Identifying as unvaccinated

I have received my jab, done my duty, but remain ineligible for a Canadian "vax passport." Not that I want one.

Having spent the entirety of the Covid pandemic in Taiwan, I have been fortunate in my isolation not just from the virus, but from the Western cultural divisions and questions over whether I have been or will get vaccinated. Let’s just say I’m a “late adopter of new technology,” so I felt lucky to be in a place where neither Covid nor vaccines were present. I could skate around the subject easily when chatting with friends back home in Canada.

A widespread outbreak initiated by quarantine-breaking (though fully vaccinated) pilots in May changed all that in Taiwan. About 500 cases per day were tamped down over the weeks that followed, and the government did a good job of getting us back to zero without restricting freedoms to any significant degree. But the public attitude toward vaccination flipped from apathy to desperation. Everybody wanted a shot, yet supplies had only trickled in during the previous few months. Donations from Japan and elsewhere, along with emergency purchases, suddenly flowed in.

In late July, a local company called Medigen had Taiwan’s first homegrown vaccine ready, and an Emergency Use Authorization got its stamp of approval seemingly within days. It’s worth noting here that Medigen is nearly identical to an awaited US brand called Novavax that completed its Phase 3 trials and is struggling to come to market. Both Medigen and Novavax can fairly be called “traditional” vaccines, as they both use a “protein subunit” formula developed from yeast. It has been used in Hepatitis B and flu vaccines since the late 1980s. Medigen is also using an antigen that is fairly new but has years worth of data showing mild adverse reactions.

Taiwanese have been split on their local product. Many are lining up for Medigen shots in a show of patriotic support for the Taiwanese biotech industry, but most look upon the German, British, and American vaccines as the Porsches, Dysons, and Apples of the vaccine world.

THE PERSONAL & THE POLITICAL OF CHOOSING A SHOT

With both Covid and the vaccines now squatting in my backyard, there was no room for ambivalence. The government suggested that we might have to live with Covid and not be subjected to restrictions should another outbreak occur, indicating a greater need for vaccination.

I chose Medigen without hesitation. I have now received both of my shots and felt no symptoms from either. Friends who also got Medigen reported a day of fatigue as the most severe after-effect, if any.

My vaccination with the shot of my choice might seem to have settled the issue of my anxiety about the “new tech” vaccines. Still, the personal is often political, and I am not unaffected by my decision.

If I had to go back to Canada right now, I would face a harsh verdict being handed down to some in my society. Canada only accepts the four “first world vaccines” as legitimate immunizations against Covid, and thus I am not eligible for a Covid passport. That means a full self-paid quarantine, and an inability to join my friends for a night out at a restaurant or bar. As a recipient of Medigen, I am as guilty as an antivaxxer by technicality.

The same goes for, say, a foreign exchange student who was vaccinated in India, China, Brazil or the Philippines and happened to get one of the WHO-approved Chinese vaccines used in those and other countries. The same is true of anyone who received the Sputnik V shot in Russia, the UAE, Argentina and elsewhere.

There is no scientific rationale for Canada to not accept these vaccines as legitimate for inbound travelers. It would be fair to speculate that a bias toward Western science is at play here, which surprisingly doesn’t seem to bother the social justice warriors who find racism lurking under every bed. I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that the vast majority of the global population that Canada now allows over its borders is white.

Despite having “done the right thing” and gotten vaccinated, people such as myself will not only be banned from restaurants and cafés, but are also put at risk of being denied emergency medical services because we can’t flash the right QR code at the triage unit — a reality that hasn’t manifested yet, but is a direction hospitals in my country and others are being pressured to take.

In that sense, I have been forced to side with the unvaccinated. This isn’t to say that I like or dislike or have any opinion whatsoever of “the unvaccinated.” I’m not exactly impressed when I see idiots blocking hospital entrances or pelting politicians with rocks. At the same time, I don’t believe that these people are representative of “the unvaccinated” at large. One study shows that PhD holders are the most resistant to vaccine uptake, not to mention the tens (or hundreds?) of thousands of healthcare workers — which includes doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who are willing to get fired over this matter. A Forbes writer on this subject says, “one in eight doctors and nurses hesitating to get vaccinated raises the question whether they know something the rest of us don’t.” I suspect that many of them have had Covid and know from rudimentary medical knowledge that their immunity is superior to anything a vaccine can provide, and see no reason to follow advice from politicians on the matter.

