When the Covid vaccines were first announced a year ago, I was on board. I saw them as relatively safe, effective, and a matter of civic duty toward the common good. Each jab in the arm was one step closer to beating this pandemic, and I wanted to do my part. I was also simply afraid of what this novel coronavirus might do to my not-so-novel 47 year-old body. Despite concerns over reported side effects, I got the AstraZeneca shot as soon as it was available in my age group, and two months later, a shot of Pfizer to seal the deal.
As the late summer of 2021 faded into a pleasantly warm fall, I felt invincible. My parents and I were fully vaxxed, my vaccine passport was stamped with the official QR code, and the pandemic’s end seemed in sight. I basked in the approval of my fellow vaxxed. I supported vaccine passports as a way to avoid another lockdown, and started going to movie theatres for the first time in 18 months. I could hug my parents again. It felt like things were getting back to normal.
Then, in late November, word of Omicron hit like a blast of wintery air. We thought we had awoken from the nightmare, but discovered we had only dreamed we had awoken, and that the nightmare was far from over. As the world careened back into lockdown, all we wanted for Christmas was a booster shot.
But Omicron did wake me up from a certain dream. This virus is tough, I thought. First with Delta, and now with Omicron, it does end runs around the best technological fixes we can throw at it. “A growing body of preliminary research suggests the Covid vaccines used in most of the world offer almost no defense against becoming infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant,” wrote the New York Times. We had been so proud of how quickly we had come up with Covid vaccines, yet this virus was outsmarting them even faster.
Two years into this pandemic, and one year into our full-frontal vaccine assault against it, our War on Covid is starting to look about as successful as previous Wars on Drugs or Terror. The winter of 2022 is feeling eerily similar to the winter of 2021. Why? Two emergent realities stand out to me through all the noise:
The first is that vaccine efficacy against infection is quickly waning, especially in the face of new variants. Data from Ontario’s Science Advisory Panel show that, in the face of Omicron, “vaccine protection has fallen to 14.9 per cent — from nearly 90 per cent a month ago — for people who have received two doses.”
Importantly, the red and yellow lines at the top of this graph, representing protection against hospitalizations and ICU admissions, remain high for now. Let’s hope they stay that way.
Yet far from casting doubt on our weapon of choice, the mainstream response we’re seeing around the world to the rapid drop-off in vaccine induced immunity is to shout, “More vaccines!” I’m reminded of the famous quote, often misattributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It turns out this quote probably originated from an early form of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Could it be that we’ve all become vaccine “users”, jonesing for our next hit to bring our immunity back up to that previous high, only to watch it soon crash again, sending us back out onto the streets in search of our next injection?
That’s probably going too far, but it is safe to say – and many doctors have been saying this – that we shouldn’t be talking about Covid vaccines in terms of their efficacy in stopping infection, but rather of their effectiveness in preventing serious illness and death. And so far, two doses seem to be doing the trick.
Still, it’s common to find in the media the assumption that it’s the unvaccinated – either the unwilling in high-income countries, or the willing in low-income countries who simply don’t have access to it yet – who are driving the spread of Covid, while providing a reservoir for new variants to emerge from. But studies into the spread of Marek’s disease in vaccinated chickens hint that the opposite might be true: that a vaccine that protects against death but not transmission may actually allow more virulent forms of the virus to continue spreading. We simply don’t know, so we should be careful whom we blame.
The Covid vaccines also don’t seem to do much to halt transmission of the virus; early findings are suggesting that you stand nearly as high a chance of catching Covid from a vaccinated person as from an unvaccinated, especially several months after they’ve received their second shot. An October 2021 press release from the journal Nature about a study under peer review says that
the vaccine’s beneficial effect on Delta transmission waned to almost negligible levels over time. In people infected 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, both in the UK, the chance that an unvaccinated close contact would test positive was 57%, but 3 months later, that chance rose to 67%. The latter figure is on par with the likelihood that an unvaccinated person will spread the virus.
A reduction was also observed in people vaccinated with the jab made by US company Pfizer and German firm BioNTech. The risk of spreading the Delta infection soon after vaccination with that jab was 42%, but increased to 58% with time.
For non-epidemiologists, such as myself and 99.99% of the rest of humanity, all this is proving to be an education in both the strengths and limitations of vaccines. Raised on the heroic narrative of vaccines that have eradicated, or nearly so, former scourges like polio, measles, and smallpox, we hoped for the same miraculous intervention this time around with Covid. Unfortunately, it turns out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is more like the four other known coronaviruses that circulate endemically around the world: all cause the common cold, mutate rapidly, and our bodies lose immunity to them quickly, causing repeated reinfection. We shouldn’t have “expected different results” with this virus.
Covid vaccines will certainly help prevent many deaths from this disease, but they never had a chance of eradicating it. “I mean, we’ve never eradicated a respiratory disease,” Naomi Rogers, a professor in the history of medicine at Yale University, recently told CTV News. While there were voices of reason warning us early on not to get oversold, most of us, including the media and politicians, embraced a vaccine salvationism that portrayed these injections as the silver bullet. Last May, Justin Trudeau told the nation that, “we need all of us to get vaccinated, as quickly as possible, so we can get back to normal.” Over 87% of the population older than 11 dutifully obliged, twice, yet with another winter of lockdowns facing us, it’s safe to say we’re far from getting “back to normal”. Unfortunately, we are staring at a future in which we’re forced to learn to manage and live with this new pathogen that has decided to join the party of microbes that reside inside our bodies.
