Brian Cohen writes The Gate travel blog and has declared that he will not get vaccinated against Covid-19. I want to take his arguments seriously, because vaccine hesitancy – while continuing to decline – remains one of the major barriers to ending the pandemic.
Cohen says he doesn’t need a vaccine, and doesn’t want to virtue signal by getting one. And he has concerns. He says he is “not completely convinced that it is effective” because “we [do not] know what side effects may result in the short term and long term.”
Ultimately he says “no vaccine is guaranteed to be 100 percent effective for 100 percent of the people — and the side effects can potentially be significant.”
The ways in which this is wrong are manifold.
- These vaccines are highly effective not just in trial data but in real world data. When we talk about effectiveness like ‘95%’ (phase 3 trial for Pfizer-BioNTech) that’s just against symptoms, the vaccines are even more effective against severe disease, hospitalization, and death – the things we care about. Pfizer reports 97% effectiveness in Israel.
- These vaccines protect other people, not just yourself Pfizer reports 94% effectiveness against asymptomatic cases (so the possibility that someone is a silent carrier who spreads the virus). The CDC found that Pfizer and Moderna together were 90% effective against asymptomatic infection.
The case fatality rate for those diagnosed with Covid-19 who are over 80 years old is around 15%. Since vaccines reduce the chance you’ll spread the virus, getting vaccinated keeps you from killing grandma.
You might say but older people should get vaccinated to be protected but vaccines are also less effective in those taking certain drugs for other medical conditions. And this is a travel blogger writing, remember that vaccine availability is much greater in the U.S. than elsewhere, 80 year olds in much of the world haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated yet.
- Contra Brian, we do know the short-term side effects. For the mRNA vaccines there’s about a 1 in 100,000 risk of anaphylaxis, due to allergy to the lipid nanoparticles used to deliver the mRNA. And since that’s a known risk, vaccinated patients don’t leave immediately after getting their shot and those providing doses have medicine on hand to counteract the effects.
The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site, but some people experience headache, fatigue, and chills – especially for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines after the second shot (unless they’ve already had Covid-19 then more frequently after the first shot). These generally resolve themselves within 24-48 hours.
- Risks of vaccines have to be compared to risks of Covid-19. Even rare blood clotting which has been attributed to the AstraZeneca vaccines – which isn’t approved for use in the U.S. but is approved in over 70 countries – is treatable and overall worth the risk given the effectiveness against Covid-19, especially against hospitalization and death.
Already almost one in 500 Americans has died of Covid-19, and we’re not done. And death isn’t the only bad outcome, being hospitalized is miserable, and so is having a terrible version of the flu for two weeks. While there are ‘risks’ associated with vaccines, there are greater risks associated with that which the vaccines protect against.
- Getting vaccinated reduces the risk of mutations. Covid-19, like all viruses, mutates within human hosts. The more potential hosts, the more possible mutation opportunities. If you don’t get vaccinated you’re more likely to contract the virus, and allow it to mutate in ways that could become more transmissible, lead to more severe disease, and potentially escape vaccines. Do you really want to risk moral culpability on par with the guy who first ate that bat? (I know, I know, it likely wasn’t direct bat to human transmission.)
- Brian sets an impossible standard. We haven’t followed test subjects for 20 years so by definition we cannot say based on empirical evidence what happens 20 years post-vaccination. But we do understand the science of the vaccines – viral vector vaccines deliver the spike protein, mRNA vaccines tell the body to create it – the body fights these off and then it disappears.
Moreover we have evidence of safety from over 600 million vaccine doses administered worldwide. There’s never been a vaccination campaign this closely watched in human history. Trial subjects were scrutinized to an incredible degree, did you know that one of Moderna’s phase 3 trial participants was struck by lightning and that incident had to be dismissed as not being the result of vaccination?
Brian writes that he’s gotten other vaccines, even ones that aren’t 100% protective, and against risks that are far more remote than contracting severe Covid. He says he doesn’t like virtue signaling but seems to be doing just that, against getting vaccinated for what’s a very real risk right now. That’s disappointing.
