Why many people I know are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine

A petri dish, pills, a mask and a syringe

Throughtout my life I have received all the vaccines which I was told I needed. My children too are fully vaccinated, and I am perfectly at ease with that. I continue to be supportive of vaccination as a proven and effective way of achieving immunity against certain illnesses. And I intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to me, so that I am protected agains the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

But many of my friends and some family members are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine. Here I outline some of the reasons why.

But first a couple of disclaimers:

This article is not about Anti-vaxxers or people who for some scientifically illiterate reason are opposed to vaccinations.

Also, I’m not a Virologist, Biomedical scientist or an Epidemiologist. I’m not a healthcare professional, have never undertaken vaccine research and my background and specialisation lie primarily in Electronic & Software Engineering. So some of the notation in this article may neither be precise nor depict accurate terminology. More importantly, I’m not writing this article to endorse, support, defend or otherwise give credence to any medical stance, let alone the numerous views, sentiments and feelings of some of the people I know or is acquainted with.

World Health Organization. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines. WHO https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines (2020).

Our traditional medicines are useful.The fruit trees that we have outside our houses, avocado, blue gum, their leaves are good and help a lot. We should encourage everyone to use our trees as herbal remedies. We should also ask our leaders to learn from Tanzania and Madagascar. Their leaders have shown leadership. We need to stand against the threat of the COVID19 vaccine.

However at a time of so much uncertainty and a multiplicity of views, I think their perspectives, questions, fears, hesitancy and concerns are valid and matter. They must not be dismissed but must instead be heard as legitimate concerns in a global debate, irrespective of what people sitting on the other side of the table think about such “fringe” views.

I have paraphrased some of the questions and concerns for clarity and to shield the respective identities of the people whose views I seek to replicate. I have also substituted some statements with similar views expressed online by other people I do not know but whose views more coherently mirror the original statements of the people I know.

Finally, it is encouraging to note that some people who previously expressed concern or feared taking a COVID-19 vaccine have since agreed to receive it, after considering in-depth information on the science behind the different vaccine candidates and how they are manufactured.

Watching this transformation from skeptic to convert happen has been delightful.

1. How effective will this vaccine really be?

“For How long will the vaccine protect me from the virus once I have received it?”

“I don’t like needles so don’t want to be receiving a vaccine for this virus every year or every few years.”

“When I was young, I had the BCG vaccine for TB, I’ve never needed another vaccine for TB, so why the hell I’m I being asked to be vaccinated twice for COVID?”

“What guarantees are there that when I receive this vaccine it will protect me against COVID-19? I know people are dying but if my body can produce an immunity response and protect me from further infection, how does what my body can naturally do differ from what the vaccine will be able to do? Give it to the old people with poor immunity, I’d rather let my body protect me naturally than having more chemicals injected into me”

Nigeria eyes domestic vaccine production to tackle COVID-19 (AFRICA BRIEFING)

2. Why do I feel like this vaccine is different from other “normal” vaccines?

A Campaign from NYC Health + Hospitals encouraging people to receive the vaccine.

There is a feeling among some people that the COVID-19 vaccine is different from other vaccines.

I know that there are several vaccines (and vaccine candidates) being rolled out, being researched or being trialed, and that they use different approches or incorporate different techniques to target the virus. However, several people have told me that they feel that these COVID-19 vaccines are not normal. Sentiments here range from those who believe the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine will alter their DNA, to those who think the speed of development should be met with alarm or at least extreme caution.

“Let us agree to disagree that change through COVID has come therefore let us embrace the change and live with the virus. One thing I don’t understand is how come COVID does not have a direct cure, but people recover like the way we recover from Malaria. That doesn’t happen with Polio??Or with HIV?? It’s not all of us who recover of diseases with cures but I think this virus is confusing and different, so we need to know more, otherwise let’s treat it like any other infectious disease.”