What does this mean for our future approach to dealing with Covid, and our public discourse around the pandemic? Here are a few suggestions, humbly offered:
First and foremost, we should get off our high horse about Covid vaccines and stop pressuring everyone to get them. If they are pretty much only useful in preventing serious illness or death in the individual taking the vaccine, then the decision to get vaccinated or not should be a personal decision, like any other health decision. If someone decides not to for whatever reasons, we shouldn’t shame them as irresponsible spreaders of Covid. One could argue that the unvaccinated could still wreak collective harm by clogging up the hospitals, but then one would also have to condemn everyone who ends up in hospital due to an unhealthy lifestyle, or, conversely, the overly healthy who burden the health care system with sports injuries. Accepting the risks that others take with their health is part of the social contract inherent in a publicly funded health care system.
The fact that the vaccinated spread Covid nearly as easily as the unvaccinated seriously undermines much of the rationale behind vaccine passports. If the reason for their existence is to keep the unvaccinated from spreading Covid in public spaces, then the evidence shows that we have seen the enemy, and it is us (the vaccinated). To give just one example from the UK, an August music festival required passports, yet still turned into a superspreader event, with nearly 5,000 Covid cases linked to it.
Another argument in favour of passports is that they will push some vaccine hesitant people to get their jab, but that raises ethical questions about coercion, and there is little evidence that it actually works. When Ontario announced in September that they would be implementing a proof-of-vaccine system across non-essential businesses, there was a tiny bump in the rate of new shots administered, but it was barely noticeable.
We should ask ourselves whether the social divisiveness sown by vaccine passports, to say nothing of the economic and administrative burden they place on small businesses, or their implicit assault on personal freedoms, is worth their marginal benefit.
In the context of limited vaccine supplies worldwide, we may also want to rethink who is given priority in receiving vaccines. In Canada, over 97% of all Covid deaths have occurred in people over 50 years of age. Worldwide, there are nearly two billion people over the age of 50. Over eight billion vaccine doses have been administered so far, which means we could have double-vaxxed the most vulnerable global population twice already, instead of putting needles in the arms of healthy younger people who run little risk from the disease, while low income countries wait until 2023 to get their populations vaccinated.
But should we offer Covid vaccines to everyone willing, in every age group, eventually? “The vaccines are safe,” you might say, “so why not give them to everyone, just in case?” But that same abundance of caution can be applied to vaccines, none of which are 100% safe. Out of over 68 million doses of Covid vaccines administered in Canada up to December 31, 2021, a total of 7,126 serious adverse effects were reported by physicians. An effect is defined as “serious” if it:
- results in death
- is life-threatening (an event/reaction in which the patient was at real, rather than hypothetical, risk of death at the time of the event/reaction)
- requires in-patient hospitalization or prolongation of existing hospitalization
- results in persistent or significant disability/incapacity, or
- results in a congenital anomaly/birth defect
This has happened 0.01% of the time after Covid vaccination, or 1 in 10,000. Death has been the result in 258 of those cases. Of course, correlation is not causation; surely many of these effects were coincidental.
Compare these numbers to the risks of Covid to kids up to 11 years old. Children who come down with Covid in Canada have been hospitalized at a rate of 1 in 20,000, or half the rate of reported serious adverse effects following vaccination. A total of 23 children and adolescents have died of Covid in Canada.
It should be noted that currently about 270,000 kids aged 0 – 11 have tested positive for Covid in Canada, out of a total of about four million children that age. Maybe they will all eventually get Covid, but hopefully not – yet we are being asked to vaccinate all of them. So when comparing risks from Covid versus the vaccine, you must compare the fraction of kids who get Covid versus all of them who are supposed to get the vaccine, thus increasing the chance of the vaccine actually doing more harm than the disease.
When it comes to establishing links between vaccines and adverse effects, it can be difficult to prove causality, especially as time goes on. We will likely never know the true risks associated with vaccines, although they are probably very small. But when the known risks of Covid are so minute to those under 20 years old, does it make sense to be vaccinating them, when we know that doing so won’t stop them from spreading Covid? And does it make sense in light of the fact that mRNA technology has never been used large-scale on humans before last year – isn’t a little bit of caution warranted? Pfizer’s clinical trial of their vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds, upon which emergency approval was granted by the US FDA (and shortly thereafter by Health Canada), only gave the vaccine to about 3,100 children. Although no serious side effects were detected in this group, 3,100 is a pretty small pool compared to the original adult study, which gave the vaccine to seven times that number of people.
Personally, I have no intention at this point of giving my nine-year-old a Covid vaccine. But if you read the above and still feel like vaccinating your child is the right thing to do (maybe they have an underlying health condition that makes them more susceptible to Covid), then by all means, go for it – the risks on both sides of the decision seem vanishingly small. We should be more fearful every time we drive somewhere with our kids, an act that in 2019 killed 160 children in Canada, eight times more than Covid has in nearly two years.
This pandemic has also exposed the fragility of our acute healthcare system. This past summer, Quebec hospitals were able to take in 1,780 Covid patients; now that number has fallen to 671, as workers fall sick with Covid or quit from exhaustion after months of working mandatory overtime. Instead of our hospitals being able to expand their capacity to deal with this emergency, they are moving in the opposite direction. And dealing with Covid has delayed many life-saving surgeries: pre-pandemic, 2,600 Quebecers had been waiting for more than a year for a surgery; now that number has swollen to 19,000.
If we’re going to be dealing with Covid for years to come, we need to make new long-term investments in our healthcare system. Pre-pandemic, Canada’s acute care system was already in need of an infusion – in terms of ICU beds per 1,000 people, Canada is at the low end, with 2.5. The OECD average is 5. Germany has 8; Japan 13. Most of the restrictions imposed on our lives have been enacted by various provincial governments in last ditch efforts to save their too-easily-overwhelmed healthcare systems from collapse.
