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The great vaccine policy paradox

One of the great paradoxes of public policy in the era of covid is that the Irish Government – in common with Governments across the western world – are desperate to get people to take a covid 19 vaccine. There are – lest there be any doubt about what this column is arguing – very good reasons for that. The data, which there is no convincing reason to be sceptical of, is clear: Having a covid vaccine dramatically reduces your chances of ending up in the ICU ward, should you, or more aptly, when you, get infected.

Why then, is it a paradox? It is a paradox because all of this energy is being expended to get people to take a vaccine which – let us make absolutely no bones about it – does not work as it was intended, or was advertised to work, no matter what arguments you make in its favour.

Consider the promises made about the vaccine in the earliest days of its arrival. We were told that it reduced your chances of getting covid by up to 95% – that is what “95% effective at stopping transmission” means. We were told that the vaccines were sufficiently effective that by vaccinating up to 60% of the population, we had a real chance at achieving herd immunity. In reality, we’re at over 90% in Ireland, and as far from herd immunity as ever. Because that immunity, it turns out, wanes. And wanes very sharply.

As a result, the vaccines have not, by any stretch of the imagination, ended the pandemic. They have, at best, reduced the strain on the health service.

And, you might ask, is that not good enough?

Well, no. Because consider that the vaccines are effectively being made compulsory through a combination of vaccine certificates and, in some sectors, outright vaccine mandates.

Now consider that literally the only reason that this is happening is because the vaccines are not as effective as they were promised to be. Had the vaccines worked as originally advertised, none of these measures would be necessary, because with 90% vaccinated, transmission would be so interrupted as to make large covid spikes very unlikely.

And so, for a moment, if you’re vaccinated and do not understand the hesitancy, consider this from the perspective of an unvaccinated person: Many of them are inherently cautious (nothing wrong with that), and were unwilling to take what they saw as an experimental vaccine until it could be shown to be safe, and effective. Many such people – not all, but many – are young and healthy, and have little to fear from covid itself. Others may have already had covid, and feel that their natural antibodies are as effective as anything a vaccine might provide.

Those people are now being told that they are forbidden to go out to dinner, or the pub, without getting vaccinated. And only because, to their eyes, the vaccine does not work as advertised.

So, they are in a position where, having been cautious about taking a vaccine in order to first see if it did what it said on the tin, they now find that it explicitly does not do what it said on the tin, and they are being compelled to take it anyway. Is it any wonder so many of them do not trust the authorities?

I wrote on Friday about the precedents that are being set, across the world, by Governments who are very eager to increase vaccine uptake. In that piece, I noted that the downside to all of this is that we are effectively transferring the burden of managing the health service from the Government to the public. It used to be Government’s job to provide enough beds. It is now, for the first time, the public’s responsibility not to get sick.

This entire shift in western policy is being driven primarily by the ineffectiveness of the vaccine. Essentially, liberties are being curtailed in the name of making up the differences between what the vaccine manufacturers promised, and what the vaccine manufacturers delivered.

The longer term consequences of this are… not great. Already, there are widespread reports of people not turning up for their booster appointments. Even if these are exaggerated, there can be little doubt that despite the best efforts of media and government, confidence in the vaccines, and the claims by vaccine manufacturers, have taken a hit. This will only serve to reduce the public’s willingness to take the next vaccine deemed necessary by public health officials, and the one after that.

Governments, of course, are not famous for considering the long term consequences of their actions. In Government, it’s all about getting to the Sunday Papers without a crisis. In the name of doing so, they are very eager to pursue the strategy they have been pursuing, in the name of short to medium term gain.

But the conclusion is still inescapable to anybody with eyes to see: We’re in this mess in part because the vaccines are not what they were advertised to be. This means that vaccine sceptics have a point, no matter how much the media might scream. And the more the media screams, the more people will quietly conclude that the vaccine sceptics have a point.

Really, there should be more thought given to the long term impact of all of this. But nobody wants to do that, it seems.

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