Some people are funny about vaccines. They know vaccines saved the whole of human society from small pox, the big killer. Over 30% of those infected died, mainly children. Vaccination campaigns were so successful everywhere that this illness was, in 1980, certified by the WHO to be eradicated world-wide. Eureka!
People also know how polio, which had killed and crippled millions of children, is almost under control world-wide. Two of the three types of polio were certified eradicated by 2018. Only the third type persists. It persists in just one region, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And here is a shocking lesson.
The true story behind how vaccination campaigns got derailed in this region is a lesson. It shows us just how cold and careless a nation state can be. I refer here to the U.S.A. This is what happened.
We are talking about 2011. The U.S.A. was hell-bent on getting Osama Bin Laden, dead or alive. Forget international law. So they organized a fake vaccination program. I repeat, they organized a fake vaccination program. It was a “cover” to get to steal DNA from Osama Bin Laden and/or his children living in Pakistan – for identification purposes. The CIA was double-checking his identity before the Navy Seals, special forces of the USA would take helicopters, go right into independent Pakistan near Islamabad, crash-land, find and kidnap Bin Laden, kill him, and then, they claim, go tip his body into the sea somewhere. (Civilized behavior?) Once the truth about this shocking United States “vaccination program” got out amongst the people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the harm was done to all their vaccination campaigns. The whole fiasco thus, in turn, “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.” I am quoting the best article* ever written on the extra-judicial killing of Bin Laden, by top investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.* When will the USA apologise for this? Maybe the time right now is ripe when vaccines are so needed.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the US’s show of impunity and cruelty literally defies reason. Vaccine hesitancy, or out-right refusal is made “reasonable” in response to so grotesque a CIA operation. That, I remind readers, was under President Obama. It makes you shudder. But that was real.
At the same time, conspiracy theories have always had a field day when it comes to vaccines. It’s as though they play on peoples’ belief that the gods would not make a mess by creating humans so vulnerable to minor forms of life like viruses when it can so easily be fixed by a mere man-made vaccine.
Anyway, even when people all over the world know their children have any number of vaccines to prevent them falling sick and even dying, they can nevertheless easily lose faith in them. In Mauritius for example, children are routinely and this is wonderful preventive health, vaccinated against tuberculosis, a severe form of diarrhea, hepatitis, diphtheria, meningitis, tetanus, polio, pneumonia, measles, mumps and rubella also known as German measles and papillomavirus. Every year, older people, as well as the very young and the fragile, get free flu vaccines. When you step on a rusty nail, you go get a booster of the tetanus vaccine you already got at school. And when you travel, you can go to a Government department and get typhoid or yellow fever jab. People know that, before the eradication many of these diseases, you used to have to have your vaccine book or Yellow Card, right next to your passport and visa, to be let out of the country or in anywhere else. Until now you cannot travel to some countries, or back from them, without a Yellow Fever vaccine. There is a WHO provision since 1969 for the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP).
Anyway, over the past 10 to 30 years, say, there has been a renewed anti-science campaign saying all manner of absurd things. Some even falsely claim that vaccines put a micro-chip, supposedly, into you behind your back. This is reenforced by pets getting their vaccines and microchips, I guess? Then, Bill Gates is somehow constructed as the mastermind of these imaginary programs. He has, indeed, supported vaccine campaigns and he does indeed supply mosquito nets to prevent malaria killing people. Other people maintain that Covid vaccines are useless for the most bizarre reason of all: that Covid is supposedly caused by 5G networks. Yet others – starting with former US President – sometimes say there it’s all a hoax, there is no such thing as Covid.
Yesterday, Associated Press published an analysis of the persistence of people believing such junk. It seems people may get a “false sense of empowerment” in a world over which they feel they have no power. Conspiracy theories, “by offering hidden or secretive explanations ... give the believer a feeling of control in a situation that otherwise seems random or frightening.” People who believe in conspiracy theories are very selective: they believe only pseudo-science, never in science. John Cook an Australian cognitive scientist and expert on conspiracy theory says people like far-fetched explanations for “big” events. Blaming something for a whole pandemic like mere “bats” is, he says, “just psychologically unsatisfying” to them. “This drive is so strong, Cook said, that people often believe contradictory conspiracy theories,” to quote from AP. In this vein, a man of 26 called Daniel Roberts, who had his Covid vaccine although his entire family opposes vaccines, said his parents “initially thought COVID-19 was linked to cell [phone relay] towers, before deciding the virus was actually a hoax. The only explanations they didn’t entertain, he said, were the ones coming from medical experts.”