At the other end of the healthcare spectrum, we should also be investing more into public health and disease prevention, beyond just vaccines. As a farmer, I tend towards the view that food is our best medicine. It’s obviously not going to solve all our illnesses, but in terms of affordability and the empowerment of the individual to take some ownership of their own health, it can’t be beat. My personal winter health regime, which I’ve found over the years prevents or at least blunts most cold and flu bugs that come my way, includes vitamin D supplements, elderberry syrup, chicken broth, and “fire cider” (an apple cider vinegar infusion of immunity-boosting plants such as ginger and garlic). I’m attuned to the feelings associated with the beginnings of illness – a tickle in the throat or a run-down feeling – and a quick dose of some of the above can usually nip it in the bud. Even a simple balanced diet and a decent night’s sleep can go a long way towards warding off viruses.
Why does one individual fight off SARS-CoV-2 without a symptom while another person dies of it? It’s the same virus, right? Obviously, it’s the virus plus the individual’s underlying health that equals the disease outcome. Our approach to health focuses too much on the virus and not enough on the individual. We all breathe in 100 million virus particles every day – we had better have a robust defence against all of them.
As the first truly global respiratory pandemic in a century, and the cause of unprecedented disruptions in our lives, it’s understandable that our attention has been held captive by Covid for nearly two years now. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that Covid is all that matters, or that practically anything is worth sacrificing if it gives us a percentage less risk from it. Covid is relatively easy to measure – we can follow the case counts, hospitalization rates, and deaths tracked daily. But the effect on children and parents from closed schools, or on long-term care residents essentially held hostage by their institutions, or on the mental health of people cut off from their social support networks, or on extended families denied their ritual gatherings, is much harder to quantify, but just as real.
THIS HAS BEEN A HARDER ESSAY than usual for me to research and write. It’s taken me about three weeks of putting in several hours of work before dawn each morning, gone through three drafts, and occupied a lot of space in my brain. Besides the complexity of the subject matter, part of the difficulty has been trying to walk the line between being somewhat critical of the official response to the pandemic, while not straying into the swamp of misinformation that lurks around every bend of the internet. That is why all my sources (you may have noticed) are from mainstream media, scientific journals, government statistics, or the occasional non-controversial website. But walking that line has often felt like walking a tightrope; the space between the mainstream perspective and alternate views has become a yawning no-man’s land, deserted as the two camps have dug in to their polarized positions.
While the harm caused by misinformation has been well documented by the media, less examined has been the damage caused by a dogmatic faith in experts, science, and authorities. Science is supposed to be a practice of humility, of saying “I don’t know – let’s do an experiment and try to find out.” You would think that with a completely novel virus, a new disease, and a cutting edge vaccine technology, we would have a lot of questions. And yet the messaging from the media and government has tended to bypass uncertainty and present their policies without debate, as near gospel truth – and to cast anyone who dares question any aspect of it as a heretic. In April of 2021, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario issued a statement forbidding physicians from questioning or debating any of the official measures imposed in response to Covid, and threatening them with disciplinary measures if they disobeyed, and in July, the Federation of State Medical Boards in the US issued a similar statement. One can imagine how, with the lack of a clear definition of what exactly construes “misinformation”, such statements by boards holding the authority to revoke one’s licence to practice medicine can have a chilling effect on making public any opinions that deviate from the official narrative.
A report from Amesty Internation in October details how authoritarian governments around the world have used the Covid pandemic as an excuse to further limit freedom of expression, under the guise of combating misinformation. At the same time, it acknowledges the damage done by misinformation, but it argues that “harsh measures to suppress the free flow of information, such as censorship or the criminalization of “fake news”, can lead to increased mistrust in the authorities, promote space for conspiracy theories to grow, and the suppression of legitimate debate and concerns.” It says that instead, states “should be proactive in providing credible, reliable, objective, evidence-based and accessible information to all.” While censorship has been less overt in countries with a freer press, the opportunity to enforce a conformity of belief that the goal of “fighting misinformation” provides is a temptation for some that must be assiduously guarded against, particularly in regards to the big tech companies, who have begun moderating their platforms in untransparent ways.
Perhaps those in positions of power feel that it’s worth sacrificing some nuance and humility in the face of uncertainty if their words can influence people in a direction that they believe will save lives. Perhaps they justify it to themselves with the thought that lives are more important than full disclosure of the truth. They probably took a lesson from the public backlash over early messaging flip-flops about masking or banning international travel. Perhaps these people would say that what I have written only sows confusion and doubt, that I have merely softened the ground for more extreme anti-vax views, and that my words will lead directly to more deaths. But people know when they’re being manipulated better than those in power often give them credit for. The age of centralized media dissemination is over; the internet exploded that. People who have lost all trust in government and the mainstream media – and their numbers grow daily – have a sprawling alternative media universe to turn to. The lack of full disclosure from authorities drives people into the social media rabbit holes and echo chambers that increasingly thwart any kind of collective action – be it against Covid or anything else.
As I have researched this essay, I have found it difficult to find many dissenting opinions in the mainstream media; as purveyors of knowledge, they are naturally uncomfortable with uncertainty. The contrast between how the media used to handle the climate change debate and how they are currently handling debates around Covid is striking: they ultimately came under criticism for giving equal air time to both sides of the climate debate, when in fact the climate deniers represented a tiny minority of opinion; while with Covid, they seem to have gone too far in the opposite direction, giving almost no say to alternative views. When a voice is given, it is typically in the right-wing media, so perhaps the more liberal media doesn’t want to associate themselves with those stories. Like most issues, the Covid one quickly broke down along partisan lines in the US and elsewhere, to the detriment of rational debate. There are literally hundreds of scientific studies questioning the appropriateness of protocols like lockdowns, school closures, masks, and vaccine mandates. That’s not to say that there isn’t also a sizable body of evidence supporting these government measures, but why isn’t the media reporting on the scientific debate? Are we not told repeatedly that we should “follow the science”, wherever it may lead?
