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Why the media silence over the Florida Vaccine statement?

It struck me this week that it is about a year since I received my second Covid vaccine. I remember the day very clearly, because it necessitated a drive from Galway to Limerick, to the vaccination centre. And because, as it happened, the day I got my booster by appointment was also the first day that you did not need an appointment. I do not exaggerate when I say that the queue to get a booster, on that day, was at least one kilometer long, snaking through Limerick city. A few days beforehand, I had written a searing critique of pandemic policy for Gript – seeing that queue was a reminder that though we have many readers, we represented at the time a tiny minority slice of public opinion.

The people in the queue were mostly in the older age groups who had not been offered a booster at that time: People in their 50s, and 60s. People who watched RTE news religiously, and listened to Claire Byrne, and were there because they were scared in the first instance, and wanted to be good citizens in the second. A year on, if feels as if that all took place in a foreign country, or a different world. In some ways, not least in the media, it feels as if it never happened at all, and I just dreamed it.

The Surgeon-General of Florida is that state’s most senior medical official. Last week, he issued a statement from his office on the safety of the Covid 19 vaccines. The statement was first deleted, and then restored, by the social media company twitter. Here it is:

There are a few things worth noting about the statement itself, before we get into the question posed in the headline.

The first is that nobody that I can find has yet been able to cast doubt on the accuracy of the figures produced by Florida’s researchers. Those figures suggest that the Covid 19 vaccines lead to a measurable increase in the risk of serious cardiac incidents in men of my age. That increase in risk should not be overstated – “84% increase” sounds very dramatic, but that’s because it’s a percentage of a very small number. Remember that an 84% increase in the number one is still less than two. Young men do not suffer from heart ailments in large numbers, so an 84% increase is much smaller than the headline percentage sounds.

It should also be clearly stated that the study itself admits its own limitations, and states that its figures should be interpreted with caution. If you are one of those people still looking for evidence that the covid 19 vaccines are responsible for a large number of deaths, then you will not find it here. Nor, to date, has any scientific study found such evidence anywhere.

The point about the study is this: The findings indicate that increase in health risk, though small, was actually greater in that age group than the reduction in risk from Covid 19. That is to say, though the figures are small, the Florida figures – if accurate – do support the tentative conclusion that the vaccine was marginally more likely to result in serious illness than prevent it, in otherwise healthy young men.

This is a conclusion that can be supported from other, universally accepted real-world data. Nowhere in the world is the death rate in young, healthy unvaccinated men from Covid 19 a cause for concern: Recovery rates in that agegroup are almost 100%. Further, we now know that the vaccine’s ability to reduce or eliminate transmission of covid 19 is, outside of perhaps a few weeks after the vaccine was administered, almost non-existent.  The decision of Florida to recommend that men in this age group do not take the vaccine is therefore highly significant, for a number of reasons.

In Ireland, and many other countries who adopted similar policies, taking the vaccine was always, on paper, optional, and in practice close to mandatory. International travel, domestic entertainment, and much of normal life was suspended for those who did not take a vaccine. When there is credible evidence – as there now is – that the vaccine may have harmed some groups of recipients marginally more than it helped, that should really be front page news. It is not.

There is, indeed, a vaccine veil of silence in the media.

It is that silence, as you may have guessed from the headline, which interests me the most. Because it is a silence of two kinds: In the first instance, almost all promotion of the covid vaccines has been scaled back to the extent to where it is basically non-existent. The editorials urging people to take boosters have, largely, stopped. The idea that the unvaccinated are a terrible threat to our collective safety is nowhere to be found. It is as if those ideas happened in a different world, one which we have now forgotten.

At the same time, critical commentary about the vaccines is still verboten.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it became fashionable, in Ireland, to admit to some version of the famous phrase “we lost the run of ourselves”. The borrowing went a bit wild. We got notions. Ordinary fellas booked helicopters to the Galway races. Everyone who was anyone became, on credit, a property developer of sorts. When it all went belly up, we had the sense to feel a degree of national embarrassment.

The covid panic – and there are no other words left, by now, to describe it – is in the same mould. Except that it cannot be admitted. Vaccine sceptics, and those who believe without evidence that the vaccines have killed thousands, are right about one thing: If evidence did emerge, you would have to drag reporting of it out of an Irish Newspaper with tongs.

Psychologically, this is not hard to understand: Only a portion of Irish society lost the run of itself in the Celtic Tiger. In the Pandemic, the great majority of Irish society lost the run of itself. There is a deep and unspoken embarrassment about this fact.

There is also, I think, panic and fear: The problem, at a very basic level, is that the mantra during the pandemic was “listen to the experts”. People did. If it transpires that those experts were wrong about a great many things, then the power both of the experts, and the media to direct us to them, may well be fatally undermined. And that’s before we get to the potential legal liability that may arise if it transpires that some people were given a jab that hurt them more than it helped, on pain of punishment.

The broad western policy about the pandemic now, then, is this: Act as if it didn’t happen at all. Act as if schools were not shuttered for a year, or tourists were not locked up in Citywest, or people were not arrested for going to the beach, or the entire country did not make taking a vaccine a litmus test for decency. Perhaps we are, all, quietly, mortified. But that’s no reason to ignore the news. And the Florida study is news.



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