Almost two years ago, TQC penned a blog post on Anti-vaxxers. Little did we, or the world for that matter, know how that debate would quickly resurrect itself at the forefront of global discussion. In that piece, we highlighted the misinformation spread by Anti-vaxxers, the destructive consequences of forgoing vaccination, and debunked the most common arguments against immunization. We were constructively critical of parents and their illogical refusal to inoculate their children against viruses including the mumps, measles and even a virulent disease like polio. In this week’s piece, we will focus on the growing number of adults who are eligible to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 but are refusing to get inoculated; and counter some outright lies and ½ truths that have permeated our society about COVID-19 vaccination.
The approved vaccines for COVID-19 are very safe and extremely efficacious, including against most mutations of the virus. Unfortunately, though data is patchy and has been subject to revisions, most polls indicate that ~20% of eligible American adults will refuse a jab. This is not surprising. Many of the same Anti-vaxx parents who are steadfast in refusing to inoculate their children, are making similar flawed arguments against protecting themselves against the coronavirus. In addition, Anti-vaxxers have been extremely effective (and strategic) at leveraging the anti-mask / anti-government cohort to help spread misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines approved to combat it.
Worryingly, the Anti-vaxx movement is growing. There are hundreds of Anti-vaxx themed accounts across various social media platforms. Estimates suggest they attract almost 60 million followers among them. Some ill-informed people believe and promote Anti-vaxx hogwash about COVID-19 vaccines being an experiment in DNA altering gene therapy, part of a government surveillance mechanism and or having dangerous adverse side effects. Many others do not. For them, a profit motive is behind their dubious actions. Some hawk “natural” remedies for ailments otherwise neutered by vaccines, including for COVID-19. Others profit from attracting advertising dollars to the sites they control that peddle these “remedies.”
One particularly persuasive Anti-vaxxer is a man named Del Bigtree, leader of an Anti-vaxx group called Informed Consent Action Network. In baseless assertions buttressed by little more than hot air, Mr. Bigtree has asserted to his ~350,000 social media followers that COVID-19 is no more harmful than a “cold,” wearing masks is hazardous to your health, and that the COVID-19 inoculation effort is an “experiment” that puts people’s lives in jeopardy. Unfortunately, Mr. Bigtree is not alone in spreading fallacies and having the audacity to solicit cash donations from the subjects he is spreading misinformation to.
It is not surprising that Anti-vaxx promoters have been so successful: It is materially easier (and profitable) to infect people with fear underpinned by sensationalism, than to educate people with knowledge underpinned by science.
There is exhaustive scientific evidence and hard data that demonstrate vaccines are a safe and effective means of preventing diseases that can cause permanent disabilities or even death. Throughout history, some of the most important medical breakthroughs involved the successful development of vaccines that crushed an array of highly infectious and lethal diseases including Smallpox, Bubonic Plague, HPV (Cervical Cancer), and Polio.
COVID-19 vaccines afford the general population protection by either reducing the severity of infection – while the number of infections stays constant - or by reducing the number of overall infections - while the severe to mild infection ratio stays constant, or a combination of both. In the case of Covid-19, the two approved vaccines currently being administered in the United States are ~90% effective at rendering “serious cases of all sorts (COVID-19 mutations) very rare, and mild-to-moderate cases caused by the original strain (COVID-19) of the virus a lot rarer than they would be otherwise.”
As of this writing, in the United States ~60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. Out of ~60 million jabs, there have been just ~100 severe allergic reactions. This number is materially lower than the proportion of people who become severely allergic from consuming common foodstuffs like eggs, peanuts, or shellfish and even less than other commonly used medications that rarely elicit negative side effects, like aspirin.
To help put these figures in perspective from the standpoint of safety, consider the following: the odds of being struck by lightning are approximately 1 in 500,000. The odds of experiencing a severe allergic reaction to (an ingredient) in any of the two currently approved COVID-19 vaccines is a bit less than being struck by lightning. And worth noting, lighting strikes, for as rare as they are, sometimes result in death. Of the 100 or so severe allergic reactions out of ~60 million jabs to date, no allergic reactions have resulted in a fatality. To date in summation:
• COVID-19 Virus Cases in America: ~28,700,000
• COVID-19 Virus Deaths in America: ~510,000
• COVID-19 Vaccines Administered in America: ~60,000,000
• COVID-19 Vaccine Severe Allergic Reactions in America: ~100
• COVID-19 Vaccine Fatalities in America: Zero
Why would any person expose themselves to COVID-19 and many other serious preventable diseases that might render themselves permanently disabled or dead? Let us debunk some classic arguments from an Anti-vaxxers:
Anti-vaxxer argument: “Most people that I know with neurological disorders were vaccinated. Vaccines, including the ones approved for COVID-19, cause neurological disorders.”