In past times of war, there was a rallying around a common message; the mass media and governments tended to sing from the same choirbook. But the first casualty of war is the truth. And, make no mistake, we are at war now against Covid. Buy Victory Bonds! Enlist now! Get your vaccine! Stay home! If you only take one idea away from this essay, let it be this: we cannot defeat Covid with a war mentality. Doing so only inflicts more harm upon ourselves. We must learn to live with this virus, and, focussing on harm reduction, get on with our lives.
I hope your take-away from all this is not that I’m anti-vax. Vaccines are important. But they are not a panacea; they are one tool among many. And we shouldn’t put all our faith in them to the exclusion of other approaches.
Our society likes simple solutions (a vaccine) to seemingly simple problems (a virus). They are the ultimate technological quick fix. Highly engineered by a small coterie of experts, centrally manufactured by transnational profit-seeking corporations, and rolled out to the masses – this is the playbook of the industrial revolution, which has made a small number of people fabulously wealthy, while providing a material standard of living to the rest of us beyond the imaginings of kings of old. But providing people with material wealth was relatively easy. Addressing confounding social problems, or the conflict between economics and ecology, or the wickedly complex biology of public health, demands a degree of holistic thinking far beyond the mechanistic production of a pill or injection.
Dealing with Covid will require a certain amount of humility about what we can control, and what technology can accomplish. We humans are capable of great wisdom, if we are not blinded by the apparent power of our creations. The silver lining of this pandemic is that it has shown us how interconnected we all are, and exposed some inherent weaknesses in the web of life support we spin across our societies. Addressing those lessons would be a good place to start in reconstructing our lives in a post-War on Covid world.
 Just for the record, I did not feel well for about a month after my AstraZeneca shot; I had various vague maladies involving my heart and brain. Maybe it had nothing to do with the vaccine, maybe it did. Maybe it was all in my mind, as doctors are fond of saying about symptoms just like mine that they can’t or don’t want to try to explain. But they felt real to me, they began right after my vaccination, and they are consistent with many other negative reports about this vaccine in particular. But if AstraZeneca was like a shot of throat-blistering moonshine, Pfizer was a 12 year old Scotch – it went down smooth and easy, with almost no hangover.
 At least in places where a surplus of vaccines already exists; in lower income countries, they’re still working on first doses.
 Interestingly, some research is pointing towards the 1889-90 pandemic, which began in Russia and killed an estimated one million people worldwide, as being caused by one of those four coronaviruses that still circulate but now cause only sniffles. Researchers now believe that all four of these older coronoviruses may have sparked pandemics of their own when they first made the leap from other animals to humans over the past few hundred years. The good news is that Covid may well follow a similar trajectory, eventually mellowing into a disease with generally mild symptoms. Omicron seems to be following this path, with a reported death rate in South Africa no worse than the flu.
 Reports to the Adverse Effect Following Immunization (AEFI) system in Canada can only be made by physicians, an important distinction from the oft-cited and controversial US system called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System), to which anyone can report. The high numbers of deaths following vaccination (nearly 20,000 at this point) reported to VAERS, compared to Canada’s total of only 258, could perhaps be a case of anti-vaccine activists trying to game the system with false reports to VAERS.
 Health Canada investigates these adverse effects. Of the 258 deaths, about half could not be assessed due to insufficient information, 93 were deemed unlikely due to the vaccine, and 42 are still under investigation.
 This study raises concerns about how “full-length spike-based” vaccines, like mRNA vaccines, can inhibit DNA damage repair and adaptive immunity.
 An interesting thought experiment is to imagine an alternate reality in which Trump, in early 2020, realizes that coming out strong against this new virus out of Wuhan could boost his popularity and help him win the election that fall. “Safety” and “cleanliness” are usually conservative values, after all, and made-in-America vaccines to save the world is a good story. Would the partisan breakdown have played out differently then, with conservatives supporting a strong response to Covid, and liberals questioning the necessity of it? Trump would probably still be president of the US if he had taken this course.
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Thank you to Michael Slotwinski (www.slotsartstudio.com) for the artwork at the top of this post.
Thank you Sean. You are providing a much needed voice of reason.
Holy smokes Sean! What a well-researched and welcomed read. Thank-you!!!! I will be forwarding this to friends and family. Kindest of regards, Laurie
Good balance and thorough research Sean. Like you I’m questioning – and weary of – the paranoia around this bug. But I also know two nurses who are about to bail out of malfunctioning system. If a vaccine keeps people out of the hospital, I’m all for vaccination. And I think the main argument for vaccination now is *not* that it will stop infections, but that it will keep people from getting really sick, and prevent the hospital system from crashing. IMHO it’s exactly because medical professionals are not allowed to distinguish between people when they come into the ER regardless of vax status (or lifestyle choices or if they chose to drive drunk or if they take immune-boosting supplements) that we do everything we can to protect my two young friends working in the hospitals – and not from covid, but from inhumane working conditions and burnout.
Really great and well-balanced essay that presents the information in a digestible and logical format. It simplified some things for me and provided new perspectives. Thanks for your efforts on this.
WOW!!!! Very well said Sean. I can’t even begin to imagine the time that it took for you to put that together. There are many of us that feel the same. Thank you for sharing.
I wish that I could hand out a medal for that.