Many of the people I follow online who are either unvaccinated or support non-mainstream vaccine views are all on the socialist or left side of the political spectrum, some of them academics, and are quite civilized in their discussions. Then again, many unvaccinated people also discuss their views on Fox News and Info Wars, which I don’t watch, but whatever — it’s a diverse group. Some of them can’t read, others will save your life if you have a heart attack.

The position I relate myself to now is that of a straight man who decades ago would have been at risk of being fired or otherwise discriminated against because rumors were spreading that he was gay. That straight person could try to prove his sexuality to others and preserve his status, or he could be courageous and fight the discrimination. Do I pressure my society to make an exception for me because I believe my vaccine is legitimate? Or do I stand up for all who received other “non mainstream” vaccines, or have strong antibody immunities from previous infections, or would take a traditional vaccine if one were offered?

The last point is the one I want to parse here. We know that most of the people resisting the “big four” Covid vaccines are doing so because, like me, they distrust the “new technology,” along with the side effects being reported both officially and by word of mouth, and would jump at the chance to obtain a traditional vaccine. Whether their distrust is legitimate or not isn’t what I focus on. The point is that if we want to get them vaccinated as soon as possible, the West could import the Taiwanese and Chinese vaccines (or just make them — it’s not like others weren’t able to figure it out). Not doing so is an all-caps POLITICAL decision. We are trying to tell the unvaccinated that we are in a dire, deadly, unprecedented, and extremely urgent health emergency. So why aren’t we acting like it and embracing every possible treatment, including foreign vaccines?

I could have just taken one of the “first-world” vaccines so I could safely join the club of the privileged if I need to travel back home. But medical choices should always be made for health reasons. Choosing a “Canada-approved” vaccine, one that I believed inferior, would have been purely a political decision, solely about satisfying a bureaucracy to earn privileges that I believe should not be subject to medical treatment in the first place. And if I’m wrong on that last point, I again say, we should be embracing all safe treatments, along with other options such as loosening patent protections and paying the pharmaceutical companies some compensation for their contributions. If you’re drowning in a river and a log comes floating by, you don’t say, “I think I’ll wait for the authorities to arrive.” People might not believe you’re in that much of an emergency in the first place — and this is partly what fuels the suspicions of the vax hesitant.

What I find interesting is that I have talked with friends and heard reports of other people feeling weirded out about the mRNA vaccines, but they went with a viral vector vaccine — AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson — so their “vax hesitancy” became invisible. Others have had anxiety over the rare but life-threatening chances of blood clots and other conditions coming to light post-trial around the viral vector vaccines, so they went with the mRNA Moderna or Pfizer shots.

Any person who chose Pfizer over AZ, or Moderna over J&J because they believed one was safer or more psychologically comforting than the other is vaccine hesitant in some way. We don’t get angry at such “anti-science nonsense” so long as one vaccine is chosen.

If a fifth, traditional vaccine were in the mix, then a person could reject all of the other four without being judged as an antivaxxer. But without that choice, suddenly all those who have “questions and concerns” become anti-science Trumpy cretins.

This highlights the false standards that the unvaccinated have been judged on. Of course, the reality is that this fifth choice isn’t available in the Western world, and perhaps you would argue that people should just take whatever is offered. But it’s odd that we would validate or invalidate a person’s critical thinking skills by the standard of what happens to be on the market. It would be like removing all organic, non-GMO foods from the supply chain and then picking a war with the holistic nutritionists for rejecting healthy fruits and vegetables, or criticizing those who feel forced to eat something they don’t want to.

So, I ask — Am I ignorant, primitive, or anti-science because I lack trust in all four of the “modern tech” Covid vaccines? Or am I welcome into the world of the educated pro-science gentry because I happily accepted one other scientifically backed vaccine?

THE VALUE OF A NON-POLITICIZED, NON-COERCED DECISION

If I had been living in Canada at the time of the Covid outbreak, I likely would have taken the first vaccine available, despite my reservations. Weighing up what we knew about Covid versus what we knew about the vaccines, I would have taken my chances with the vaccines.

But… I can see that if I had taken a wait-and-see approach, I could have easily been demotivated and pushed the other way as I watched humanity’s worst instincts emerge in the forms of condescension and mob mentality.

A promise was being broken. The deal was that getting the population vaccinated would take us back to normal. It was implied that a 70% to 80% vaccination rate was the magic number. The vulnerable would be offered the vaccine first, most of them would take it, pressure on hospitals would be relieved, and then it wouldn’t matter if some people chose not to get vaccinated.

