• Kalila Welch

Anti-vaxxers told me to do my research, so I did

As many of us are resuming a somewhat ‘normal life’ after months of uncertainty thanks to a botched national vaccine rollout, the divisions between the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ vaccine camps have become deeper than ever. The science is clear, but conspiracies and misinformation remain prolific. While it’s easy (and SO tempting) to write the ‘antivax’ camp off as unhinged conspiracy theorists, it does tend to make debating the issue rather unproductive. Unfortunately, it’s hard to win an argument when you have no idea what the opposition is talking about. Though my faith in the science community is unwavering, I wanted to be equipped with the facts. So, I made like an ‘antivaxxer’ and did my research on some of the more dominant arguments against the COVID 19 vaccines. Here’s what I found:

Argument 1: mRNA vaccines are a ‘gene therapy’ not a vaccine.

This argument indicates that there is some confusion about how vaccines work to provide immunity. Claims involve permanent change to the body’s DNA and ongoing side affects as a result. A lot of the scepticism about mRNA vaccines stems from Robert Malone, an immunologist who claims to be the ‘inventor’ of mRNA vaccines and of course, is a new found anti-vax hero. However, it doesn’t take much digging to find that this claim is disputed. It’s true that the he contributed to the invention of mRNA vaccine technology, but he has been widely discredited for claiming ownership over the technology, which has been worked on by hundreds of scientists over decades.

For me, vaccine science is a long-forgotten memory of year 10 biology. So, it took a lot of reading for me to get my head around how the COVID 19 vaccines work. But, in layman’s terms, the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) carry a genetic code (messenger RNA) that tells the cells at the injection site to produce the coronavirus spike protein, which stimulates an immune response as the body works to destroy the virus protein. This is slightly different to vector vaccines (like AstraZeneca), which contain a ‘weakened’ piece of the virus that contains the genetic code for the spike protein, causing the body to produce more spike proteins, which then stimulate an immune response. Both are vaccines, and both have the same result, there is just a difference in how the virus is presented to the body.

Argument 2: The vaccine is unsafe

This is perhaps the most prominent argument held amongst anti-vaxxers, who, thanks to widespread misinformation and confusing health messaging at the start of the rollout (hello AstraZeneca) remain doubtful of the vaccine’s safety. The concerns here range from understandable confusions (lack of long-term testing, expediated approvals and the risk of blood clots), through to the bizarre (spike proteins cutting up vascular systems, graphene oxide presence in the vaccine). For some who are vaccine hesitant, this is an issue of personal safety – they are not confident in the vaccine’s safety. For others, their concerns are more insidious. A widespread conspiracy here goes that the vaccine was created as a tool of mass depopulation to save powerful ‘elites’ from overpopulation and climate change. The full spectrum of anti-vax rhetoric, in the COVID 19 context, is derived largely from misinformation being spread on alternative media sources like Telegram, alternative web forums and even YouTube. Locally, we can thank alt-right leaders like Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly for feeding misleading material to their audiences. Through their platforms, alternative thought leaders herald “experts” such as Michael Yeadon, an ex-VP of Pfizer, as the obvious voice of reason –confirmation bias proves that they must be right. What they fail to mention is that Yeadon, who is a Pharmacologist specialising in allergies like eczema (not an immunologist or virologist), is that he and his colleagues were let go by Pfizer in 2011 when the company ceased pursuing the project he was working on.

While the number of resources on the COVID 19 vaccines is pretty overwhelming, it was relatively easy to find clear and reassuring information about their development and safety. It is true that the vaccine has been developed at a much faster pace than previously possible, as a result of many years of research into a vaccine for a similar virus (like MERS and SARS). This, paired with the international collaboration of the world’s leading scientists, manufacturers and distributors during the COVID 19 pandemic has allowed vaccines to be created at unprecedented speed. In the past year, information about potential side effects has become clearer, and initial concerns over the risk of blood clots in some vaccines have been put in perspective. Most of us now know, for example, that only 3.1 in every 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccinations results in TTS or blood clotting, and most of these cases are treatable.

Confusion about the damage caused by spike proteins is easily disproved as well. The theory claims that spike proteins in the vaccine causes micro clots by cutting up the blood vessels as the vaccine moves through the body. However, a bit of research found that through the body’s immune response, almost all virus particles are destroyed at the injection site, with only about 1% reaching the bloodstream, only to be destroyed by the enzymes in the liver. By the time of the second dose, no spike proteins are detectable in the body.

Argument 3: The vaccine is being used as a tool of government control and oppression.

This argument is held closely by anti-vaxxers who believe themselves to be experiencing a kind of oppression. Those who choose to abstain from the vaccine have compared their experience to segregation and genocide, with references to ‘apartheid’ and ‘holocaust’ being thrown around carelessly. Little consideration seems to be given to the fact that refusing vaccination is one, a choice, and two, a decision that only bares temporary disadvantage (and only for the purpose of protecting public health).

Deconstructing this argument is pretty easy; you don’t need to consult an expert to know that being prevented from going to the pub or socialising for two months is incomparable to the atrocities and ongoing discrimination experienced by minorities throughout history.

While there is no ‘hard’ evidence that the vaccine is not a weapon of mass control, it is pretty easy to doubt the government’s competency and sophistication to implement something like this, given their inability to figure out how to roll out the vaccine in the first place. The short-lived timeframe of vaccine-based ‘controls’ would also seem to be a little futile, particularly given that stay-at-home orders for the unvaccinated are only present in states with high case numbers.

In all, arguments against the COVID 19 vaccine can be easily deconstructed, and I thoroughly encourage you to do your own research if there’s anything you feel you’re still unsure of. For those of us in NSW, ACT and VIC, vaccination rates are high, and the likelihood of having to talk a loved one away from vaccine conspiracies is a little lower than our friends in other states. However, for anyone engaging in a conversation with someone who may be on the fence, or feel a little more radically about vaccination, remember that it is a privilege to be informed and to feel some kind of trust in the establishment. By showing a little empathy towards the journey a person may have taken to get to their current views, you can have a much more productive conversation, and even if you don’t change a mind, you may lessen the division just a little.