My sentiments expressed with validation. Like I told my daughter in the very beginning: “This is a very bad flu, so don’t go swapping spits with strangers”. Being in the age group where severity could truly mean death, I have been vaccinated and have had my booster. Next year I am hoping that this vaccine will be a part of my annual flu shot. We do have a choice, each and every one of us.
So well written, Sean.
This is a most informative summary which is backed up by fully researched and factual information. It is reassuring to read an essay that addresses so many of the questions and issues I carry with me on a daily basis.
Thank you for all of the hours you have so selfishly put into this and for providing a non-biased and respectful opinion of both sides of this war that has been imposed on the world.
Well done Shawn. I will definitely share this one.
Really great piece Sean. The Trump part at the end is certainly very very pertinent, it reminded me of something I wrote to a friend a few weeks ago. Here it is.
-… My theory is that since Mr. Trump started gaslighting the entire planet with his “incendiary” hubris we have all collectively started sliding towards human “hell”. A dark place where everyone’s brain is unable of rational and independent thinking.
I feel like our governments cannot continue to force vaccination down our throats when the strict measures they are implementing are not based on science or accurate data.
In other words I will not accept injecting a for profit science based serum that does nothing other than preventing complications for our bullshit healtcare system. –
Thanks for your words on this subject. It is good to question but also super important to keep our eyes on the prize which is getting through this thing with the resources that we have. From all accounts, the pressure on our hospitals and their staff is disproportionately due to folks who are NOT vaccinated. I don’t think that the imbalance can be compared to other lifestyle choices. The numbers don’t support this argument. Like you said “a matter of civic duty toward the common good”. Getting vaccinated is something that we can do to help.
Well done, Sean. It is not an easy line to walk, as you aptly point out, as there are indeed 2 more extreme “camps” and many other camps, much less acknowledged, in between. I particularly appreciate your calling out how governments systematically repeat that they are “following the science” when in some instances it is nothing more than an excuse for dogmatism or a means of appearing to be doing something–your reflections around the use of passports is a good example of this.
I for one am grateful for this–and your time commitment in providing it to us. Merci.
Great work my friend. Thank you so much for your tact and bravery in straddling the divide of the story wars raging. Polarized viewpoints fuel conflict. You have crafted an inspiring example of thought that poses pertinent questions that seemingly arise from an understanding of disparate perspectives in search of what it would take to find lasting coexistence and resolve for the whole.
Chomsky would be proud ! Bravo dear Butler for a brilliant Essay. Easy to read and inspiring . Perfectly neutral and what amazing work in the research department . Love V
This text offers something on this subject I have rarely read or heard in mainstream media: perspective. It is truly refreshing. Thanks for questionning, researching and writing your thoughts!
Well written Sean…we need more peoples like you to keep informing the population.
An impressive piece of work, buttressed by a lot of research. You have managed to reflect a more balanced position than you typically see from people who write about covid and vaccines. That said, I don’t agree with all your conclusions. As Gary Martin pointed out, the main argument for vaccination now is to protect the vulnerable from severe disease and death – which they still do, even as waning immunity means they are much less effective in preventing inflection and transmission. The other point on that is that boosters DO provide fairly robust protection against catching the virus. People with boosters are much less likely to catch Covid or transmit it to others until immunity starts to wane. That’s a good reason to get that further dose, in my opinion.
You’re right that our health care system needs to be more robust to withstand things like Covid better. It needs more resources, as you say. But for now, the current inadequate system is what we have, and we have to protect it as much as possible so people who need surgeries for all sorts of life-threatening illnesses can get them.
One final point. It think you’re not being entirely fair in your comments about mainstream media’s coverage of the epidemic. It seems to be mainly based on what you read while researching this essay. But I have read or listened to a much broader sample of media coverage of Covid since the pandemic began. I have seen a wide range of views expressed about the policy responses (lockdown, school closures, etc) that have been proposed or implemented. There has been plenty of coverage of anti-vax or anti-mask protests. Granted, there aren’t many in the mainstream media who endorse those viewpoints, but that is because they are mostly unsupported by science.
In any case, you make a lot of valid points and I think this is a useful contribution to the discussion.
“The main argument for vaccination now is to protect the vulnerable from severe disease and death” – agreed.
“Boosters DO provide fairly robust protection against catching the virus.” – true, but probably only for 2-3 months. Maybe that’s enough time to get through this surge of Omicron, and justified in that context (and I’m personally glad you’re as protected right now as you can be), but then what next? Another variant, and more boosters every few months to keep antibody production high? That’s not how a vaccine is supposed to work. That, actually, sounds more like a drug. Is this the road we want to go down, the entire world dependent on regular doses of a drug? What will be the long-term side-effects of that? What will that cost?
“But for now, the current inadequate system is what we have, and we have to protect it as much as possible” – agreed, and we should be making the investments to beef it up starting tomorrow (actually, we should have started at the beginning of the pandemic).
“I think you’re not being entirely fair in your comments about mainstream media’s coverage of the epidemic” – it’s hard to argue with someone who follows the news to your extent, but while I’m seeing media coverage of protests, I’m not seeing the viewpoints of many experts who might disagree with some of the approaches taken by governments expressed in the media, and I know there is a strong sense among those who are critical of our collective response to this pandemic that their voices and viewpoints are not being heard in the media.
I’ve actually read many articles and heard lots of interviews with epidemiologists and other scientific or medical experts quarrelling with the wisdom of things like school closures, curfews, border closures and lockdowns. I think the policy options embraced by governments have been widely debated in the media. There is pretty much unanimous agreement that vaccines are a critical tool, but many of the experts I see and hear say we mustn’t rely only on vaccines. They are just one tool in the tool kit. Things like supplying top PPE to essential workers, improving ventilation and physical distancing are also required – and governments are often slow to act on those elements.
