By Siobhan Elizabeth Ball
Two years after the World as we knew it turned on its axis, people are still debating the legitimacy of the vaccine against COVID-19.
Historically, the UK has had low levels of scepticism and therefore high vaccination rates. Prior to Coronavirus British children had received their full range of routine childhood jabs at a rate of 90%.
Dr Paula Larrson, a researcher at the University of Oxford said, “what shocks me most is how vaccinations have changed a lot since the first anti-vax movements in the 1800s, but the movement hasn’t changed that much”. However, a concern of the vaccine’s legitimacy is understandable as no other event in history has precipitated this level of intense, simultaneous research and exchange of expertise between scientists from around the world in such a short period of time. A notion supported by Dr Arnold-Forster who claims, “there are definitely some people who were pro-vaccine before but are particularly concerned about the COVID vaccine because they have watched it develop, so there’s anxieties about the speed at which it’s been rolled out”.
Governments find themselves in a Catch-22 situation in terms of compulsory vaccination mandates as there is ample evidence to support both sides. Between 1919 and 1928, there were 10 US states that imposed mandatory vaccines for smallpox and in these states, there were 6.6 smallpox cases per 10,000 people. Whereas, in four states which banned compulsory vaccinations, this rose to a whopping 115.2 cases per 10,000 people. However, there is also evidence that mandatory vaccinations increased opposition as the 1853 compulsory vaccination act in the UK caused riots in English towns that set up “anti-vaccination leagues”. The U.K. government has learnt from this, and vaccinations have not been mandatory since, unless for job specific reasons such as within the NHS, resorting to more creative regulations and mandates to avoid associations with “compulsion” such as the COVID passport rolled out during the re-opening of nightclubs. Yet, other European nations have not been as creative and have placed restrictions on those who choose to go unvaccinated. The re-emergence of the Star of David used to identify Jews in Nazi-era Germany by anti-vax protestors replacing the word “Jude” [Jew] with the phrase “Ungeimpft” [unvaccinated] has ignited uproar amongst Jewish communities. Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the protesters “blatant comparisons with the Nazi-era” equation of COVID restrictions with the persecution of 6 million Jews as “contemptuous of humanity and totally disrespectful”. A reaction shared by Holocaust survivor, Margot Friedlaender who said “today I see the memory of what happened being abused for political reasons” and “incredulous, I had to watch at the age of 100 years how symbols of our exclusion by the Nazis, such as the so-called “Judenstern”, are shamelessly used on the open street by the new enemies of democracy, to present themselves – whilst living in the middle of a democracy – as victims”.
Scripps Health, a non-profit health care system based in San Diego, California provides a clear layman’s term explanation on the vaccinated versus unvaccinated debate.
- When someone who is unvaccinated is exposed to the COVID virus, protection from the virus comes from the body’s innate immune system or “innate defenders”, which are responsible for rapid, non-specific response to pathogens and harmful substances.
- COVID is an evasive virus, however, and can wreak havoc on the body before it can mount an adequate response.
- The adaptive immune system is responsible for antigen-specific immune responses but its initial response to an antigen can be slow.
- An unvaccinated person’s immune system might eventually produce a stronger response to the virus, but that process could take weeks. By then the virus may have caused a lot of harm and resulted in serious illness, long-term damage, or death.
- The COVID vaccines create a memory immune response so that if you’re exposed to the virus, your body has a way to mount a powerful defence.
- The vaccine helps to prepare the body’s ‘adaptive B cells’ to quickly develop antibodies when they come across COVID. The body’s T cells can then quickly target and kill off those infected cells.
- If this immune response doesn’t wipe out the virus immediately and there is a breakthrough, a vaccinated person can still expect a fuller response compared to someone who is not vaccinated.
- A breakthrough does not erase the protection that’s been already built. This is why people who been vaccinated but still get infected tend to have symptoms that are milder, or no symptoms at all and recover quicker.
Ultimately, the question remains if being vaccinated means we can start to bring back a sense of normality into our lives after the world shut down two years ago, then doesn’t it seem a reasonable request?
Photo Credit: Daniel Schludi via Unsplash