My Personal Vaccine Hesitancy

I had an appointment booked for this Thursday to get the vaccine, but cancelled at the last minute. I don’t feel confident about the jab just yet. There are two reasons for why. First, I can’t properly weigh all of the risks. Second, I don’t trust the leaders who are deploying the vaccine.

When you don’t know what a course of action’s risks are, you generally don’t take the action. If you’re about to take an international flight and suspect that the pilot might be drunk, then you don’t get on the plane. The less information you have, the more confident you can be about your conclusion.

I’m not sure what the vaccine’s risks are. There are the short term side effects of the vaccine which we know – chills, fatigue, headache, joint pain, mild fever, muscle aches, heart problems in young men. But there may be long term effects too. We won’t know what they are if or until they arrive. Because I don’t know what the vaccine’s risks are, I won’t get it.

The counter argument to this is that the vaccine is less dangerous than COVID. The chance of you dying from COVID if you’re younger than 70 is 0.05%. But that’s not all that you should worry about with COVID. There’s the risk of being sent to the ICU, of even needing to be hospitalized, of long term fatigue issues, and of losing your sense of taste (!). COVID-19 can cause all of these serious issues. This doesn’t include the fatigue, headache, fever, aches, and breathing problems that usually come with a case of COVID.

If you take the vaccine, the serious issues don’t arise. In fact, if you take the vaccine, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get COVID (5%?). Few people who get the vaccine go on to get COVID. Those who do are never hospitalized for COVID complications.

But what about the vaccine’s complications? Well, few people who get the vaccine go to the hospital with complications (0.001% of vaccine recipients in Ontario had serious side effects leading to hospitalization, and most of them recovered by the time they had submitted the report). We seem to have only circumstantial evidence at best to tie death to a Pfizer/Moderna vaccine. The point here is that if you could choose between getting the vaccine or getting COVID, you should choose to get the vaccine.

If I were a coherent human, I would get the vaccine as soon as possible. I’ve been risking getting COVID for the past 5 months by meeting friends without a mask on and by not socially distancing. I decided in Dec. 2020 that the costs of not living a social life were greater than the costs of getting COVID. So if I’m willing to risk getting COVID, then I should have no problem risking the vaccine’s long term issues.

One issue with this counter-argument is that it presents a false dichotomy. It supposes that there’s only two options – get COVID, or get the vaccine. I think there’s a third option – get neither of the two. This seems to be the least risky of the two. For one, you’d avoid the death, serious issues, and non-serious but annoying issues associated with COVID and with the vaccine. Even better, everyone else in Canada seems to be rushing to get the vaccine, with Quebec on track to vaccinate 75% of its population with one dose before June 15th. That makes herd immunity come along much quicker.

The issue with trying to get neither is that it requires me to continue practicing the health guidelines that we’ve all been practicing in the pandemic while everyone else has stopped them. I would need to wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, not be in close contact with people who I’m not in a bubble with, etc. The cost of not getting a vaccine and trying to avoid getting COVID is my full freedom. In place of the state’s restrictions, I now have the restrictions of nature.

How do I weigh all of these? I don’t seem to have a way to do it. Do I value my personal liberty the most? Do I value the longevity of my life the most? Do I want to minimize my risks as much as possible? The next question then is to determine how to weigh these risks, which becomes easy once I figure out what I value.

Part of what this pandemic taught me is to remind me of my mortality. I’m not ready to die yet, and I know from past experiences that when my life could actually be on the line, I am not ready to die, even though I tell myself now that I am. I also decided in Dec. of 2020 that life was not meant to minimize the risk of death.

Life is meant for living. A full, meaningful, rich life full of challenges and adventures and dangers. It means a life risking death, sickness, poverty, heartbreak, all of these terrible things. I also decided that I am the best person to decide which risks I’m willing to take.

If I wanted a life of liberty, then I would get the vaccine. That’s the most rational thing to do. How so? Well plainly, Quebec’s reopening is contingent on 75% of the population being vaccinated. So are the plans of the other provinces too. If I want liberty from both from the state’s restrictions and from those of nature, it means that I should get the vaccine.

So let me conclude this first part by restating the main takeaways. We don’t know the long term consequences of both the vaccine and COVID. That being said, the vaccine seems far less risky and harmful than COVID is. The least risky option is to avoid getting both, but the cost to live while you avoid getting both is even more sacrifice of socialization and mother nature taking away your liberty. This is too much to bear, and I need to meet new people, so I can’t afford to live like a hermit any longer. Thus, the choice most in line with my personal values is to get the vaccine.

The second reason I had – that I don’t trust the leaders who are deploying the vaccine – is simple. They’re practitioners of scientism, and they don’t have skin in the game. They failed to protect the most vulnerable in nursing homes, and they failed to account for the costs to society in advocating for lockdowns.

This is not to say that the medical officers of health should have balanced the costs – it should have been politicians instead, who shirked from their responsibility to weigh costs and benefits. But the point still stands – they are not capable of thinking in terms of systems because they are trained to think like scientists. If their claims of the vaccine’s safety are based on this scientism, then there’s bound to be unintended consequences (aka iatrogenic harms) that’ll only pop up 15 years down the line. And it doesn’t look like anybody is in a rush to evaluate and judge our leaders, so they don’t even have skin in the game! I cannot trust someone who is a practitioner of scientism, nor can I trust someone without skin in the game.

However, as I was writing my point above, I remembered that at the start of the pandemic, one of the reasons why I supported the restrictions (which I then later came to bitterly regret) was in part because it was the contrarian thing to do. My position was defined by the group. However, I no longer want to make that error again. I want to make choices based on my individual thoughts and values. And I want to regret choices based on my own decisions. I think I did that to the best of my ability above with my first reason – I think I am willing to regret making my choice to get the vaccine based on the knowledge that I had at the time. My gut feeling is still to not get the vaccine, but at least my mind is clear – I should get the vaccine.

I also think that the leaders lie, and it drives me absolutely mad. Here’s the government saying so, for example.

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