I’m glad to hear that you’re seeing more of that kind of debate in the media than I have. One question: have you seen anything resembling what an earlier commenter, Maury, wishes she has seen, when she wrote, “I haven’t seen a single article in the mainstream media, not even a ‘human interest story’, about what it’s like to be a competent, hard working Canadian federal servant who, despite working at home and socially isolating, has been laid off without access to UI due to their vaccination status”?
I have not seen such a story, but as a former journalist, I am sure the story as described by Maury would attract interest from a paper like the Citizen. The likely explanation is that journalists aren’t aware of such cases. If this has happened, those affected need to contact media outlets and let them know.
holy cmoly Sean! Fantastic work! I
It’s clear that you put tremendous amount of work into this. I agree with everything you’ve put forth. I am concerned about the health care system and its workers, and partially agree with some of your father’s responses, but that pales to my concern about the consequences of the lockdowns, and my revulsion towards the witch-hunt against the 10-15% who have chosen to remain unvaccinated, many with very informed and valid reasons. Great work my friend! I’ll be sharing this around.
This is the best writing on COVID I have read. Many, many thanks.
This piece alone is worth the $30 annual subscription which I will complete in the morning once I can find my PayPal password.
I really enjoyed this article. You were able to capture many feelings I have had but unable to express. Thanks you for taking the time to research and write and share.
Well written Sean , looking forward to your next article, thank you for your thoughts .
Questions, especially when the stakes are high, are healthy and necessary. This was a really good read, delving succinctly into a large range of pandemic related issues with even handed dispassion. I understand the worry about opening up the media to incendiary fake news during a global crisis, but I still hope some trust can be restored going forward through well-organized debate on science and policy by credible people. Sadly, given the kind of well informed and compassionate Canada I want to see, I haven’t seen a single article in the mainstream media, not even a ‘human interest story’, about what it’s like to be a competent, hard working Canadian federal servant who, despite working at home and socially isolating, has been laid off without access to UI due to their vaccination status.
Hey, Nearly-Neighbour! Thank you for having the courage to question the mainstream narrative about COVID, Sean. I am most concerned for children. In my opinion, their rights and needs were sacrificed, and I don’t think it was necessary. I certainly don’t think healthy children need to be vaccinated against COVID. I was researching that, when an email was released by Chris Kresser on 29 December, about why mandating COVID vaccination for 5-11 year-olds was unscientific and immoral. So instead of re-inventing the wheel and writing my own essay, I spent hours over a 6 day period spot-checking his sources from the scientific literature, the CDC, Ontario Public Health, etc. I think he accurately reported on the science, so I’ve shared it widely.
For parents and caregivers who have read Sean’s essay, I recommend Kresser’s essay as your next read! Really do grab a cup of something and get comfy, it’s long: https://email.chriskresser.com/8-reasons-vaccine-mandates-for-5-to-11-year-olds-are-unscientific-and-immoral
All the best to everyone reading this on navigating these challenging times.
Thank you very much Julie for sharing this essay…I’m really hoping that everyone actually reads this with an open mind and takes this information to heart…children are the future of our species and what is being labelled as a vaccine is still very much an experimental genetically engineered synthetic substance that is completely foreign to the human body (that is equivalent to becoming a GMO) and for which long term effects are completely unknown…and for which injection injuries are not accurately accounted for as mentioned by DAVID ERIK VEALE in a comment below…and there are many! There are many more such articles circulating, unfortunately it does take some digging effort to find them, since censorship and deplatforming anybody or anything that does not align with the common narative is automatically labelled propaganda. There is now so much evidence that points clearly that this C19 does not deserve the draconian means that are being imposed not only on children but on all of humanity. I urge everyone to do your diligent research if not for yourself for the children who we are all here to protect.
There is a lot of wishful and magical thinking out there both by the public and by our leaders. Both of which tend to cherry-pick facts – and there are a lot of them out there – to confirm their biases.
Reading through the comments here I see some of that happening. Which I guess is expected, this is a firehose of information you’ve put out there. 🙂
When I look for crisp and current advice I tend to listen to Dr. Fauci, who yesterday simply said, get fully vaccinated to minimize your chances of landing in the hospital and when you are out and about wear the best mask that you can – N95, KN95, FFP2. The fewer people that catch it and spread it, the less chance it will mutate into something worse. And the longer it takes for you to be exposed to it the better off you’ll be.
How does it end? I’m not a medical doctor but I fully expect that we’ll be on an mRNA vaccine treadmill and wearing masks for the foreseeable future. I’m actually okay with that. What I’m not okay with is that the mRNA vaccine technology is not being fairly shared with the rest of the world. Like global heating, we’re all in this together, and the sooner we all start acting that way and insist that our governments act that way, too, the better off we’ll all be.
Hats off for your well-documented and balanced essay! It’s heart-warming to read something that brings a non-judgmental and non-divisive perspective! It takes courage to publish such informed insights in these times of bias, paranoia and hate propaganda in the media, on the political scene and in the population!
I enjoyed your essay. Here is the link to another essay which is worth reading:
I’m afraid I have to disagree with Sean’s analysis and conclusions on many fronts. It sounds well-researched, but he has cherry-picked studies in some cases, and left out important points of analysis in others.
First – one positive thing – I do agree with one of his conclusions that “Vaccines are important. But they are not a panacea; they are one tool among many. And we shouldn’t put all our faith in them to the exclusion of other approaches.” As an important tool among many approaches, I am surprised that Sean does not want to make use of this tool for his son. Does he also not permit his son to be vaccinated against all the childhood diseases that come our way?
