When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Ideas

Time To Change The Way We Talk About Vaccines

What we got wrong about the vaccines, what we still don’t know…and why we need to keep vaccinating.

a woman holding a syringe for a COVID vaccine

With Pfizer and Moderna, all speed records for vaccine development were broken

Carl-Johan Karlsson

-Analysis-

It’s now been little over a year since the news broke that Pfizer and Moderna had developed respective vaccines that were well over 90% effective, and had no serious side effects — and they’d done it in less than one year, breaking all speed records for vaccine development.

Coming in the midst of a dark period of infections rising again around the world, the news was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.


Sure, there were still huge lingering questions in the global response to the pandemic, including the ability to produce and distribute these powerful new vaccines worldwide. But on an individual level, we were told quite clearly a year ago: if you get your jabs, you have a very high percentage chance of a COVID-free future.

Misdirected messaging

You can go back and read certain in-depth stories that included crucial caveats to optimism, like the uncertain durability of immune response to the various vaccines. Or the potential ability of new variants to bypass our immune systems. Or that factors like vaccine transportation and storage can also reduce vaccine effectiveness. Or — in short — about that vast space that exists between clinical trials and real-world outcomes. Still, in plenty of articles — like this New York Times piece headlined “New Pfizer Results: Coronavirus Vaccine Is Safe and 95% Effective” — there are scant signs of caution or scientific nuance.

And now, of course, the Delta and Omicron variants have conspired to bring our soaring vaccine expectations back to earth, and countries around the world are again locking down and closing borders. We not only find ourselves back to asking when it will all end — by now we know it’s a rhetorical question for the gods, rather than something the scientists can answer.

But we should also ask why the public was so ill-prepared for the setback. Was there something we misunderstood? Was there something the doctors got wrong? Was the vaccine uber-optimism from public officials and the scientific community the best and only way to maximize the number of people willing to get the jab?

Ideology vs. fear 

The misfired messaging has left an already fatigued global population now faced with the fact that vaccines alone may not be the silver bullet we were promised — and a no less troubling reality that the question of getting vaccinated or not has acquired tremendous emotional voltage that risks backfiring in the medium and long-term.

The first to blame are no doubt political leaders and demagogues who have slowed vaccine progress, combined with a very vocal minority of ideological anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories online. Still, we on the other side of the argument have fallen into a different trap of palming off millions of people as ignorant and selfish fools.

Where I live, in Bulgaria, the least vaccinated country in Europe, hospitals are flooded as some 75% of the population refuse the jab. But talking to people here, I’ve yet to meet anyone who fits the bill of the Trump-supporting, anti-science, anti-vaxxer ranting about freedom and rights. Mostly, the people I talk to are afraid — both of the virus and the vaccines — and they ask legitimate questions, especially over why the virus is still spreading in the most well-vaccinated countries.

Rising above demonization 

I’m still convinced that vaccination is our best weapon against the virus. The global health crisis and our apparent inability to prognosticate aren’t the products of some government conspiracy or Big Pharma plot (regardless of their billions in profits!), but simply the best that science could do in the face of an aggressive virus in a globalized world. We also know that vaccinations, while not bulletproof, drastically limit both deaths and contagion, with recent data showing that the vaccinated run 10 times lower risk of infection, and 20 times less likely to die once infected.

And yet, we should also see that such virulent and divided public debate goes beyond a simple science vs. delusion schema — depending as it does on factors ranging from religious belief and access to information, to misinformation and a deep-seated distrust in authority, whether in a purported democracy or blatant kleptocracy.

Indeed, while this pandemic has reminded us of both the power and limits of science, there is conclusive historical evidence that collective vitriol and demonizing are the worst possible tools to change anyone’s mind. And as for our leaders, it may be time to start trusting the public's intelligence and provide the fullest picture of that enemy we still can’t quite see.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Dottoré!

Sowing The Seeds Of Paranoia

"They must be dumping garbage — good, it makes for good fertilizer!"

"Slowly, we were the only ones left"

Mariateresa Fichele

"Dottoré, I know a lot of flags, and let me tell you why. I grew up in the province of Caserta, and — like everybody in those days — my parents owned a piece of land, and they would take me with them to farm it.

I remember there were other kids in the fields around us. But then, slowly, we were the only ones left because everybody was selling the land, making a lot of money off of it too.

Papà wouldn't listen to reason and he kept the land. But in the meantime, instead of farmers, trucks began to arrive. Many many trucks, unloading thousands of barrels and burying them into the ground.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