This argument demonstrates one thing conclusively; Anti-vaxxers are confusing correlation with causation. They are making the false assumption that just because almost every person they know with neurological ailments was vaccinated, that vaccination was the cause of the neurological ailment. Just because something is correlated does not mean there is a causal relationship. Simply put, correlation = two events are related. Causation = one event caused the other event. Again, just because something is correlated, does not mean there is a causal relationship. This is an oft repeated mistake. Still scratching your head? Here is a hypothetical example to help differentiate between the two commonly confused terms. Let us assume that somebody reads a headline in a newspaper that says, “study shows that people who wake up at after 9am live on average 7.2 years shorter lives than people who wake up before 9am.” A common mistake is making a (false) assumption that waking up late causes people to live shorter lives. Of course, this is incorrect. People who wake up after 9am have less time to go to the gym. Going to the gym and living a healthy lifestyle enable people to live longer (causation), not waking up before sunrise. Anti-vaxxers arguing that vaccines are the cause of neurological problems is analogous to them arguing that waking up after 9am causes people to live shorter lives. While it may be true that people who wake up later have shorter lifespans (correlation), the reason they live shorter lives is not because they wake up late, it is because the later they wake up, the less time they have to work out and be healthy.
Anti-vaxxer argument: “More children are being diagnosed with autism than ever before. Vaccines must be the trigger. Why would I ever vaccinate my child against COVID-19 or anything else for that matter with a vaccine that clearly causes autism?”
The reason more children are being diagnosed with autism does not mean that the percentage of children that are autistic is higher now than it was 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. The primary reason more children are being diagnosed with autism is that up until 20 years ago, the medical community did not fully understand what autism was and often failed to diagnose or misdiagnosed children who may have been affected. Therefore, the percentage of children who are autistic now vs. decades ago is similar. The difference is that professionals can now properly identify and diagnose autism; so of course, the number of children who are autistic is going to increase.
Anti-vaxxer argument: “Vaccines are not effective. Individuals who are vaccinated also get diseases they are vaccinated against! Therefore, there is no logic in getting inoculated against COVID-19, since I can become infected with COVID-19 regardless.”
Vaccines are effective. Let us assume that 300 adults work in an office. 250 adults are vaccinated against COVID-19, 50 are not. There is a COVID-19 outbreak. 25 office workers become infected. Of the infected workers, 3 received a vaccine, 22 did not. Approximately 44% of office workers who were not inoculated became infected with the coronavirus. Between 1%-2% of office workers who were vaccinated became infected. These types of situations play out repeatedly. But misinformed Anti-vaxxers often cherry pick a static data point in a vacuum and argue something along the lines of, “a guy in my office who was vaccinated got COVID-19, so, there is no point in getting the vaccine because even if I do, there is no guarantee I won’t get COVID too.” That is true. However, this is also true: ~90% of vaccinated office workers were protected vs only ~55% of unvaccinated office workers. Put another way, 45% of office workers that were not vaccinated became infected with COVID-19. No vaccine is 100% effective. But they are extremely effective and safe.
Anti-vaxxer argument: “The COVID-19 vaccine is untested.”
The COVID-19 vaccine has been tested tens of millions of times. See data above.
Not only are Anti-vaxxers being reckless with themselves, but they are also putting entire communities at risk. Vaccinations are most effective when a certain percentage of people become vaccinated. This type of protection is known as “community immunity” or “herd immunity.” When enough of the community is immunized against a contagious disease, most other members are protected from infection because there’s little opportunity for the disease to spread.” Once the number of inoculated individuals drops below a certain threshold, a vaccine becomes materially less effective. We do not yet know what the respective thresholds are for the COVID-19 vaccine. What we do know is that Anti-vaxxers are putting entire communities at risk, not just themselves (and presumably their own children). This is selfish, misguided, and dangerous.
Unfortunately, Anti-vaxxers have celebrities and other public figures among their ranks who have given credibility to their far-from-credible movement. While they are factually incorrect, they do a tremendous job spreading buckets of misinformation embedded within a kernel of ½ truths. The silent majority - the people who are sensible and do advocate for mass inoculation - must band together and counter hysterics and emotion with fact. We have a moral and ethical obligation to speak up, be persuasive and educate the masses to counter the false assumptions that a generation of misinformed Anti-vaxxers are disseminating and thereby contributing to a public health crisis. Said Scott Gottlieb, who served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2017-19, “America needs an effective public education campaign to assuage fears and uncertainty about the (COVID-19) vaccine’s safety and benefits.” We agree.
At TQC, we cannot stress enough our respect for those involved in developing a safe and effective vaccine to help defeat COVID-19, another scientific breakthrough for the betterment of humanity. We are looking forward to getting our jabs, and not just the verbal ones.