He argues that because two doses provide lots of protection against severe illness (hospitalization) and death why have boosters. Unfortunately, while two doses are good, they are not 100% protective. Even a much smaller % of people being seriously ill is a large number if you have huge numbers of people being infected, which translates into pressure on our hospitals (which we see happening now). If you can reduce the # being infected through boosters, that will reduce the numbers ending up in hospitals.
He says that people are saying the unvaccinated are driving infections. That’s not what I’ve read or seen with Omicron. However, while the unvaccinated are not driving infections, they are indeed driving the significant pressure on hospitals. Roughly half of those in hospital for covid are unvaccinated – if they were vaccinated the pressure on hospitals would be much lower.
He argues vaccines are not really useful as their protection wanes over time and not helping protect us from being infected now. Vaccine protection waning over time is usual, but does provide excellent protection for a while; not vaccinating does not provide that period of protection earlier on.
He states that “If they [vaccines] are pretty much only useful in preventing serious illness or death in the individual taking the vaccine, then the decision to get vaccinated or not should be a personal decision, like any other health decision.” He misses the main point for us as a society (rather than as individuals) about overloading the health care system, which is driven by the unvaccinated. We do not have world-wide pandemics of sports injuries or unhealthy lifestyles that are overloading our health systems, so they are not useful for comparison.
He argues against vaccinating young people because they are less likely to be really sick. It would be nice if it was true. Unfortunately, we need to provide vaccines to everyone, even the young (who are less likely to become really sick), because the more people who get infected, the more virus replications take place, with more opportunities for there to be mistakes in these replications, and the emergence of new variants (that’s how we got new variants to date). We’re very lucky Omicron turned out to be less rather than much more lethal.
I have no idea where he came up with “Why does one individual fight off SARS-CoV-2 without a symptom while another person dies of it? It’s the same virus, right? Obviously, it’s the virus plus the individual’s underlying health that equals the disease outcome.” How can he draw such a sweeping statement? Maybe there are genetic factors? Maybe treatment issues? Even though this undoubtedly applies to some – and in particular those who are immunocompromised, with other health conditions, or elderly, are we supposed to write them off?
Once again, I do agree with his conclusion “Vaccines are important. But they are not a panacea; they are one tool among many. And we shouldn’t put all our faith in them to the exclusion of other approaches.” And that is exactly what Canada has been doing from where I sit.
Thanks very much Sean for this well-researched and courageous post. So good. It certainly is important to keep all of us thinking about what is best not just for ourselves and our children, but for our communities and our planet.
As a mamma bear, I wholeheartedly agree that we must look out for ourselves and our children. However, I think what i have taken from this pandemic is the importance of community, the sum of many individuals. Our healthcare system is in trouble and we have burdened those who work within it. Vaccination is just one tool to alleviate the immense pressure on our health care systems. We must look holistically for solutions, as you said, there will always be a cocktail of viruses swirling around us.
An all hands on deck approach is required for improving our collective well-being. The pandemic is a small wave when compared to the tidal waves of climate change and biodiversity loss that overshadow Covid. We will never solve these complex and intractable problems by acting only as individuals.
Like others, I am also weary of the Covid-19. Unlike Sean, I did not have any adverse reaction to the vaccinations (or the booster). And I don’t have a child that I have to worry about.
My conclusions though, from just reading the CBC Health Reports and following Dr. Deonandan the epidemiologist we often see on CBC, is that pretty well everyone should get the vaccinations and booster if we don’t want to Further overwhelm the hospitals and we want to reduce(not, likely ever, eliminate) the effect of Covid-19.
This CBC post from Jan 6 about kids and Covid :
“In the case of multiple infants recently hospitalized for COVID-19 infections at several Ontario hospitals, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa said babies are particularly at risk given their immature immune systems. All six infants were also from unvaccinated mothers, the hospital noted, so they “do not have the protection of maternal antibodies transferred during the third trimester of pregnancy.”
Recent Ontario data(https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/data-and-analysis/infectious-disease/covid-19-data-surveillance/covid-19-data-tool?tab=ageSex) shows children ranging from newborns to four-years-old — an age group that doesn’t yet have an approved vaccine — are the highest hospitalization level of any youth.”
And below is taken from Dr. Deonandan’s latest blog post of Jan 12. Unfortunately the graphs did not make it through the comments block filter (but I will *note* the results of the 2 graphs that are easily summarized)
“In recent days, however, a confusing trend has emerged in Ontario, as seen in the official provincial case data: It shows that since Dec 23, 2021, the vaccinated have had a higher risk of COVID infection than the did the unvaccinated.
WTF is going on here? It behooves us not to hide from these data or to minimize them, but instead to wrestle with them. The hospitalization data is clear: it’s the unvaccinated who are greatest at risk from a bad outcome from COVID. But what of mere infection?I suggest that two elements are at play here: (a) testing bias, and (b) exposure bias.
It’s telling that this “paradox” only manifests since the end of December. This is when the Omicron variant took hold of Ontario and made testing a scarce commodity. It is now difficult to get a PCR test (and only PCR tests end up in the official count; rapid antigen tests do not). So those people seeking testing are (a) eligible to be tested and (b) willing to line up for hours to be tested.