“This vaccine is preventing people getting the virus, it doesn’t cure COVID-19. There is the need for civic education about vaccines, which historically can sometimes be a gamble “

Professor Dale Godfrey…told newsGP the idea of whether two month represents an adequate period is not a straightforward answer as things are more likely to go wrong earlier in the renting phase that was the end

Matt Woodley, News GP, Is two months long enough to monitor for vaccine safety concerns?

“I work in the healthcare sector. I have been involved in discussions at the Mosque with lots of people and while the Imans are saying we should go talk to our GPs and are recommending taking the vaccine, some people in my community think we don’t yet know if this vaccine is safe, so I’m on the fence for now.”

“Bruv, is this shit real? Had them vaccines, all of them since i was a kid I’ve had, masteni ndi madala made sure I got them, but this Covid shit lame.”

Forgive me if this is a mistake, but remember they say ‘having little knowledge is more dangerous than having no-knowledge at all’ so i need to ask: As a way of ruling out all skepticism and mistrust, can’t there be an initiative of engaging our local experts to certify or rule otherwise if there’s something wrong with the vaccine? We have Malawi Bureau of Standards which certifies products manufactured either locally or imported. They inform the citizenry whether a product is worthy of consumption or not. Isn’t there a board that deals with medical products, medicines and poisons too? Whatever it is, why can’t we ask them about these vaccines and let them issue a statement on the safety of each vaccine? By the way, they are funded by taxpayers money 🤷

3. Is it normal for a Pharmaceutical company to seek advance government protection from legal action in the event that the vaccine harms some people?

As mentioned in the introduction, EU officials have informed Reuters that product liability is one of the biggest contentious issues in European efforts to secure a vaccine. AstraZeneca have reportedly come to a deal with Europe, although the commission has not yet commented on the details of liability. According to a Reuters report on the 26th August, the EU commission would only offer partial protection to manufacturers against liability, ‘hampering deals in contrast to US policy.’ The administration of the vaccine therefore lays in the balance of political, economic and sociological interests.”

– By Wouter PorsEvelyn Tjon-En-Fa, Flora Peel, A vaccine for COVID-19: risks and liabilities from an international perspective (Bird & Bird)

Why is AstraZeneca applying for protection from prosecution from national governments and the likes of the EU, in the event that their vaccines cause adverse effects, which could include death? Although any brief research will show that this is not entirely unheard of, especially for vaccines that have not completed Phase 3 trials, some people think it is not normal.

Sangs, if I come to you and say: I’m selling this car, but its only 66% safe for use and can’t guarantee that it won’t develop a fault that causes an accident while you are on the motorway, so if you buy it, and it causes an accident and you die, I can’t be held responsible.

Will you buy that car amwene?

No, you won’t voluntarily take such a risk. Your better senses, your intuition, will prevent you from taking that step, even if the car happens to be your dream car.

So, why are we being asked to take a vaccine where the maker of that vaccine is requesting protection from prosecution and won’t guarantee its safety and won’t be held responsible if it fucks us up?

Za chamba eti”

“My family and I have decided not to take this vaccine. If Malawi makes it compulsory, we will move and live in Tanzania. If Tanzania also makes it compulsory, we’ll go somewhere else. We need independent tests and full transparency on what’s going on first. “

4. Will the vaccine cause an adverse reaction when I come into contact with coronavirus?

Pathogenic Priming.

Here’s a nifty medical term I didn’t previously know about until recently. Much like “Furlough“, which I also only first encountered last year.

Another word related to pathogenic priming, which you may never have heard of before is Antibody-dependent Enhancement (ADE) or Immune Enhancement. This phenomenon according to several sources is when your body’s immune system reacts badly to the virus AFTER you have already been vaccinated.

Anyway, there are some people who believe the vaccine could cause an adverse reaction in some people, when they come into contact with the virus. The basis of this concern appears to be in the well chronicled Pharmaceutical blunders of the past. I’ll let the experts explain what the term actually means:

ADE is one form of immune enhancement, a poorly understood group of phenomena occurring when components of our immune system that usually protect against viral infections somehow end up backfiring. It’s a concern in situations when people are continuously re-infected with particular pathogens, and with vaccines that work by injecting snippets of virus to mimic a first infection. Some immunizations, such as those against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have been observed in the past to make disease worse when vaccinated individuals contract the virus.

