On July 2, 2021, I joined about a hundred-million other Americans and partook in a medical practice that has occurred for more than two centuries, I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, specifically Moderna.
I didn’t want to get the vaccine right away when it became available for the group in which I belong, I wanted to wait and see what happened, I wanted to see the data. On its effectiveness and on the long-term effects. Some of my hesitancy was also due to fear and uncertainty caused by the speed at which everything was happening and by the fears shared by others online and in the news. Fear too is contagious after all.
I watched as federal and international agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), spoke in circles about best practices in response to the outbreak, about effective preventative measures, and treatment options. I heard contradictory information from politicians on both sides and their peddlers and commentators, all of whom were flying by the seat of their pants in the whirlwind of uncertainty, speculation, and worst of all – agendas.
I watched as people in my hometown died of the virus, I watched as my friends and coworkers contracted the virus – some never having a symptom and some becoming long-haulers experiencing debilitating side-effects long after initial recovery. I listened to strangers talk about the loss of their mother, father, son, or daughter, old and young alike. I listened to news outlets that made it seem like the world was coming to an end and I heard then President Trump compare it to the common flu – nothing to be particularly concerned with.
We all have reasons for the decisions that we make, some of our reasons are legitimate and worthy of consideration, but some of our reasons are not. Some are unfounded, illegitimate, or are based on our emotions.
Sometimes we justify those emotional responses with someone else’s emotional response, especially when we trust that person or group of people as representatives of our own concerns or values.
Like most people, I’ve heard all kinds of things about the COVID-19 vaccine, positive and negative. It shouldn’t be surprising that the negative statements are repeated much more frequently, as we humans love our drama, our scandals, our fears.
Walk into your office on Monday and tell a coworker that you’re in love with your spouse and the information spreads no further, but tell your coworker that you’re in love with your spouse’s sibling and everyone in your office will hear about it before the day is over.
Doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, no one cares whether it’s true, people care that it’s shocking, surprising, exciting, intriguing, scandalous, outrageous. People care because it’s drama and people love drama. It makes their mundane lives more interesting and exciting.
Drama, however, is blinding and so are emotions, especially fear and anger. These things discard and obscure what is true, or sometimes even prevent what is true from being discovered and shared.
Like most of us, I wanted answers about the vaccines, real answers if at all possible. Not rumors, not confabulations, not lies that serve an agenda. Especially not a political agenda. I watched, I waited, I listened to hear what more intelligent people than myself had to say.
But this was hard because every time I listened to the news or logged into social media to see what other people’s experiences were like, I was inundated with political propaganda about COVID-19 and the vaccine, articles shared from people and Facebook pages I did not know – some proclaiming or pretending to be experts, news outlets and sites with no reputation but lots of opinions, some random person’s viral and misleading political meme, and so on.
I was surrounded by drama and political motivation. This has been an ever-increasing problem, not just about this health risk but about everything and it’s particularly prevalent online. There was a time when I too was part of the problem – only listening to people and entities that agreed with me. We all wish life was black and white, right and wrong, because absolutism is easier than the complexities of reality.
It’s easier to believe that there is a government or pharmaceutical conspiracy than it is to find the truth for yourself. Sometimes truth-seeking means that you don’t have a definitive conclusion, at least not right away. The truth often means you have to work for it, it means you have to swim through the bullshit, it means you have to be willing to hear what other people say – people who don’t share your perspective, it means you must do the thing that scares us the most – question ourselves and our biases. And sometimes the truth just takes time, more time than we have and we are left with only the best information available but no definitive truth.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google searches, news outlets, and so on, have been breeding grounds for subjective information, sensationalism, fear-mongering, politicalization for liberals and conservatives, and for radicals who just want to see everything burn. These past several years have been horrendous.
All of this is not to suggest that I was attempting to get medical advice from social media or a news outlet, I’m just saying that misinformation spreads across these systems like a virus, pun intended, and these systems are always just a few taps of the keyboard away. No one should ever get medical information or advice from an obscure Facebook page, or unreputable news outlet, or a person on Twitter who is uneducated on the topic, or anyone who doesn’t provide sources.
Even if you deem the source of the information as trustworthy, you shouldn’t immediately accept everything as truth. They need to provide citations for their information, a pathway for you to independently verify their information. Understand that people are generally lazy and will not fact-check anything. This is especially true if the information already complies with their political beliefs.
Confirmation bias dictates that a person accept information as truth if the information validates what the person already believes to be true. This must be avoided at all costs.
We now live in a world where everyone needs to be a skeptic, not out of luxury but out of necessity. Your life could depend upon your ability to practice scrutiny. A skeptic is not someone who denies all claims, but someone who does not accept any claim as truth without either independent research or verification from reputable sources.
This won’t be easy because you’ll be getting information from people and people lie, even highly educated or otherwise respectable people lie. With politics festering and infecting every aspect of our lives, even the medical industry cannot be viewed wholly as a bastion of reason and logic.
This is why you must broaden your sources of information, set aside your bias and seek input from a variety of medical sources, whether they comply with your political views or not. No, I’m not saying seek out a shaman, I’m saying read more than one cited article or reputable study, talk to more than one licensed physician.
Ask yourself questions such as: (1) How does this person know what they claim to know? (2) Where are they getting their information? (3) Does this person have an agenda, do they gain something from making these statements? (4) How does this information compare with the information I’m receiving from other sources?
Politics is a disease that has encroached upon the sanctity of our humanity. Politicians and their political peddlers and commentators lie for a living, it’s what they get paid to do and they do it well. They don’t care about you and your problems, they don’t care whether you as an individual live or die, they only care about themselves and the political institutions that they all mutually prosper from.
They prey on your emotions because that’s where you are weakest. Once they have your attention, they can get your support, from your support they get money, and from money they get power.
So, this brings me back to the vaccine. I cannot and will not tell anyone else whether or not to get the vaccine. Why not? I’m not a licensed physician, I don’t know your medical history, I don’t know how your body will react.
What I will tell you is that you should investigate from reputable sources, communicate with people who have the educational background to form an objective and informed determination. And then decide for yourself. Whatever choice you make, you must live with the potential consequences – for yourself and those around you.
I found this conversation between neuroscientist Sam Harris and cardiologist Eric Topol to be rather insightful and informative on the topic. They discuss vaccine hesitancy and related misinformation, as well as the problem of political and social siloing, concerns about mRNA vaccines, the Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA, the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines, vaccine efficacy vs effectiveness, the Delta variant, the misuse of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
They also discuss concerns about long-term side effects from vaccines, bad incentives in medicine, ivermectin, government and corporate censorship, the curious case of Bret Weinstein, vaccine mandates, and other topics.