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Six Explanations for Rising Vaccine Hesitancy

Six Explanations for Rising Vaccine Hesitancy


The Rise in Vaccine Hesitancy is a Fact

In April last year, UNICEF reported that vaccination coverage had decreased in 112 countries and 67 million children had missed out on at least one vaccination over 2020–23 because of lockdown-caused disruptions and diminished confidence in vaccines. Measles rates had doubled globally in 2022 compared to 2021 and polio was up by 16 percent. Overall, UNICEF recorded “the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunisation in 30 years.”

Out of 55 countries that UNICEF looked at, public perceptions of the importance of childhood vaccines fell in 52 countries, by as much as 44 percent in some countries. China, India, and Mexico were the only countries where faith in vaccines held firm. The report warned that “the confluence of several factors suggest the threat of vaccine hesitancy may be growing,” including: “uncertainty about the response to the pandemic…declining trust in expertise, and political polarisation.”

Measles are on the rise even in industrialised Western countries. On 24 January, the BBC, quoting the WHO, reported that there was a 45-fold rise in measles cases in Europe in 2023 (42,200 cases) compared to 2022 (900 cases). UK outbreaks are at their highest levels since the 1990s. Herd immunity against measles requires around 95 percent immunisation of five-year-olds, but in parts of the UK, the level is down to 75 percent and as low as 56 percent in some London boroughs.

While some of this might be the lingering effect of lockdown-era disruptions of immunisation services, in part it also arises from falling trust in public health edicts and institutions that has spilled over into a more generalised vaccine hesitancy. Polling conducted by the campaigning group UsForThem showed that:

  • Only 52 percent of people believe the UK government was honest about the risk-benefits equation of Covid vaccines;
  • The share of parents of children under 18 likely to give their child government-recommended vaccines has fallen from 84 percent before the pandemic to 60 percent;
  • Almost twice as many people (57-30 percent) believe ministers were dishonest rather than honest about the necessity for Covid restrictions; and
  • 72 percent no longer trust public health information and government briefings.

In other words, Molly Kingsley wrote on behalf of the group, “manipulative vaccination policies and deceptive propaganda campaigns, unsurprisingly, have decimated trust in public health, and childhood immunisations in particular.”

The key word in Kingsley’s sentence is “unsurprisingly.” In this article, we identify six Covid-management-related policies as likely explanations for the growth of vaccine hesitancy.

1. Over-Claimed Benefits

On 20 June 2023, Stanford Medical School’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya tweeted newly released emails under freedom of information access from Rochelle Walensky, the now departed head of the CDC, from 30 January 2021 early in her tenure, showing that she, the head of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, and the face of US Covid policies Dr. Anthony Fauci were all aware then, a month after the vaccination campaign began, of the reality of breakthrough infections.

Yet, at a press briefing on 16 July 2021, referencing Walensky’s statement that Covid had become the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “99.5 percent of people who are in the hospital are people who are unvaccinated.” During a CNN town hall event on 20 July 2021, President Joe Biden said that vaccines would ensure that people did not get Covid; or if infected, they would not need hospitalisation; and they would not die.

Before long, however, the initial belief in the efficacy of vaccines in breaking the links between infections, hospitalisations, and deaths was confounded as data began to accumulate with mass vaccinations. In Israel the Pfizer vaccine showed efficacy rates against symptomatic illness falling to 41 percent, and for AstraZeneca in the UK down to 1.5 percent against infections and 60 percent against serious illness, from the initial rate of over 90 percent for both vaccines. 

On 10 October 2022, Pfizer executive Janine Small made the startling admission to the European Union (EU) Parliament that they had never tested their Covid-19 vaccine for transmissibility. Therefore the entire vaccine passport requirement was built on a conspiracy of lies. In an NBC interview on 26 February 2021, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla clearly says “there are a lot of indications right now that are telling us that there is a protection against transmission of the disease” provided by the vaccine. In a CBS interview on 26 May 2021, Fauci said: “when you get vaccinated, you not only protect your own health, that of the family, but also you contribute to the community health by preventing the spread of the virus throughout the community…you become a dead end to the virus.”