Katarina Zimmer, COVID-19 Vaccine Researchers Mindful of Immune Enhancement (The Scientist)

“My husband was sick for a whole week after getting the flu jab last year. They were offering it via his workplace and he said ok why not. He was in bed for a week, had splitting headaches, yellow mucus coming out of his nose, a fever, lost appetite and was a wreck. I know COVID is not a flu, but I’m not having the COVID-19 vaccine! I’ve told him if you want you go receive it yourself, me – no! “

5. Will I still be able to have kids after I receive the vaccine?

A pregnancy test

How will the vaccine affect fertility in say 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? Is there credible information on this, I’ve been asked a couple of times.

“I want to have kids, but not ready to have kids now. How will the vaccine affect my fertility later on down the line?”

– a 20 year old daughter of a cousin

“There’s no evidence antibodies against any coronavirus cause infertility. If coronavirus spike proteins did lead the immune system to attack the placenta, we’d see widespread infertility after common cold seasons, which are caused by a range of viruses, including coronaviruses.”

Archa Fox, Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, University of Western Australia, Not sure about the Pfizer vaccine, now it’s been approved in Australia? You can scratch these 4 concerns straight off your list (The Conversation)

But what about Male fertility? Does anyone know the effects of a COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility in 4 years? 10 years? In one article, an opinion of one medical journalist that suggested freezing sperm got some people worried:

Study investigates effects of COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility

6. How will the vaccine affect my other organs in the long term?

Not just the effect on my lungs and the respiratory system, but on my kidneys, my heart, my eyes, my brain, my liver, my digestive system and so on.

“What research has been done to find out the effects of the various vaccines on different organs in the long term? I’m going to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but I think it’s only right that before we ask everyone to receive the vaccine we have to show them some conclusive evidence that it won’t affect other organs in their body in the long term, and if we can’t do that then it shouldn’t be mandatory to receive the vaccine, until after we have that evidence”

“What I know is that pregnant mothers receive a vaccine before a baby is born. And also when the baby is born the baby is vaccinated, and so while I don’t see anything wrong with the COVID-19 vaccine, maybe we should be told what happens in the long term.”

7. Will the COVID-19 vaccine contain nano robots?

This one is rare but there have been at least two occasions when an ordinary conversation with a friend veered into the less heard of but nevertheless real subject of nano robots?

For those not familiar with the term, Nano robots are nanodevices at the molecular level and are a known healthcare innovation within nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

One proposed use of nano robots is in Smart Drug Delivery System and some people are wondering whether the COVID-19 vaccine contains nano robots.

This concern was a lot more pronounced at the beginning of the pandemic, when the internet was awash with bizarre and nonsensical conspiracy theories about the links between COVID-19 and 5G.

8. My Faith in God will protect me from COVID-19

A post on a social media page.

Pretty much every crisis that the world has faced has at some point been met by these types of religious (or pseudo-religious) claims. And often there is little thought as to how such a stance affects other people, which itself may be a verdict on the lack of empathy of the person holding such views. In any case, no one lives in a vaccuum, and our actions, whether good or bad, often impact other people around us.

Considering all of the above views and concerns, it is clear that national governments everywhere have a tough job on their hands. Never mind sensitisation and countering of false information, if a significant percentage of society is opposed to the COVID-19 vaccines and are not willing to be vaccinated, for whatever reasons, it may ultimately defeat the whole global vaccination effort. This is because new viruses (against which the current vaccines have little or no effect) which will inevitably mutate in unvaccinated ‘pockets’ of the population will in no time be transmitted back into the vaccinated population(s) across the world – triggering a whole new pandemic!

shhhhh: fear

fear

I will not be a party to the fear bandwagon. Not in this life, living in this body, and probably not in the life to come.

