offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

Vaccine Hesitancy

To start off, I understand some communities have historically had bad experiences with being subject to institutionally approved medicine that proved harmful and that this can lead to skepticism that is justifiably hard to root out. However, I don't understand why people would doubt science, let alone vaccines, in societies where people have reliably been protected by vaccines for decades. Even more, when our elders can still remember the deaths that had occurred before those vaccines were widely available.

Sure, corruption is a widespread phenomenon, but there's still peer review and, among the huge number of people involved, the information can no longer remain hidden for a long time. It's very trendy to debate about COVID-19 vaccines at the moment, and I'll say a few about them as well. I've no qualms about getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it's available to my cohort, even though I had received a flu jab recently and it was not an ideal experience. The form asked to give my consensus to a general statement that I was not allergic to the vaccine's ingredients without disclosing those ingredients. And then it specifically asked: "Are you allergic to eggs?". The entire process lacked transparency and did not instill much confidence.

To make matters more complicated, there's a synthetic vs natural aspect to the debate in vaccine production. While I'd prefer a vegan friendly vaccine, it's on everybody to make a choice for themselves between the very limited options there are. I opt to protect lives and if that means getting vaccinated and improving the herd immunity, that's what I'm doing. After all, I'd still go for another one. Why? Because I trust the vaccination process and that the vaccine has been tested and allowed to be produced, no matter how clumsy the disclosure of information at the individual level can be. Being vegan is trying to do the least harm and it would be irresponsible of me to cause more damage in the long run.


Vaccines prevent serious disease consequences including premature death and they could save more lives if vaccination efforts had more penetration than they currently have. A vaccine tells the body how to fight a disease without the process of contracting and surviving it (or being inconvenienced by it). When enough individuals are immune to a disease, this triggers herd immunity, meaning that, if enough people among the population are immune, the risk of spreading the disease to other individuals (who cannot get the vaccine due to various reasons, e.g. allergies) becomes unlikely.

Historically, vaccines saved a lot of lives since their introduction. There's a nice infographic about how they helped in the US.

The perceived reasons why vaccines are unnecessary are various. From simple fear of needles to discounting the dangers of a disease or having safety concerns about the vaccine in question. It turns out vaccines remain pretty safe and efficient, and overall, most side-effects are due to the immune system being agitated into a response to become fight-ready against possible oncoming exposure.

The disruption of herd immunity usually stems from the sociological phenomenon called free-riding. People can benefit from overall herd immunity even though they're not vaccinated, which is built-in by design - to protect those who cannot take the vaccine. Some of those who are eligible, but refuse and still free-ride the herd immunity promote the idea that there is no need to take vaccines as nobody is getting ill in the first place. If such influence spreads in the community and people start refusing to vaccinate, herd immunity weakens, which may in turn lead to disease resurgence and stifle the ability of the community to keep healthy in total as more individuals take sick than before.

This is a very dangerous and anti-scientific behavior. A disease is usually not eradicated and its effects can still be observed in individuals who contract it. It is still among us, it's just that we have reduced its access to viable hosts.

We can see examples of free-riding everywhere around us in people who use the resources available to a community, but refuse to uphold them, and we are often much more sensitive and disapproving of those examples. For instance, people at work who cruise on other people's efforts, people not paying for public transport tickets, people who litter counting on it being cleaned up by somebody else. You'll definitely see tempers melt when the topic of social benefits comes up in the context of people receiving them while dodging legal employment and contributing to the same system that has come to their aid. My pet peeve are people who are disinclined to sacrifice anything to offset climate change, but will enjoy the benefits if the problem is solved by others. The examples are numerous.

This type of behavior can lead to serious consequences when it comes to opting out of vaccination. Disease recurrences have happened in recent years, for example, with measles just some years ago in Croatia and Ukraine and even here in Dublin, in 2000. People need to learn from history. Not ignore it. People need to learn in general.

The lack of personal experience makes people insensitive. Out of sight, out of mind. It also brings about other conspiratorial ideas because of the trap of solipsism. The scientific method counters this with peer review. Of course, the experiment can be replicated. Very often people are not equipped to replicate it or can't be bothered to do it and see for themselves so instead of trusting the method, sometimes they opt to spread false (and debunked) claims. It's easier.

I want to point out that the vaccines are held to a higher degree of safety, especially COVID-19 because they are primarily to be applied to healthy individuals and the imperative goal is to keep them out of the health system and avoid stressing it further. True, side-effects are possible, but very rare and the consequences of the disease that the vaccination is against are much more severe and frequent, and might overwhelm the heath system altogether.

Growing up as a kid, there was mandatory vaccination that was usually done in schools. Aside from a few tears and fear of the needle, nobody I know had a related issue later in life, and it was commonly understood that it was for our benefit. Vesna, however, remembers having a nasty case of chickenpox for which we weren't vaccinated. This vaccine is today available and it would've spared her some misery at the time. Vaccination runs were a regular occurrence. It's how it was for the whole country and it was considered perfectly normal. No outbreaks of diseases and everyone healthy and alive. I believe they still are regular, but I notice the push-back in the general public has become more vocal.

So back to COVID-19 vaccines, which are mostly focused on dealing with the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein. There is a hesitancy stemming from the safety issues. No longitudinal study has been done and it couldn't have been. The disease is about a year old, it has turned the society upside-down and its dangers are not abating. The solutions were bound to be on the radical side.

There are several approaches to the vaccine and a lot of them are authorized and proven to be very effective. One of the approaches to the COVID-19 vaccine is the mRNA technology. Even though it was not licensed for use in humans until now, the research on it is nearly 30 years old.

There are some hurdles with mRNA vaccines, though. The delivery mechanism is coating it in lipid particles because it's very unstable and has to be kept very, very cold making it difficult for logistics of the vaccination programs. However, quick adaption of the vaccine for the variants makes this a technology that we'll rely on in the long run. Not just for the present pandemic.

For the explanation on how the mRNA vaccines work, a good one was done by Bert Hubert on a BioNTech/Pfizer example of the vaccine mechanism.

It's time for the civilization to step up. A truckload of money has been thrown at the issue greatly accelerating the results, and the mRNA vaccines have became a second coming in the fight against the disease. While the process was expedited, no corners were cut. They must not be, otherwise we face more problems than we currently have. We're in the pandemic together and in the unexplored waters. Humanity has never faced a challenge like this before and vaccine research is doing the best it can with the amount of time at disposal.