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Stop Using the Phrase Vaccine Hesitancy


An unsavoury aspect of the Covid-19 response has been the stigmatization of people for various “normal” things: meeting friends, hugging a family member in grief or joy, even just earning an honest livelihood. The term “Covidiot” has been popular in social media, and even in some official communication channels, to describe those who did not follow “Covid appropriate behaviour.” 

Since early 2021, yet another term which has gained currency is “vaccine hesitancy.” On the outside, this term appears polite, and has been used in various official notifications, even in courts of law

The term is not just inaccurate, but is also a disparaging label. It arises out of a combination of refusal to acknowledge (a) the unknowns about the jab, as well as (b) the knowns about immunity from natural exposure as well as innate immunity in children and most working-age adults.

Acknowledging the unknowns

It is easy to realize that the term “vaccine hesitancy” is just inaccurate: for someone to be “vaccine hesitant,” there has to be an approved vaccine in the first place. All Covid-19 vaccines are currently under trial. A product can be termed as a vaccine only after the trials are complete, the results scrutinized and found favourable. 

One may hope that the results are favourable, but cannot assume the same. So the term “vaccine hesitant” is just plain inaccurate, and placing a wishful conclusion ahead of the data.

Not only are they under trial, but also the trial procedures themselves have been cut short. While such trials normally take several years, in the case of Covid-19 jabs, many aspects have been rushed through. Answers to even basic questions about these jabs are not yet known clearly.

  1. How many doses are required? While initially almost all Covid-19 jabs were pitched as 2-dose products, many countries have introduced a third (booster) dose, and some even a fourth dose!
  2. How long does jab-induced immunity last? A range of studies have documented waning efficacy of these jabs, and no one knows clearly as to how long such immunity will last. Even booster efficacy has been found to be waning, and there are serious question marks on how repeated boosters could adversely affect the body’s immune response. Waning efficacy has been blamed on new virus variants. But then, a jab can be said to be effective against a fast mutating RNA virus, only if it is resilient to different variants.
  3. What are the short-term side effects? Since the jab rollout began, several side effects have been discovered along the way, not found in the original (shortened) phase-1/phase-2 trials. For instance, heightened risk of myocarditis in young males was known well after the population-wide rollout. Studies to find the effect of the jabs on young women’s menstrual cycles were initiated well after the rollout.
  4. What are the long-term effects? Since it has not been a long time since the shots became available, it is simply not possible to know the long-term effects yet. It is worth noting here that no prior vaccine on mass rollout is based on mRNA or adeno-virus vector technology: so the technology itself is new, never before tried on humans widely. We wish that there are no long-term side effects, but this is not the same as knowing it based on data.
  5. What exactly do the injections achieve? While the initial trials were for protection against symptomatic disease, jabs were sold as a ticket to “freedom” in Apr/May 2021. But within about three months, it was clear that these jabs prevented neither infection nor transmission. At that time it was claimed that they protect against disease severity. Roll forward another few months, and by Dec 2021, it was found that even efficacy against disease severity wanes: hence the push for booster doses. And booster doses have not even had the trials that the original doses had.

Given all of this uncertainty and changing narrative and unknowns about the under-trial jabs, is the label “vaccine hesitancy” accurate?

Acknowledging the knowns: natural immunity and low-risk groups

A central unscientific aspect of the entire mainstream narrative around the Covid-19 jabs has been the extreme reluctance to acknowledge some of the knowns. Specifically, known science for hundreds of years is that immunity arising out of natural exposure is strong and long-lasting. While no one recommends getting sick deliberately, there must be an acknowledgement of known science. Several studies on SARS-CoV-2 itself have shown this in the last two years. Indeed, naturally acquired immunity has been much more resilient to variants of the mutating virus, compared to jabs developed for the original Wuhan strain.

Yet another unscientific aspect has been the lack of acknowledgment that Covid-19 is not a significant danger for all age groups. Nowhere in the world have children been affected significantly by Covid-19. Indeed, statistics from Europe show that there were no excess deaths in the under-45 age group in 2020. 

In fact, barring a few countries like the UK, Italy, Spain, there has been no excess deaths in Europe in 2020, even in the under-65 age group. If we look at statistics from the US, for all age groups under-45, Covid excess deaths have been within statistical variation, while non-Covid excess deaths have been much higher, likely due to extreme lockdown measures. Disturbingly, in both Europe and the US, all-cause mortality has been higher in 2021 (with jabs and Covid-19) compared to 2020 (with Covid-19, no jabs).

When the mainstream narrative refuses to acknowledge known science and known data, trust is lost. This adds to the reason for people who do not want the jab to be skeptical about the excessive push for the same.

A disparaging and manipulative term

The label “vaccine hesitancy” seeks to paint large groups of people as somehow being unable to think for themselves: “Taking the vaccine is a no-brainer decision, why are these people so hesitant?”

This is not only disparaging, but is also the classical definition of “gaslighting,” a psychological manipulation by choice of words questioning the very sanity of the person being labeled. Instead of such manipulative labeling, there must be honesty on the part of the scientific community in acknowledging both the unknowns surrounding the jabs as well as known science behind natural immunity and low-risk groups.

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  • Bhaskaran Raman

    Bhaskaran Raman is a faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Views expressed here are his personal opinion. He maintains the site: “Understand, Unclog, Unpanic, Unscare, Unlock (U5) India” . He can be reached via twitter, telegram: @br_cse_iitb .

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