Australian data too showed initially strong protective benefits against severe disease and deaths. Before long, however, data accumulated to show that despite 95 percent adult vaccination, the vaccines failed to provide immunity against infection, hospitalisation, ICU admission, or even death. This is why Australia’s Covid-related mortality was substantially higher in 2022 and 2023 than in 2020 and 2021.

In a Brownstone Institute article, Michael Senger looked back at the demonisation of the unvaccinated by various public authorities, enthusiastically amplified by the media, and all predicated on the false belief that vaccines stop transmission. Richard Kelly reviewed the many head-shaking edicts and enforcement actions in Australia – such as fining a delivery man for washing his van at an empty car wash at 1.15 a.m. and a teenage learner driver for going for a lesson with her mum. In an article on, Frank Chung compiled a list of statements from Australian ministers and health bureaucrats repeatedly stating their firm conviction that vaccines stop transmission. 

The public health officials’ ignorance about the disease was exceeded only by their arrogance and hubris about their ability to control the behaviour of a coronavirus.

2. Denial, Underplaying, and Minimisation of Harms

Governments and health bureaucracies also went to extraordinary lengths to censor, suppress, and deny information about the many serious side effects of Covid-19 vaccines. So much so that some doctors have begun to identify vaccines as “the leading cause of coincidence” in deaths. The Legacy and social media alike colluded with health authorities in this effort to protect the official narrative, even if it meant downplaying factual accounts of what was happening.

Unsurprisingly, this failed to keep the truth of vaccine injuries hidden – word of mouth is a powerful ‘people’s expression’ as, with growing numbers of vaccine-injured, people either suffered an injury or knew someone in the family or among colleagues who did and told others about it. This is why it has in fact created growing distrust of pharmaceutical giants, governments, health authorities, and the media.

Cases of adverse side effects from Covid-19 vaccines include anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), Guillain-Barré syndrome (muscle weakness and paralysis), and myocarditis and pericarditis (heart muscle inflammation). Most recently, AstraZeneca admitted on 27 April for the first time in court documents in the UK that its Covid vaccine “can, in very rare cases, cause TTS” (Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome) that causes people to have blood clots and a low blood platelet count. On 7 May, the company announced a worldwide withdrawal of its vaccines.

Sean Barcavage is an American nurse practitioner who was a perfectly healthy man but suffered adverse reactions within 15-20 minutes of the first dose of a Covid vaccine in 2020, like a racing heart from standing up, stinging pain in the eyes, mouth, and groin, and tinnitus. Because of the mandate for healthcare workers, he agreed to a second dose three weeks later but then suffered severe adverse reactions with “a myriad of symptoms.”

In an interview with Chris Cuomo, himself vaccine-injured, Barcavage said he had been dismissed, censored, his injuries denied, and attempts to inform others online on Facebook and Instagram blocked, in the effort to counter “vaccine hesitancy.” Yet the censorship, suppression, and denial “is actually fuelling vaccine hesitancy.” Instead, if the government had explained that these were novel vaccines, side effects were inevitable, programs were being instituted to deal with them, do the research, require the manufacturers to provide help and assistance, etc., people would have understood and appreciated all that.

3. Denial of Natural Immunity

The durable protective benefits of natural immunity acquired from viral infection have been known to physicians since the Athenian plague. For some reason, this knowledge was memory-holed for three years (2020–22) with respect to Covid before being rediscovered. The WHO demonstrated an unexpected willingness to manipulate definitions of “herd immunity” in relation to vaccines and natural immunity in order to fit with the experimental pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions that came to dominate Covid policy around the world. Those who issued reminders of the reality and powers of natural immunity were simply ignored. 

On 30 June 2021, Prof. Robert Dingwall, a member of UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said letting children catch Covid would be better than vaccinating them. Their intrinsically low risk from Covid means they may be “better protected by natural immunity generated through infection than by asking them to take the ‘possible’ risk of a vaccine.” A study of almost 900,000 5-11-year-old children in North Carolina, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, added to concerns that vaccines don’t just lose their effectiveness within a few months; they also destroy natural immunity against reinfection severe enough to put them in hospital. 

On 30 July 2021, Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University tweeted: “The pandemic of the unvaccinated is a misnomer. It’s a pandemic of the non-immune.” On 6 August 2021, Martin Kulldorff from Harvard Medical School followed with: “Vaccinated people were 6.72 times more likely to get infected than those with natural immunity from prior” Covid disease.