What is being proposed in the AP analysis to deal with this “epidemic” of believing pure rubbish? Everything from courses in critical thinking and in media literacy – for us all – to more responsibility on the part of social media owners, who make a profit out of herding people into more and more absurd corners of the internet, for what they publish. This means treating social media companies more like newspapers and less like postal delivery services.
So, in Mauritius, in response to the irrational opposition to vaccines, nine organizations have come together, and jointly signed a Statement on Covid Vaccines covering many of the aspects of the issue. It was released to the press yesterday.
Here it is, in toto, below my signature and the footnote:
* In 2015, top investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh wrote an article that millions of people have read. It is a must-read:
JOINT STATEMENT ON COVID VACCINES
Firstly, we, the undersigned, call on all residents of the Republic of Mauritius to take up Covid vaccinations. Vaccination against Covid protects the individual, his or her family, friends and colleagues; it protects frontline workers who, in caring for us all, bear the brunt of the epidemic; and also, importantly, it shields the entire community, including those who cannot take the vaccine - for reasons of health, age, pregnancy.
In particular, we call on health workers, and other front-liners including educators, who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so. Health workers, especially nurses, need to reassure the public – including those scared of needles – and, to do this, they need to be vaccinated themselves. Health workers also have, by way of the nature of their profession, an ethical duty to those in their care, who are often, by definition, fragile. They need to avoid inadvertently giving them the virus, while caring for them. The vaccine is now known to reduce sharply the risk of spreading the illness.
In addition, because of the importance of health care during an epidemic, both health care workers and the public have a duty of care towards the universal, free health care system, itself.
Secondly, we call on the Government to support, and actively promote, the initiative of the Indian and South African Governments at the World Trade Organization from October 2020 to get a ban on “patents” for Covid vaccines. This means lifting the monopoly over Covid-19 vaccines that allows this scientific progress to be hoarded as the property of private companies, while people die in the epidemic. We note that China already placed the genome sequencing of the Novel Coronavirus in the public domain in early January 2020, as soon as it had completed the work. We also note that public funds were used in many rich countries for vaccine research. We, therefore, call for vaccine developments to be put in the public domain right away, where they belong. This way everyone can soon get the vaccines at cost price. Quoting the South African representative at the WTO in an article in medical journal, The Lancet, “What this waiver [of intellectual property rights] proposal does is it opens space for further collaboration, for the transfer of technology and for more producers to come in to ensure that we have scalability in a much shorter period of time.” At the WTO, the Indian representative said, “On one hand, these [rich] countries are buying up as much of the limited supply as they can, leaving no vaccines ... for developing and least-developed countries. On the other hand, and very strangely, these are the same countries who are arguing against the need for the waiver that can help increase the global manufacturing and supply to achieve not just equitable, but also timely and affordable access to such vaccines for all countries.” The most recent edition of the scientific journal “Nature” has an editorial supporting the India-South Africa call.
A ban on patents is important for practical reasons, too. It is often the private “big pharma” companies, and their concomitant profit-motive, that fuel the anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
This kind of ban on patents has a precedent in HIV-Positive medication.
Thirdly, we call on everyone to continue to wear masks fitting snuggly above the nose, to keep social distance, to keep windows open, and to practice regular, thorough hand-washing. This is not only in our individual interest, in the interest of our family and the whole of society, but a duty of care that we, in turn, owe all hospital workers. Keeping the epidemic in control, spares hospital workers from risky, hard work.
And finally, we call for Government to consolidate the universal, free health care service by recruiting additional staff (esp. nursing and records staff) and thus working towards the perfection of this health service for all. At the same time, we, the undersigned, call for an alliance between health workers and patients to build such a perfected health service for all of us in the country.
Vinod Seegum for the Confederation of General Trade unions (CGTU)
Iqbal Amiran for the Government Services Employees Association (GSEA)
Jane Ragoo for the Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Public et Privé (CTSPP)
Deepak Benydin for the Federation of Parastatal Bodies & Other unions (FPBOU)
Ram Nowzadick for the Nursing Association (NA)
Rajni Lallah for the Muvman Liberasyon Fam (MLF)
Mosadeq Sahebdin for the Consumer Advocacy Platform (CAP)
Imran Dhanoo for Centre Idriss Goomany (CIG)
Alain Ah Vee for LALIT