Psychiatrist Norman Doidge, MD, has recently published a long, four-part article entitled Needle Points, in which he examines vaccine skepticism in America. The author, who got vaccinated “early and voluntarily,” is solidly pro-vaccine, yet he displays what is in these divisive times an unusual willingness to see the issue from the perspective of those with whom he disagrees.
I don’t want to default to critique in responding to the article, which I appreciate for its peaceful intentions, diligent historical research, lucid style, and willingness to bridge a steep ideological divide. Instead I will meet in good will its implicit invitation into dialog around the core question enunciated in its tagline: “Why so many are hesitant to get the COVID vaccine, and what we can do about it.”
As that tagline suggests, an assumption runs quietly through Needle Points that Covid vaccines are by and large safe, necessary, and generally beneficial for personal and public health. Therefore, opposition to them must be explained in psychological or sociological terms, because we all know that, scientifically speaking, opposition is baseless.
Dr. Doidge devotes a long section of the essay to cataloging the crimes and cover-ups that pharmaceutical companies have perpetrated over the last several decades. He also describes the “regulatory capture” of agencies like the FDA, CDC, and NIH, whose officials often rotate into lucrative positions in the very companies they had formerly regulated. As a result, he says, public trust in the pharmaceutical industry is extremely low:
As of a September 2019 Gallup poll, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Pharma was the least trusted of America’s 25 top industry sectors, No. 25 of 25. In the eyes of ordinary Americans, it had both the highest negatives and the lowest positives of all industries. At No. 24 was the federal government, and at No. 23 was the health care industry. These three industries form a neat troika (though at No. 22 was the advertising and public relations industry, which facilitates the work of the other three.)
Given the track record of the pharmaceutical companies and their regulators, no wonder a large percentage of the public is “hesitant” to get their Covid shots. Dr. Doidge seems to be saying, “The shots are safe and effective, and society would be better off if everyone got them, but many people are quite understandably reluctant because of past experience.”
The obvious question here is, Why does Doidge himself trust the science promoted by the very companies and regulators whose misdeeds he so compellingly enumerates? He seems to take for granted that the vaccines have a low rate of adverse reactions. Are the agencies saying that, and the data they utilize, reliable? The article’s tagline implies that he knows it is; otherwise, he wouldn’t wonder “what to do about [vaccine hesitancy]”. He would be wondering instead what to do about vaccine credulity or vaccine naivete.
The very term “vaccine hesitant” normalizes vaccination by implying that it is the endpoint at which the unvaccinated will sooner or later arrive. Most unvaccinated people I know would not describe themselves as “hesitant.” At this point, most who have resisted the social and government pressure intend to remain unvaccinated permanently. As Raelle Kaia puts it,
We don’t call people who haven’t gone bungee jumping “bungee hesitant” nor do we call them “anti-bungee.” There is no need for a category. It’s just something some people decide to do, and some people don’t. So this Hegelian dialectic cleverly sets up a dynamic that implicitly assumes that the regular thing for people to do is to take a vaccine, but we need words to describe those who don’t, because they’re so peculiar. So just by having the words in the first place, an entire reality is created and reified about what people are supposed to do or are expected to do.
The term “vaccine hesitancy” is patronizing and presumptuous. It encodes a smug certainty that official messaging on the vaccines is reliable, that reigning medical paradigms are sound, that the knowledge medical science produces is trustworthy. Science is real! Duh.
In fact, there is increasing reason to believe that just as in the past, the pharmaceutical-regulatory complex is distorting, hiding, and manipulating data to support its narrative. To help Dr Doidge and those heeding his message understand the mind of a vaccine skeptic, I will share a bit of why I believe that.
It took me some time to come to my current conviction that the Covid vaccines are unsafe. When the mRNA vaccines were first announced, I was hesitant to condemn them out of hand. In fact, I was disposed to think of them as more benign than conventional vaccines, since the mRNA technology doesn’t require toxic adjuvants to promote an immune response.1 While there was certainly reason for concern (see this paper from May 2021), there was no proof that any of the potential mechanisms of harm would be significant. While I was appalled that these minimally-tested vaccines would be imposed on a mass scale, I hoped that a public health catastrophe could be avoided.
Today I am convinced that this technology, never before used on humans let alone at this scale, is causing widespread harm. Here are some reasons why I think that:
1. First-hand reports from people who were harmed (or whose family members were harmed). To get a flavor for them, watch these testimonies of experts and patients, or the Testimonies Project out of Israel, or the No More Silence project. Or listen to the story of professional mountain biker Kyle Warner (and especially read the comments below the video.) Athletes have been collapsing on the field and dying with astonishing frequency (such as the two West Indies cricket players who died days after the whole team got vaccinated.) Here is a compilation of 41 such collapses (23 died) over the past four months (there are other lists with little overlap.) Well, maybe athletes have been collapsing and dying at such a rate all along, and we are only now noticing it because of heightened vigilance due to “anti-vax hysteria.” That could be. I haven’t gone into the statistics that might decide the issue—if such statistics even exist. Anyway, if you look for them you can find channels on Telegram with hundreds or thousands of stories. (Notice how many of the stories include things like, “The doctor said it was coincidence.” “I’m sick of doctors telling me it’s all in my head.” “The ER doctor said I was having a panic attack.”)
2. Doctors and nursers who are speaking out about the alarming rise in blood clotting disorders, strokes in young people, heart attacks in young people, peripheral neuropathy, myocarditis, and other supposedly rare conditions. Here is a sample, a sworn statement on the part of 11 doctors with their stories. Remember that the whistleblowers have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by speaking out. Other practitioners have told me their stories in confidence.