Thank goodness we’ve had access to these vaccines. Getting to shots in arms less than a year since human-to-human transmission of the virus was first identified is akin to the first moon landing. We all owe bioscience a huge debt of thanks. And Pfizer is now even prepared to file for full FDA approval, which is great because that will take off the table the misleading talking point of the anti-vaxxers that the vaccines ‘aren’t fully approved’.,
Glad you wrote this, Gary.
Gary, if you agree that reducing mutated variants is a valid public health objective, then why are you supporting non-essential travel? We already know that the vaccines that most Americans received are significantly less effective against some variants (such as the South Africa and Brazil ones) — multiple studies have shown neutralizing antibody titers dropping by more than ~6x for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. They still offer strong protection against severe disease, likely because the killer T-cells work across all known variants, but because these T-cells can only act after our cells are already infected with the virus, this protection is NOT sufficient to prevent us from spreading the virus to others. The CDC data you keep on citing about vaccines preventing spread is mostly for the original and UK variants, which have been the dominant variants in the US so far. But as data from Israel has shown, once you get enough people vaccinated against the original and UK variants, those vaccinated selectively serve as attractive hosts for the ZA and BR variants, so it is important to reduce any unnecessary exposure points against those variants BEFORE they become significant in number here. The fact that the numbers are low right now for those variants is no reason to shoo off this risk, because (again, as Israel data has shown) an exponential growth from a low number is still a scary proposition. In terms of those immunity-evading variants, we might as well be back in early 2020, where small numbers of hosts were starting to spread the virus, and we could have prevented a lot of infections by early mitigatory measures. Sure, it won’t be as bad as spring 2020, because the vaccines are still halfway effective against these variants, but what you are advocating for will effectively lead to the class of vaccinated people (with low individual risk against severe disease even if they get one of the ZA or BR variants) taking their privilege and freedom and contributing to the accelerated spread of the worst variants and creating more risk down the road for the less fortunate who will be last in line to get vaccines and last in line to get boosters for those variants.
Countering misinformation is important. Thanks for doing the work to respond to the anti-science.
Reading this string actually gives me hope that we can get enough people vaccinated
to protect society as a whole. Most of the people on here seem to be all in with getting
a jab that essentially eliminates the possibility of dying from Covid.
Amazing the core argument of many of the anti-vax crowd is they don’t think they would die if they got Covid because they are healthy, so why get the shot?
They completely miss the simple fact that yes, they may escape serious complications from Covid, but ignore the fact that they could pass it on to someone that won’t be so lucky.
We all know about the the “Greatest Generation” who won WW2 by putting aside differences to accomplish an important goal…..what’s this generation gonna be known as in 50 years….the “narcissism generation”?
I should also add the other line of “reasoning” of the anti vax crowd is based entirely on
conspiracy theorists who specialize in feeding off peoples fears or vulnerabilities for profit…anyone selling an “alternative” to vaccines . I think that Mercola guy is one of those.
@O.K. – the variants are already in the US and spreading, and what you seem to be missing on studies of antibody responses generated by the Pfizer vaccine against the South African variant is that those antibody levels are *higher than* what the body produces against it as a result of prior natural infection. We also know that the U.K. variant is what’s generally becoming dominant, both here and abroad, and that vaccines appear to work just as well against it. We do not have actual clinical evidence of the mRNA vaccines failing against variants.
As the director of the CDC said, “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don`t get sick, and that it`s not just in the clinical trials but it`s also in real world data.”
@ Gary. The average longevity for males in the US is 78.6! It makes sense that since basically this is the AVERAGE, 50% will live longer and 50% less. Of course the 15% of those over 80 may die and may die WITH or FROM Covid or even bacterial/viral FLU . . . both are devastating to elderly health. Regardless, I agree with Heidi and will add turn off M5M.
Well said Heidi as well as Amazing Larry, chopsticks and Sarah.
It’s scary how ignorant so many of the commenters are that have replied to this article.
People that don’t wish to get the “vaccine” aren’t anti-vaxxers as many of you virtue signalers like to point out. Vaccines take years of trials to be deemed safe for humans but this was pushed out in months. I find it hilarious, as Heidi eloquently points out, that even after you receive the “vaccine” you still have to do EVERYTHING that a person that doesn’t have the “vaccine” has to do to “prevent the spread”. But you got a free Krispy Kreme! LOL.