Who are these people? First, there are essential workers, such as health care workers, who need to prove negative status to return to work. PCR capacity is largely reserved for such people. They are overwhelmingly more likely to be vaccinated. And they are highly likely to test positive because that’s why they’re showing up in the first place. Remember that the stereotype of the unvaccinated person in Ontario is someone who minimizes the risk of COVID. So they are far less motivated to seek testing, even when showing symptoms. They are ideologically incentivized to consider it to be nothing more than a “bad flu”. That segment of the unvaccinated who do get tested might get swept up in an outbreak investigation or sentinel surveillance in a hospital setting, where the likelihood of testing positive is lower. Related, there is a strong suspicion that many vaccinated people are overconfident in the face of Omicron. They learned careless behaviours in the Delta variant era, and did not change behaviour when Omicron showed its immunity-evading face. They might be more likely than before to take unnecessary risks with exposure, and are now paying the price through infection. This is related to the next reason…
In Ontario right now, who is allowed into high exposure settings? Restaurants? Bars? Gyms? The so-called “vaccine passport” system ensures that it’s the fully vaccinated who are overwhelmingly the people present at such superspreading opportunities. They’re the ones removing their masks to eat in a restaurant chock full of strangers, while a super-contagious airborne variant rages through the community.
This was not a problem in the pre-Omicron era when Delta and the previous variants were reasonably well controlled with distancing, capacity limits, and casual mask wearing. In fact, in my opinion the passports were a major reason the epidemic was being well controlled. The effect of vaccine passports had of keeping the “dry kindling” of unvaccinated people out of formal crowded areas had the intended impact of preventing super-spreading events.
But Omicron changed all that. The vaccinated are now almost as vulnerable as the unvaccinated in becoming infected with Omicron (though much less severely). And the vaccinated are more likely to be exposed to Omicron in a super-spreading environment.
The result: a greater risk of infection amongst the vaccinated, as compared to the unvaccinated.
To be clear, this does not mean that vaccination raises your chances of becoming infected. In fact, on an individual basis, the opposite is true: vaccination, especially triply dosed, increases the production of neutralizing antibodies and therefore lowers the individual probability of infection.
Instead, what this means is that the behaviour and context of the vaccinated increases their chances of infection. And the nature of our skewed testing means that we’re more likely to detect cases amongst the vaccinated than the unvaccinated.
Of course, all of this is speculation. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this:(a) vaccination continues to be the very best protection against bad symptoms, hospitalization, and death from COVID; and(b) when all the data from weeks back are considered (not just the days since Omicron took over), vaccination is the single best protection reducer of risk of infection, hospitalization, and ICU usage, as per these graphs extracted from data posted by the Ontario Science Table: (https://covid19-sciencetable.ca/ontario-dashboard/)
*Note Covid 19 patients in hospital per 1 million inhabitants: 2+dose vaccinated 64.5 / Unvaccinated 384
Covid 19 patients in ICU per 1 million inhabitants: 2+dose vaccinated 6.4 / Unvaccinated 135 *
So get jabbed, people. Vaccination remains our best personal choice for staying out of the hospital and out of the morgue.”
Hey Ian, thanks for your nuanced dive into the explanation of why the vaccinated seem to have a higher risk of infection. This kind of closer look at the background factors that sometimes influence data can also be applied to one thing you said in your comment: that the 0-4 age range currently have the highest hospitalization rate of any youth. Here’s an interesting Globe and Mail article explaining that: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-despite-rise-in-hospitalizations-of-kids-with-covid-19-omicron-variant/. A doctor is reported in the story saying: “about half of admissions at the hospital are owing to COVID-19 and half are unrelated, but those children test positive at the hospital.” In other words, half the kids are not being admitted because they have severe Covid symptoms, but are there for some other reason and are simply testing positive in the routine Covid tests everyone takes in the hospital. It’s stuff like this that can make data misleading sometimes.
Thank you Sean. I appreciate your time and coherent, balanced perspective.
The CDC follows up on every single report in VAERS. Submitting a false report is a *federal offense* with serious ramifications. It’s also a system that crashes regularly and requires the user to start over, with a successful entry (sans crashes) taking a half hour. Additionally, the required information (such as vaccine lot #) is simply not easily available even to patients oftentimes. According to the CDC’s own numbers from a study done at Harvard, under-reporting of adverse events is between 9 and 99%.
Suffice it to say that the numbers being reported in VAERS are the tip of a much larger iceberg imho. My own lived experience is very much in line with that as well. A friend who works as a nurse (in the covid ward with patients on ventilators) told me that one of the hospitals he worked at had three separate physicians suffer strokes after their vaccination. That’s a rate much higher than anything reported in VAERS. My sister is an RN, and had a coworker die shortly after receiving her vaccine, and also had numerous friends receive “breakthough” infections (long before Omicron or even Delta). Almost as if the vaccine did absolutely nothing to help.
Thank you again Sean for the research you have done and for opening the conversation.
I would highly recommend the following reading, which covers to the last word of the article, a huge amount of information that does not align with the common narrative that is fed daily in the media and cannot be dismissed as propaganda.
Top 12 takeaways from the Joe Rogan and Dr. Robert Malone interview 01/04/2022
One of the most insightful dialogues of 2021 was Joe Rogan’s interview of Dr. Robert Malone (#1757).
Dr. Malone invented the mRNA technology that is being used in the experimental covid vaccines. Dr. Malone has developed medical products, drugs and clinical trials. He has worked directly with Dr. Anthony Fauci and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control. However, at this critical moment in history, he refuses to follow along with their vax-all agenda that has quashed medical ethics and destroyed the principles of medical privacy and informed consent.
For not complying, Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter. He was also de-platformed and then re-instated from LinkedIn, for stating the simple fact that the head of Reuters is on the board of Pfizer. (Reuters is used as the end-all, know-all fact checker for Twitter and other social media sites.) Robert Malone vows to continue “telling the truth” — even as the drug companies try to censor his voice.
Here are some major takeaways from the Rogan/Malone interview: at this link
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