Do the unvaccinated have scrambled brains as NZ media today suggests?

There are two mainstream national newspapers in New Zealand, the NZ Herald and Stuff. Both have vigorously supported the government’s vaccination programme wholeheartedly, without reservation and without publishing any substantive counter discussion. It is perhaps a mark of the growing uncertainty around the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 mRNA and DNA vaccines, that Stuff today published an article by its ‘Explainer expert’ Keith Lynch, apparently seeking to justify its position entitled “Covid-19: Why the vaccines’ imperfections matter”.

The article headlines a short Stuff video on ‘confirmation bias’ which implies that information from the internet may only serve to reinforce wrong beliefs about vaccines. Keith begins his article with the thought that “lack of certainty scrambles the human brain”. He defers to the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa NZ (VAANZ) (who have received $10 million funding from the NZ government). Their Director, Dr Fran Priddy, asserts that while the Pfizer vaccine is only partially effective, it is “very good at stopping infection, and excellently good at stopping serious illness and death”. She laments that this stunning endorsement has not been sufficient to overcome vaccine hesitancy among a cohort of people. The implication in the article is that the unvaccinated have scrambled brains, an allegation that Stuff must feel plays very well to the bias of its readers, about 90% of whom have presumably been vaxxed.

The article goes on to bemoan the fact that whilst the initial efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine was rated at 95%, this drops rapidly to 47% after 5 months. It suggests that this early reporting of high efficacy was unintentionally counterproductive. The author believes this change in certainty has confused the unvaccinated and implies that the highly infectious nature of the Delta variant may be the culprit. No worries though, a booster shot will fix that.

At this point, we have to stop and fact check the mental health of the unvaccinated. Are they confused by uncertainty or are they well informed about risks and averse to taking them? After all, if you remain unvaccinated you will probably lose your livelihood and be shunned by your fellows. To take that on, you would have to have a very serious case of confirmation bias.
It is at this point that the wheels come off the Stuff article, because some very disturbing facts have been omitted by the author, facts and their discussion that the NZ Herald and Stuff have left largely unreported. Facts which most of the unvaccinated are well aware of. The rate of adverse events associated with the Pfizer vaccine is large and significant. Between 2016 and 2020 there were 7 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine given in NZ; as a result, 1139 people reported adverse effects and there were 6 deaths proximate to vaccination. For the Pfizer vaccine, there have been approximately the same number,—7 million doses administered, but there have been 34,107 reports of adverse reactions and 97 deaths. Thirty times the rate of reactions compared to the flu vaccine. To put this in perspective, prior to covid-19 if a drug under trial was associated with even 50 deaths among participants in the whole population of the USA, the trial would be stopped, and usually abandoned.

But it gets worse, covid-19 vaccine adverse events are grossly under-reported. Many people suffering serious reactions report that their GP or the hospital staff declined to report their reaction, and also were unable to offer advice about how to treat their condition. A number of volunteer groups in NZ are keeping track of reports, the estimate of deaths proximate to vaccination they have come up with is 250+. Now let’s put that in perspective, the worst disaster in New Zealand history outside of wartime is the Mt. Erebus crash in which 250 people lost their lives just ahead of the 185 lives lost in the Christchurch earthquake. So here in New Zealand possibly our worst ever disaster is going unreported by the media and quietly down played by the Government.

Bear in mind that the people suffering adverse reactions and deaths are not anti-vaxxers, but responsible citizens following the advice of the government. So it is even more insulting that their suffering is being ignored. Contrast this with the massive outpouring of sympathy following the Christchurch mosque shooting. But it gets worse, those people who are badly affected by the Pfizer vaccine, sometimes pluck up the courage to air their circumstances via social media. If they do, they find themselves mercilessly trolled by people who, as a result of the lack of information in our media, believe that all people raising questions about the vaccine are liars.
The government counters claims about deaths following vaccination by suggesting that among the 97 official deaths only one can be causally related to vaccination. Most according to the government are still ‘under investigation’ or ‘undecided’, perhaps a comforting way of saying the government would like to avoid discussing this. Yet that is not the normal definitive procedure when assessing whether adverse events are related to vaccination. The normal procedure is to compare the figures to population norms. As we saw above, this has already been done and the embarrassing result swept under the carpet—seasonal flu vaccine 6 deaths, Pfizer vaccine at least 97 deaths.

And now we come to the increasing amount of data published, not on the ‘unreliable’ internet by lying anti-vaxxers, but by for example UKHSA, the UK government Health Surveillance Agency which shows that the vaccinated over 18 years of age are two times more likely to catch Covid than the unvaccinated. This unexpected information along with surges in Covid-19 transmission among highly vaccinated EU populations also contributes to vaccine hesitancy.

The author, Keith Lynch, quotes various psychologists and comes to the conclusion that vaccine hesitancy is due to anxiety expressing itself as “intolerance of uncertainty”. This then leads people to search for more information “in the mistaken belief that information is the path to certainty”. So Keith characterises ‘searching for information’ about Covid-19 as a mistake because “you can’t get 100 percent certainty in an uncertain world”. There is absolutely no doubt this is an anti-science perspective, in other words it is far better for the public to remain uninformed.

He acknowledges that previously ‘certain’ pronouncements by our politicians about Covid-19 that later turned out to be ‘uncertain’ may have undermined public trust, but reassures us that this is a challenge our politicians are well able to navigate. I could perhaps be forgiven for thinking our politicians are not necessarily experts, but roughly speaking members of the general public similar to ourselves, who are just as subject to confirmation bias, if not more, who have been elevated to a position for three years where they can now mandate us to agree with them—with impunity.

The final killer argument for Lynch is the decision of Justice Francis Cooke against four airline workers disputing the validity of vaccine mandates—“I am satisfied that the vaccine is safe and effective”. Justice Cooke further dismissed as irrelevant the UK government data which shows that Covid-19 is spreading more readily among the vaccinated saying—“Such possibilities do not mean that vaccination does not inhibit transmission, it just means there are uncertainties”. A vacuous rejection of the relevance of real world data. In so doing he supported the argument that the NZ government is justified in mandating the exposure of the population to unknown health risks (despite the NZ Bill of Rights), and found that it was not unlawful for the government to terminate the employment of the unvaccinated without compensation. We could be forgiven for remembering Justice Mahon’s oft quoted phrase in his Erebus judgement—“an orchestrated litany of lies”.

My final conclusion—as there have been no long term trials of the effect of Covid-19 vaccines, and there are scientific indications that these could be serious, there can be no certainty of eventual outcomes. In this situation uncertainty is the truth, not a mistaken cause of confusion. To suggest otherwise is misinformation. In this situation, the internet is not a source of confusion, but our sole lifeline to fact check government propaganda and uncover carefully hidden and inconvenient truths. 

Dr Guy Hatchard
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