The 11 scariest words you could ever hear are “I am with the government and I am here to help”.
Of course we can all see the argument put forth supporting vaccine hesitancy.
Nothing is ever black and white.
A lot of “Internet educated” people arguing that the leading scientists and researchers in the field aren’t infallible….valid point. However much of what is being put out their to discredit them is dubious to say the least. Plandemic/ Mercola etc.
The bottom line is there has been no indication that the vaccines present a danger yet it’s understandable why some people are fearful, skeptical etc…it’s just human nature and never gonna change.
It’s basically a choice between doing what will save untold thousands of lives and help return us all to normalcy or not.
That’s not being a virtue signaler, that’s just a simple observation.
Oceanfront property available for cheap in Arizona!
Covid vaccine 95% effective. Totally safe!
Well if you head over to Amarillo you can get the vaccination by morning……
Please see your physician forthwith for an adjustment to your psychiatric meds.
You might also want to re-enroll in your anger management classes…..before you end up in prison.
Don’t bother reading the science behind the disease or vaccines, though, since you appear to be too far gone to understand it.
Gary, I am not sure which preprints or publications you’ve read about the immune response generated by the mRNA vaccines against the South Africa or Brazil variants, but it is quite unlikely that the *reduced* level of neutralizing titers is still stronger than natural immunity. There have been at least 5 or 6 studies I’ve read on this, and apart from ONE study released by Pfizer that seemed to be a statistical anomaly, all of the studies conducted by independent, well-reputed research institutions have concluded that the neutralizing antibodies drop off by a factor of 6~10x. Now, as you say, it is true that they start off with antibodies that are several times higher than those of recovered patients, but at levels that are 6~10x lower, they are at the level where we generally see only 50~75% immunity.
Of course, neutralizing antibodies is not the only component of immunity. T-cells, for example, also play a heavy role. Both mRNA vaccines generate some level of killer T-cell response (Pfizer/BioNTech seems slightly more robust than Moderna here), and those CD8+ cells act effectively against all variants, so it is likely that they help significantly with the ZA and BR variants. This is why the J&J vaccine, which starts off with a fairly low efficacy that relies heavily on killer T-cells, does not see that efficacy drop too steeply against the ZA variant, whereas Novavax, which starts with antibodies that are world-leading but fewer killer T-cells, sees the efficacy drop off steeply against the ZA variant. But in any case, killer T-cells can only kill cells that are already infected. This means that the protection offered by mRNA vaccines against the ZA or BR variants will NOT be sterilizing, and that you CAN in fact spread the virus significantly to others.
You say those variants are already here. True, but the worst immunity-evading variants, such as the ZA and BR ones, are low in number so far, and we’re mostly dealing with the UK variant (which does not evade immunity). You ignore the countless epidemic models that all unanimously show that reducing contact across different regions and communities slows down the spread of a new virus or variant quite significantly. Look at what is happening in Canada, where experts suspect that the Brazil variant seems to be doubling every few days. Again, the vaccines may protect the traveler against this variant, but it will NOT prevent that traveler from spreading that variant to others in his path as he travels around.
BTW, from what I understand, the CDC director made that statement about the original and UK variants of the virus, but she misspoke in failing to make that distinction clear. That is why the CDC had to walk back her statement later. This is a serious communication mistake, especially given how dire the situation is about to become with the Brazil variant soon, with that variant spreading right across the border in Canada at 2~2.5x the speed of the original variant (and even faster than the UK variant), evading immunity, and likely showing higher mortality rates in younger populations that are currently the least vaccinated. May I remind you that the Brazil variant absolutely decimated a city that had already reached herd immunity? The CDC director wasn’t crying for no reason. She sees a lot of reason for concern. She is trying to walk that fine line between giving people hope and also urging proper caution. The CDC is trying to give reasonable guidelines and not make those guidelines too restrictive, because we know people ignore guidelines when they are difficult to follow. But encouraging non-essential, discretionary travel for pleasure that adds extra points of cross-regional transmission for every variant is NOT what the CDC is recommending. You obviously understand this already, and yet you choose to interpret the CDC’s words in the direction you want.