In an article published on 9 March 2024 in Monash Bioethics Review, Drs. Vinay Prasad and Alyson Haslam note that “having had and survived COVID-19 means the risk of bad outcomes following reinfection are staggeringly low.” Vaccination should therefore have focussed on the uninfected and unvaccinated and natural immunity could and should have been accepted as vaccination-equivalent, they concluded, but few countries did so.

We don’t know if, like many others, they felt compelled to make an obeisance to vaccine effectiveness in order to enhance the prospects of early publication of their article. We do know that the failure had severe repercussions for faith in experts and public health.

4. Mandated Vaccines

As noted above, the top US officials dealing with Covid – Walensky, Collins, and Fauci – were all aware by February 2021 of the reality of breakthrough infections. Yet, they continued to push vaccine mandates anyway. For example, Walensky said on MSNBC TV on 29 March: “Vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” and “it’s not just in the clinical trials but it’s also in real-world data.”

Dr. Hanna Nohynek is the chief physician at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and chair of the WHO Strategic Group of Experts on immunisation. In a Helsinki court case this April, she testified that authorities knew by the summer of 2021 that Covid vaccines did not stop infection or transmission. Consequently vaccine passports no longer made sense and could worsen the situation by giving a false sense of security, yet the WHO continued to recommend and governments to require it.

On 5 June 2023, the WHO and the European Commission announced the launch of a landmark digital health initiative for creating global vaccine passports. It’s not clear how this meets the UNESCO Statement on the Ethics of Covid-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports (30 June 2021) which requires that (1) “the certificates should not infringe freedom of choice regarding vaccination,” and (2) they must “deal responsibly with the uncertainties regarding the degree of protection provided by specific vaccines and past infections.”

Any mandate decision requires an assessment of two questions:

Is it medically justified? An affirmative answer would require overwhelming health benefits to the individual, which in turn would require evidence of grave risk from the disease absent vaccination, and high efficacy (in laboratory trials before, and in order to gain, regulatory approval and rollout) and effectiveness (in the real world after rollout). Another medical question was the impact of mandates on staffing levels in healthcare institutions at a time when they were already stretched, with accompanying social and economic impacts that extended to the families of those dismissed.

Is it ethically justified? This is even more challenging. There could be some ethical justification if there is compelling data to indicate substantial community benefit that overrides the loss of individual autonomy and bodily integrity.

In the initial months after vaccination, data did back up claims of high effectiveness for individual vaccinees against severe outcomes. But the reductions in transmission were modest even in the early months.

By the northern autumn of 2022, with the widespread emergence of Omicron as an escape variant, both the personal protective benefits and reductions in transmission had become insubstantial. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2022 by Boucau et al. showed that people with Covid-19 had comparable rates of viral shedding regardless of their vaccination status. Consequently denying entry into public spaces to the unvaccinated was not permissible by public ethics, when vaccination status could not separate those individuals who can spread the disease from those who could not.

Additionally, given the exceptionally steep age segregation of the risk of severe outcomes from contracting Covid, and the relative risks of serious side effects for the different age groups, there never was any medical, let alone ethical, justification for vaccine mandates for healthy schoolchildren and university students. This is especially so because, with the ubiquitous reality of escape variants of the virus, breakthrough infections have become commonplace. In these circumstances, the only relevant endpoints to evaluate the success of repeated vaccine doses were mortality and severe health outcomes requiring hospitalisation.

The full range of collateral harms inflicted on school and university-age pupils made the mandate seriously unethical. In fact, in retrospect (and perhaps even in real time), emergency use authorisation for Covid vaccines should never have been provided for any but the elderly and the comorbid.

5. Censored and Silenced Critics

In January 2021, Toby Young was reprimanded by Ipso, the UK’s Independent Press Standards Organisation, for a column he wrote for the Daily Telegraph in July 2020, when there was much scientific uncertainty and robust debate over topics like natural immunity and herd immunity. “I may have been over-emphatic in putting the anti-lockdown case,” Young conceded, “but it’s not as if the advocates of a pro-lockdown position are any less emphatic…Why hasn’t Ipso reprimanded them?”

