As we enter a third year of the Covid-19 pandemic the latest mutation of the virus is ripping through populations and filling hospitals. Omicron appears to be less deadly but the stakes in its management or control seem higher than ever.

Lockdowns are out of favour, but the condition for participating in society is now a vaccination pass. Governments want young children to be vaccinated, putting pressure on many parents.

For a significant minority of people, the price of freedom has become high. They are prepared to surrender their jobs, social life and even the harmony of family life rather than take the jabs.

What is driving them to such lengths?

Many of those who swell the street protests against mandates may be just “agin the government”, seizing the opportunity to display their mistrust – not only of politicians but of other powerful institutions, notably Big Pharma.

However, it is clear that there are many serious-minded citizens who have given up their jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, academics, administrators and service workers because they will not be vaccinated. They are not all “idiots” as some politicians seem to think. Their reasons range from fear of side-effects that may be serious or even fatal, to conscientious objection to the nature of the Covid vaccines.

Medical objections

As with other vaccines, serious side effects are a real, if relatively rare thing.  

(It would be a brave person who could say for sure how many people have actually died as result of vaccination. Reported deaths following vaccination are investigated, and the number officially recognised as vaccine-related so far is vanishingly small. Of course, the question of causality also applies to deaths among people who contract Covid-19.)

Two months ago (and double-jabbed) I was attended by a nurse at a local clinic who, in a conversation about Covid mandates, told me she would not take the Pfizer shots and fully expected to lose her job.  She is not the only one in her profession resisting vaccination. From experience she feared a serious allergic reaction, but said she would take the Novavax vaccine, which is still not available in New Zealand. (It was approved for Australia this week.) Meanwhile she was forfeiting any chance of seeing her grandchildren in another region.

Some women are worried about the effects of the vaccines on their fertility. The Australian Department of Health denies this strongly. “There is currently no evidence that antibodies formed from COVID-19 vaccination cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence suggesting that fertility problems are a side effect of ANY vaccine.” Even if the authorities are mistaken, the probability must be low – and the converse may also be true, that Covid itself might affect male and female fertility as well as the health of a pregnancy.  

Conscientious objections

At the other end of the scale are those with a moral objection to the use of historical cell lines from aborted fetuses in the production (Astra Zeneca) or testing (Pfizer and Moderna) of the vaccines. Most of these resisters would be practising Catholics, whom Church teaching leaves free to exercise their conscience on the use of such vaccines – though in the current pandemic church authorities including the Pope have strongly encouraged vaccination, for the common good.

Other reasons given for refusing the vaccine and protesting mandates include: the neglect or banning of alternatives to vaccination (such as early treatment), the silencing of those who advance them, and the consequent lack of informed consent among the public; and philosophical-political objections to Big Brother socialism and the technocracy that increasingly enables it.

On the political front, the mother of a large family writes to MercatorNet from the United States: “We do not trust the motives of our current government; we need to push back on this vaccine mandate or the government will continue to diminish our freedom.”

“Jane” and her husband have other objections but have taken a somewhat pragmatic approach to vaccination. He, the breadwinner, and a daughter beginning university overseas have been vaccinated. It helped that the Moderna vaccine was made without using controversial fetal cells, though they were used in testing.

Jane has not, because of being allergic to many things, but is recovered from a serious Covid infection with the help of monoclonal antibodies. Their children also got Covid but only the youngest was much affected. They have all gained a level of natural immunity which she believes is more protective than the vaccines offer.

American doctor and academic Aaron Kheriaty has taken a prominent stance on the effectiveness of natural immunity, based on his own experience of recovering from Covid, and a number of studies. The father of five recently lost his job as professor of psychiatry and director of a medical ethics programme at University of California Irvine for his stand against mandated vaccination. He argues that, since he (and all his family) had Covid last year, his natural immunity is as good as, if not superior to any conferred by a vaccine.

Dr Kheriaty is not against vaccination, but says that as a medical ethicist he is obliged to take a stand for informed consent, and against unreasonable compulsion. His wife, as well as a number of colleagues and students, support him as he fights his case against UCI in federal court.

Fighting alone

Not every Covid anti-vaxxer, however, has that much support. For every couple united in their spirit of sacrifice for an important principle, there’s bound to be another where the loss of a good job, or the vaccination of the children, or participation in social life is causing serious friction with the spouse.

In one case I know of, where the husband’s job is at stake, children and friends are unsympathetic as well. In other instances, family bonds are strained. There’s the unvaccinated mother who cannot visit her daughter in another country, the grandmother whose family cannot understand why she is resisting a move that would protect her more than them; the teenager angry because he can’t go on a school trip – and blaming his parents for being unvaxxed.

I am sympathetic with many of the reasons people have for rejecting the vaccine. I’ve signed a petition against mandates and for rapid antigen testing instead. The one size fits all approach, the refusal to recognise natural immunity and some early treatments for Covid, the lack of public health education on basic self-care as prevention (diet, exercise, adequate sleep, sunlight, vitamin supplements where necessary…), keeping kids out of school and social life for long periods – all these seem wrong to me.

Weighing up the risks

But, you know what? I could be wrong. Have been before. What if the broad-brush approach is the most protective of the weakest and most exposed in a pandemic?

Pope Francis, whose view of the pandemic counts for me, has said that getting the vaccine is “an act of love”. “Love for oneself, love for our families and friends, and love for all peoples. Love is also social and political … Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.”

Try for an exemption by all means. Fight for better information and policies. But, faced with mandates already in place and unlikely to disappear soon, why not conform? Take the shots and continue the fight from the other side – if not for the common good, or your own (if you don’t think it is) then at least for the good of those you love.

Based on New Zealand figures there is a 0.002 percent chance of dying following vaccination (133 reported deaths compared with 8,184,892 doses of Pfizer) and a much smaller chance of dying because of it.

Compared with a 100 percent risk of losing your livelihood or a 20 percent chance of splitting up the family, getting jabbed seems a risk worth taking.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet