By PHILIP MACHANICK
My take on vaccine mandates is that they shouldn’t be necessary if everyone were well informed. Sadly, vaccine mandates are required because of the flood of disinformation about Covid-19 and particularly about vaccines. Ironically, the people who argue most strongly against them fuel the need for them by getting their science garbled.
Makhanda Against Mandates (MAM), cannot claim to represent Makhanda. It has a Facebook group with about 400 members – hardly representative of the population.
This group is wrong on science and philosophy and will soon find out they are wrong on the law, though I doubt it will get to the substance. Launching an urgent interdict four months after your purported cause of action is what the courts call “self-created urgency”, which is seldom entertained. Here is an example where “the application is struck from the Roll for want of urgency”.
The “open letter” by Francis Williamson echoes many of the myths about liberty that I refuted in an article in May 2021.
The conclusion I arrive at in my article? Liberty and license are being confused. Liberty is the freedom to control your future destiny; license is the freedom to do what the hell you like – even if doing so has harmful effects on yourself and others.
This is an important distinction to make. Accepting that liberty is about controlling your future destiny is why it is not a curtailment of liberty to be required to drive on a specific side of the road. Driving on whichever side of the road that you choose is license. If you meet a big truck head-on, you don’t have much liberty after that.
The philosophical confusion aside, Williamson turns from his field to science, which he gets comprehensively wrong. A few examples follow.
“More or less 99% of people will readily survive getting Covid and develop robust and durable immunity without the vaccine.” The evidence I have seen does support a survival rate of around 99%, but I take issue with “readily”. A substantial fraction of those who are infected has prolonged health issues. It is also rather sad to see someone accepting that killing 1% of the population is an acceptable outcome.
The study Williamson quotes on the delta variant being just as likely to spread the virus in a household requires context. There is evidence that the vaccinated may have a comparable peak viral load to the unvaccinated, but they are not infectious as long. In a single household, that translates to no effective difference because of the closeness of contacts every day but, in a broader societal setting, being infectious for a shorter time makes a difference.
The claim that “many people are more at risk of the vaccination than at risk from Covid” is a blatant falsehood. The risks of the vaccines are slight, particularly for serious adverse effects. For example, there is a low incidence of myocarditis and pericarditis, and these conditions generally resolve quickly. While the young are less likely to get Covid severely, they can, and the more ill they are, the more contagious they are likely to be.
Supporting “natural immunity” means supporting getting ill without any protection. That is stupid. Even for new variants like Omicron that partially escape previous immunity, vaccines are still extremely effective at preventing severe illness and death.
While getting all this science wrong, Williamson says: “This is a matter of science and is completely outside my field of expertise.” Well, yes. But then he makes a segue to supporting discredited remedies like those of the American Front Line Covid Critical Care Alliance and the paper he cites on “evidence-based approaches to early Covid treatment” specifically supports vaccines! He cites Peter McCullough, a cardiologist and Fox News contributor attacking vaccines. Hardly an authoritative source.
Understanding the evidence in a complex field is difficult. Interpreting raw data on adverse events, for example, is wrong. You need to factor in the baseline statistics for similar events – adverse events become an issue when they differ from the norm and when they are serious. It is not unusual for a vaccine to trigger some of the symptoms of the disease it thwarts because those symptoms are the effect both have on the immune system. Comparing the incidence of adverse events with other vaccines also needs to consider that no other vaccine has been administered to so many in such a short time and when so many have been ill at once.
He is wrong to claim that adenovirus vector vaccines and mRNA vaccines use the same mechanism. I am bemused to see that he believes (without evidence) that a fixed amount of spike protein your body creates is such a dangerous “pathogen” that a similar spike protein in a rapidly-replicating virus is preferable.
Comparing the efficacy of disease-based immunity with vaccine-acquired immunity also requires care. For example, in a population that was fully vaccinated more than six months ago, an unvaccinated person who was infected recently may well have higher resistance. But they will also have taken the risk of severe illness and death and increased transmissibility, i.e., a risk to others.
All of this does not touch on much more we know about Covid: the risks of silent hypoxia, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, generally lowered health post-covid, long covid, a wide range of haematological aspects and potential organ damage.
In a mixed environment of young to old and workers ranging from low-income to high, allowing free rein to a highly contagious disease is foolish. Vaccines are our best tool to suppress the rate of transmission and to minimise the chances of severe illness and death. They are not perfect but to quote WHO pandemic expert Michael Ryan, “perfection is the enemy of the good”.
Machanick writes in his personal capacity.