Good question. In a column for the Spectator on 17 June 2023, Young also aired suspicions that the Counter Disinformation Unit, a secret cell inside Whitehall, might have illegally compromised the BBC’s editorial independence in its coronavirus coverage.

In March 2023, Mark Steyn was rebuked by the UK broadcast regulator Ofcom (Office of Communications) for an April 2022 interview with Naomi Wolf about data from the UK Health Security Agency that, they said, showed significantly greater risk of infection, hospitalisation, and death from a Covid booster. Broadcasters were free to air programs that are controversial and challenge statistics, Ofcom accepted, but not to insist that only one conclusion could be drawn from the data. In May 2023, Ofcom found Steyn to be in a second violation of the broadcasters’ code of conduct in an October 2022 program.

But government officials were never held to the same standard for pro-vaccine claims. On 9 September 2022, FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf tweeted that the updated Bivalent Wuhan-Omicron BA.4/5 booster “increases your chances of being in attendance at upcoming gatherings with family and friends.” Prasad and Haslam note wryly: “Had the company said this, the FDA could fine them for false statements.”

In Australia, Senator Alex Antic’s probing questions led to official confirmation that in less than three years, the federal government intervened 4,213 times to restrict or censor posts about the pandemic on digital platforms. Moreover, echoing the growing understanding of the lead role played by the national security apparatus in the US pandemic response, these requests to the Australian media came from the Department of Home Affairs.

6. Redefining GMOs as Vaccines

Recently in this asymmetric information battle, populations have begun to learn that the “Safe and Effective” cure-alls for Covid also appear to have always satisfied Australian, South African, UK, and EU legal definitions for being properly deemed Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and also satisfy being correctly called Gene Therapies.

This legal classification has been called into the spotlight of Federal Court of Australia proceedings alleging that Pfizer and Moderna always knew their products to be GMOs, but unlike AstraZeneca which sought and was granted a GMO licence for its Covid product, Pfizer and Moderna sidestepped this legally required process. Dealing with a GMO in Australia without a licence is a serious criminal offence. The ramifications for valid Informed Consent are astounding, let alone the consequences for human DNA from the genetic risks posed by GMOs that were never evaluated nor publicly discussed, as the legislation required them to be.

On 6 May these allegations of the Covid-19 drugs being at law GMOs and gene therapies were placed squarely at the feet of WHO officials, in Notices of Liability served by the World Council for Health, headed by Dr. Tess Lawrie.

Prominent YouTuber Dr. John Campbell interviewed an author here who detailed the manner and lengths to which the UK’s MHRA, the EU’s EMA, Australia’s TGA and OGTR, and the FDA in the US went, for holding back knowledge of the GMO nature of these substances that were coerced on entire populations or mandated across sectors under threat of dismissal. Now that a previously beguiled public has started to pick up on this information, many are beginning to ask whether the earlier public health position of seeking to avert “vaccine hesitancy” by resort to “justifiable” censorship, was in truth undertaken to avoid “GMO hesitancy” via the ultimate censorship – not informing populations about what was really in the vials.

To make matters worse and cause people everywhere to recoil still further from whatever the latest public health vaccine offerings is, is the news now confirmed by findings from labs in five different nations, that the Covid drugs of Pfizer and Moderna also contain synthetic DNA up to 534 times above levels accepted by drugs regulators. To be clear, this is a contaminate known to interfere with human DNA, a manufacturing issue well-known by Pfizer and Moderna.

Yet, despite the WHO declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and the billions in public spending that subsequently followed and flowed, not one national drugs regulator put in place adequate and inexpensive purity protocols for ensuring that citizens were not receiving substances capable of altering their human genome. And the tragic irony is, Moderna had spelt out what those $5 protocols needed to be.

In sum, to reverse vaccine hesitancy and recreate public confidence in the infrastructure of public health institutions, including regulatory agencies, some humility, and public apology might be a more fruitful approach than the continued gaslighting of concerned commentators who question the excesses of Covid-related public policies.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

    View all posts
  • Julian Gillespie

    Julian Gillespie is a lawyer and former barrister in Australia, known for his Covid-19 research and advocacy. His work includes seeking to have the provisional approval of Covid-19 vaccines declared legally invalid due to failures to meet regulatory standards. Julian is also a director of Children's Health Defense, Australia.

    View all posts

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