88 percent and 0.04 percent. Absolute risk reduction was 0.84 percent (0.88 percent minus 0.04 percent). This means the Pfizer vaccine’s net benefit is 0.84 percent, not 95 percent. In fact, the NIH recommends using absolute risk reduction instead of relative risk reduction to make policy decisions. The fact that these statistics were often overlooked and were, for whatever reason, typically only framed in terms of relative risk reduction is yet another example of why many in the general public feel they are being misled and manipulated. This data drastically changes the analysis involved in the vaccine and should beg the question ‘how many would have taken the vaccine with the knowledge of a less than 1 percent overall benefit’?
There are also serious concerns about data integrity and research processes in Pfizer’s trials, according to one whistleblower from a Nov. 2 article published by The BMJ. There have been claims of falsified data, unblinded patients, inadequately trained vaccinators, and delayed follow-up on adverse events reported in the phase III trial. In addition, there were also claims of quality control check staff being overwhelmed by the volume of problems they were finding. The story of 12-year-old Maddie de Garay is perhaps one of the most troubling stories. After taking the vaccine during the trials, this healthy adolescent reported having abdominal pain. The reality of the situation was more unsettling. Twenty-four hours after she arrived at the trial site, she developed crippling pain—abdominal, muscle, and nerve pain. It was described as if someone was “ripping [her] heart out through [her] neck.” The 12-year-old has now been admitted to the hospital three times, developing a host of issues including but not limited to gastroparesis, seizures, verbal and motor tics and drastic and adverse changes in her vision. De Garayis currently confined to a wheelchair; yet per the official Pfizer report she experienced merely abdominal pain in the trial study.
Many Americans have already had COVID-19, with some estimates being around 1 in 3. Because of this, many wonder why vaccine mandates still apply to them. A study published in medRXiv in April of 2021 showed that natural immunity has been successful in demonstrating at least as much protection and durability as vaccination. In addition, more attention should be paid to the slogan “A pandemic of the unvaccinated.” People hear this slogan and are left more confused than ever. Despite 75 percent of the US having received one dose and 64 percent being fully vaccinated, the past few weeks have had the most extensive caseload since the pandemic began. Now, there are reasons for this– primarily because COVID-19 has mutated it’s way around the vaccine, but many are left feeling that something doesn’t seem to be adding up. If it’s a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” then why are vaccinated people getting sick? To be clear, rates of infection are much higher in the unvaccinated, but the vaccinated are also being infected at a significant rate. Especially as Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants, those who don’t feel comfortable with vaccination can’t help but wonder why they’re expected to shoulder the blame for the pandemic.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Many discredit the VAERS data because of claims it is highly susceptible to manipulation by malicious actors. On the flip side, a report from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care says that VAERS underreports adverse vaccine events by a large margin—only 1 percent of events are reported. No matter how one views the data, a few things are clear: there are potentially dangerous and harmful side effects to this vaccine. Even the producers of the vaccine admit to this. There is no getting around that. If the data is bad, then the CDC failed in providing the American people the ability to make informed decisions. If the data is good, then it speaks for itself—27,000 counts of myocarditis and pericarditis, 22,000 deaths, 11,000 heart attacks after receiving the vaccine. And what happens if only 1 percent of events are actually being reported? Either way, here is another nail in the coffin of public trust. As safe as vaccines are, they are not perfect. This is an issue that stems back decades, most notably in 1955 when 200 children were left paralyzed and ten were killed after receiving the Polio vaccine at Cutter Laboratories—what would become the “Cutter Incident.”
It is important to keep an open mind about COVID-19 vaccination. This has just been an overview of some of the reasons for vaccine hesitation as it pertains to COVID-19. Frankly, there are many more reasons. The increasingly alarming data on children—particularly in regard to heart inflammation in young boys after receiving the vaccine, the cytotoxicity of the spike protein in vaccines, or where the vaccine’s components(particularly the lipid nanoparticles and spike protein) end up in the body and how long they stay there are all concerns as well. To many, the question of whether to get vaccinated is not an easy one. No matter how safe it is now, there is no knowing what five, 10, 15 or 50 years will bring. That uncertainty alone is enough for some. Though one can debate if it’s directly applicable, the Nuremberg code tells us that, “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” Some have given their consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which is perfectly fine. However, there are some who do not want to make that choice. They are tired of a series of lies and deceptions from companies and the federal government. They yearn for the right of personal freedom to bear the consequences of those decisions. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “No man is good enough to govern another man without his consent.” If we forget the dignity and respect that we owe each other as human beings, the miraculous accomplishment of this vaccine will have been for nothing.