In fact, I will not even be a spectator of such a bandwagon, and will not spend as much as a smidgen of my time on anything associated with it. My humble, but strict upbringing (by a single ‘fiery’ parent) have firmly planted in me a strong belief  that it is better (under any circumstances) to speak out over matters of importance, and be ‘sidelined’ or if you like ‘ostracized’, than to be silent in the face of what is clearly wrongdoing,  for popularity’s sake or otherwise.

Call it conviction, or whatever else…but that’s my stance. And it’s not about to change any moment soon.

I was in Nottingham 2 weeks ago, visiting some friends, and one of my friends’ younger brother brought up the topic of Malawi Ace. According to him:

(i) my platform was not high enough, but it would help if I was driving an expensive Mercedes-Benz, and lived in a big house ????

and

(ii) that I was in danger of being ‘eliminated’ if I criticised certain people in strong terms, that it has happened before, and it will happen again, and I had to be careful not to fall victim. ????

As you can imagine, I didn’t take both pieces of advice particularly kindly, especially because he has said certain other things in the past which have been equally shallow, and somewhat inflammatory. This is a guy who prides on having studied at a good university, in England, and is halfway through a doctorate.

So, I pointed out to him that in a consumerist, commodity driven, celebrity worshipping and money obsessed society in which we lived in, I sympathised with people like him, who had clearly fallen prey to a global media machine whose sole purpose was to get people to spend — whether they had the money to spend or not — by bombarding them with survey engineered,  guru tweaked, sycophantic tosh. And that his thinking that advice was only worthwhile if it came from a wealthy man was not only wrong, but hopelessly misguided.

The anomally in such thinking can probably be most uncovered by a Scottish proverb that goes: “Do not judge by appearances, a rich heart may be under a poor coat” 

Certainly, like many other people, a lot of the advice I have received in my life did not come from a pinstriped bod who drove a McLaren Mercedes and lived in a Castle. Definitely not. While I know a number of people who drive a Mercedes or other expensive car, most of the advice I have received has come from ordinary and well-meaning folk: friends, strangers, extended family members who have insight, experiences or knowledge over a particular issue(the “credentials”), or life in general, and know the substance in their words. So it really is unfortunate that someone like him, an African with parents who happen to be in positions of authority, and who could be said to be ‘educated’, and presumably should know better, doesn’t as much live up to that standard. Maybe its an issue of the African mentality many people have cried foul over; Africans looking down on, or being condescending towards other Africans, for all sorts of complex reasons. I’ll leave you to be the judge.

On the second point, and not to be idealistic or blow my own trumpet prematurely, I will quote Edmund Burke:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing “

As someone who spent 8 years of their life reading and studying history, you can probably imagine what I found in this context, in the wars from the American War of Independence, Napoleonic times, the World Wars, to the Cold war. Many good men (and some very evil ones), doing a lot of nothing (or just being plain evil).

And as an African, there were  the years in which I found myself probing the thousands of years worth of African history, from pre-colonial times and the rise and fall of African empires, to the not so distant past: again, a similar story, a lot of sensible and good men, doing nothing, or doing the wrong things.

Then, there is the present, governments that pillage state resources  with impunity, sometimes in collaboration with corporations who have no responsibility towards the local populations, Machiavellian donors who have to appease “special interests” when providing aid, private donors who can’t see why they have to give developmental (as opposed to hand-to-mouth) aid directly to the people (and not to corrupt African governments) to enable them to be self-sufficient, religious fundamentalism, scapegoating, and such like. The list is endless.

So, as long as there is life in me, as long as I can think for myself, and write from my deepest convictions, as long as I can analyse society’s dynamics and the challenges faced by my own people, in Malawi, many of whose problems are artificial, and definitely not their own making, as long as I have the time to do so, I will continue to express my convictions in the strongest terms possible, without fear, irrespective of what anybody else thinks (wherever and whoever they may be). But on the other hand, I’m not going to comment on issues I have no experience, nor those on which I have not studied, thought of or considered in any great detail. That would be unwise.

It’s an opinion I’m entitled to,  a truth if you consider the evidence often presented in my posts.