3. An alarming rise in excess mortality among people under age 65 in 2021. In 29 countries in Europe, excess mortality in the last four months for people age 15-44 is running at nearly double what it was in 2020. For age 45-65 it is more than 50% higher, and age 65-74 some 40% higher. This is despite (or because of?) vaccination rates of at least 70% across Europe. In the USA, all-cause excess mortality is about 50% higher (so far) than 2020, but for people age 25-44 and 45-64 it is about 85% higher; for people under 25 excess mortality is nearly double last year. The only age group that died in smaller numbers this year in the US were those 85 and older. These figures don’t prove a causal connection between vaccination and mortality, but they merit concern. See also this and this analysis of UK mortality data that seems to show all-cause mortality to be higher in the vaccinated than in the unvaccinated. I haven’t examined the math closely, but given that the authors of the latter analysis are, respectively, a mathematician and a professor of statistics and computer science, it is not to be dismissed lightly.
4. Revelations of sloppiness and malfeasance in Covid vaccine trials. The British Medical Journal just published a report from an experienced clinical trial researcher describing how a Pfizer contractor running clinical trials “falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events.” She reported her findings to the FDA, who never followed up. One wonders whether this was unique to that contractor or more widespread. In a separate revelation, a girl was dropped from the Pfizer study after having a severe reaction to the shot. Apparently, the study rules required a study doctor to evaluate adverse events. If someone went to the emergency room, they would be disqualified from the study and that data excluded. Given the unavailability of the raw data, we have no idea whether this girl was the only one to be excluded, but it certainly gives reason for alarm—especially because the study size was only about 1000 children. This is part of a pattern of manipulated studies throughout the Covid era.
5. Dubious vaccine effectiveness. The issue of safety is not absolute; risks must be evaluated in relation to benefits. Questionable benefits make the risks less acceptable. But it appears that the vaccines have not lived up to their promise of protecting recipients from infection or serious symptoms. Across nations and regions, there is no correlation between vaccination rates and Covid cases or deaths. Joe Mercola, named by the New York Times as America’s “uber quack,” gives a solid review of the argument.
As Dr. Doidge acknowledges, pharmaceutical companies have cheated in the past. Why are people so confident in the data this time, when the incentive to cheat is greater than ever? (Pfizer’s Covid vaccine sales now stand at $36 billion.) Doidge describes how a large proportion of studies published in medical journals are actually ghostwritten by the companies themselves. Why are we confident that this hasn’t happened with studies supporting the Covid policies that benefit those companies? When regulators have been largely captured by the regulated, when the media relies heavily on pharmaceutical ad dollars and in some cases have interlocking boards of directors, can we really trust “the science”?
The willful manipulation, distortion, and suppression of research is the tip of an iceberg. The bulk of narrative maintenance is an organic function of the system, often unconscious or semi-conscious. The vaccine resistance movement needs to understand this, so it can understand the reasons for vaccine credulity. Too often people in the movement explain what is going on in terms of malice: evil politicians, perfidious scientists, greedy New-World-Order plutocrats. Such figures surely exist, but they play a role in a much larger social process.
“Evil” is a misdiagnosis that casts us into delusion. To effect positive change we have to be operating in reality. The reality is that most people, vaxxed and unvaxxed, doctors and patients, scientists and laypeople, politicians and yes, even pharmaceutical company officials, are decent, caring, intelligent human beings. Let us follow Dr. Doidge in taking that as our starting point as we try to understand those we disagree with.
If vaccine casualties are much higher than publicly acknowledged, doesn’t that mean that some kind of willful cover-up is underway? Not necessarily. Imagine that you are a clinician seeing a rise in myocarditis, miscarriages, cancer recurrence, or some other ailment in vaccinated people. Are you going to make a fuss? Are you even going to talk about it? Maybe not.
Doctors who are noticing vaccine adverse events (or experiencing them themselves) are reluctant to say anything publicly for fear of ostracism, job loss, or license suspension. Those that speak out suffer consequences. For example, Dr. Rochagné Kilian had her license suspended in Ontario after she publicly aired her concerns on blood clotting and autoimmunity following vaccines. Brook Jackson, the subject of the above-mentioned BMJ article, was fired shortly after she notified the FDA of irregularities in the vaccine trial. (One wonders whether someone in the FDA told her employer that she was making trouble.) Most are not so brave. The 11 doctors whose testimony I linked to earlier describing their injuries and those of their patients mostly chose to remain anonymous. Said one, “Due to my recognition that the vaccine has caused injury, I am scared to come forward to my fellow colleagues and peers.” “I have chosen to keep my identity redacted in order to prevent backlash as being anti-vax.” “With questioning of a vaccine adverse reaction, the physician who is questioning is immediately discounted, discredited, shamed, and aggressively bullied. I have watched this happen to other physicians who dared to speak out and have witnessed a coordinated effort among physicians to have this physician’s state license revoked as well as their board certification for spreading ‘misinformation.’ Vaccine skepticism strikes at a pillar of the medical profession, which is therefore loath to admit any information that could fuel it.”
This kind of self-censorship may take on an internal dimension where someone bullies and silences that part of herself that recognizes something is wrong. She may tell herself that she is seeing an epidemic of anxiety attacks. She may convince herself that myocarditis never was that rare. She may remind herself that “young people get strokes too.” She may read articles that reassure her that nothing alarming is happening. Doctors can do this. Public officials can do this. Regular citizens can do this. The psychological incentive may be strong to preserve an orderly reality in which I’ve been right all along. Most of us, vaccine advocates and skeptics alike, have this tendency. Left unchecked it becomes arrogance, and its antidote is a willingness to listen.