We’re nearing 80% in Canada now, and while some hospitals continue with problems, we are also getting ready to fire 17,000 healthcare workers in the province of Quebec, with others surely to follow. This completely negates the argument that we need vaccine passports and mandates to save our hospitals, when the measures themselves result in a healthcare catastrophe.

Simply ending the “war on the unvaccinated” would in fact raise vaccination rates, not to mention keep our hospitals fully staffed. Canadian studies show that 90% of vaccine-resistant people are liberals who refuse on the grounds that they “hate government telling me what to do.” Ninety percent! So how about we get off their backs and let them make a decision in their doctor’s office?

Now that I am vaccinated, I would be perfectly comfortable being around non-vaccinated people. That would be back to normal. If I had been vaccinated in Canada with a shot I didn’t entirely trust, I would feel betrayed by what it happening. I wouldn’t have signed up for a battle with the unvaccinated. I would have been signing up for a “normal” that includes hanging out with my friends, hoping that they were vaccinated and protected too, but accepting their choice if they weren’t. Using vax passports to sort the wheat from the chaff not only violates the social promise of earlier this year, it goes against my ethics.

The false politicization of the vaccines has particularly disgusted me. I’m sure there’s no need to provide sources to demonstrate the narrative used against the unvaccinated — it’s so pervasive, we all know what I’m talking about. But here’s one egregious example:

“It’s time to start firing unvaccinated people: Trump fans are overdue for a lesson in consequences.”A recent headline from Salon

This is no longer a campaign to boost vaccination rates. It’s simply a cover to punish people for their politics and perceived social ranking. These conclusions are also based on an intentional misreading of data. (i.e., older people are more likely to live in rural areas, which tend to lean Republican, and since Covid kills older people at remarkably higher rates than young people, the conclusion is drawn that Trump supporters die from Covid more often than people in Democratic districts.)

This data manipulation to support hatred is an obscenely dangerous form of gaslighting that burns through our social fabric. Even if we get 99% vaccination rates through vax passports, the war will shift to the “boosted” versus “the right-wing dingbat unboosted.” Or it will be a variant that supposedly only the unvaccinated can carry. Trust me, our society will find some way to continue this conflict.

I did not choose to get vaccinated to demonstrate my opposition to Trump or Alt-Right politics. Considering that I empathize with the unvaccinated, I feel personally slandered by the social messaging. This disgusting politicization of medical choices is also not the “return to normal” I signed up for.

And seeing newspapers with these kinds of front pages is also not my definition of a normal society:


I see things like this, and I wonder, what the fuck is going on back in Canada? Or much of the Western world, for that matter. The newspaper is ostensibly presenting this page as an example of a “simmering divide,” but where are the opinions on the other side of this gap? Why is only one side represented? In the same way experts and scientists disagree over vaccine policies and only one side is chosen to present opinions in the media, this page, too, leans on “I want them to die” because it reflects an opinion that is widely accepted. “My body, my choice” would actually make more people more upset, even if just squeezed in for balance.

This war is a decision we have collectively made. Countries like Japan, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have looked at these public fissures elsewhere and decided that further restrictions aren’t worth the social damage, even with vaccination rates the same or lower than Canada’s. Meanwhile, Singapore is building on its healthcare infrastructure as part of its long-term strategy for living with Covid. Picking fights with the unvaccinated is a choice. It’s not an inevitability.

In Taiwan, I was able to make a sober evaluation of which vaccine I felt most comfortable taking. Without judgment, without false narratives about my personality or my politics being shouted by my neighbors. Whether or not I’m right about Medigen being the safest shot isn’t the point. It might turn out otherwise, and my reservations about the “big four” vaccines might turn out to be unfounded.

The point is that making people feel safe, comfortable, and informed is the best method of persuasion. This concept is known throughout society, from used car salesmen, to doctors, to cigarette advertisers, to political campaigners. Why society has forgotten this basic concept of psychology 101 en masse during what is supposed to be the most cataclysmic pandemic since the 1918 flu is beyond comprehension. Adding disdain and name calling into the mix is merely pissing on what is already a shit sandwich. You might be able to force some people to eat it, but be prepared for a sick society afterward.

To end this on a happier note, I shall share this random image I found on Twitter. It’s the world we should all want.