Controls and Guinea Pigs in the Pandemic Experiment
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 15 Mar 2021
Honouring the Sacrifice of the Vaccine Refuseniks for the Wider Community
15 Mar 2021 – The response by authorities to the pandemic has increasingly been reframed in terms of universal vaccination to achieve herd immunity — beyond the initial preoccupation with social distancing and masking. Considerable efforts and funding have been deployed in the fast-track development of COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 2021, as summarized by Wikipedia, 308 vaccine candidates were in various stages of development, with 73 in clinical research, including 24 in Phase I trials, 33 in Phase I–II trials, and 16 in Phase III development. In Phase III trials, several COVID‑19 vaccines have demonstrated efficacy as high as 95% in preventing symptomatic COVID‑19 infections. As of March 2021, 12 vaccines were authorized by at least one national regulatory authority for public use.
Universal vaccination? However, rather than a commitment to enforcing mandatory vaccination for all, various initiatives are being developed or envisaged to ensure that voluntary uptake is ensured by constraints caricatured as “no jab, no travel”, “no jab, no job”, and the like (Implications of universal vaccination — voluntary or otherwise, 2021). The possibility of “immunity passports” of some form is now widely debated, with the probability of implementation of some variants in March 2021 (IATA Travel Pass for Travelers, IATA). Bills for mandatory vaccination have been considered for legislation, including California Senate Bill 277 and Australia’s No Jab No Pay, all of which have been strenuously opposed by anti-vaccination activists.
Optimism with regard to universal vaccination has been tempered by the obvious inability to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines. More problematic is the acknowledged degree to which those that are available have tended to be acquired and hoarded by the most developed countries. Many developing countries have little (if any) access to vaccines and it is unclear when adequate supplies will be available for them — irrespective of the facilities required to administer them in remote and highly populated areas (Developing countries face long wait for COVID-19 vaccines despite promises, Globe and Mail, 15 December 2020; WHO chief warns against ‘catastrophic moral failure’ in COVID-19 vaccine access, UN News, 18 January 2021; UN chief blasts vaccine nationalism, hoarding, side deals, AP, 12 March 2021). Travellers from those countries consequently risk insurmountable constraints through failure to qualify for an immunity passport.
These difficulties reflect those of the failure of other long-standing ambitions naively framed for universal availability of resources (health facilities, food, education, water, energy, social safety nets, and the like). These all feature in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 whose achievement is now highly questionable (World stands at critical moment to deliver on 2030 Agenda – UN deputy chief, UN News, 10 March 2020).
Vaccine resistance: The pandemic response has evoked a backlash variously framed as “vaccine resistance”, or euphemistically as vaccine hesitancy. Those adopting such attitudes, whether passively or actively, are now increasingly caricatured as “anti-vaxxers”, as a “selfish danger to the community”, or even as “domestic terrorists” (California State Senator Richard Pam, Anti-vaccine extremism is akin to domestic terrorism, The Washington Post, 1 March 2021).
Arguments are presented by vaccine resistors with respect to the quality of evidence justifying the use of vaccines (Doctors and Scientists write to European Medicines Agency warning of COVID-19 Vaccine Dangers: a press release from the Doctors for Covid Ethics campaign, OffGuardian, 11 March 2021). This follows from earlier articulations such as the Great Barrington Declaration (4 October 2020) advocating an alternative approach to the pandemic that involves “Focused Protection” of those most at risk and seeks to avoid or minimize the societal harm of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Such arguments are systematically dismissed as COVID-19 misinformation, thereby legitimating their suppression — if not ensuring indictment for dissemination of disinformation (The COVID-19 disinformation divide: understanding vaccine attitudes, World Economic Forum, 4 February 2021). The latter study endeavoured to position those in favour of vaccination as objectively responsive to evidenced-based science in contrast to those opposed to it as being to a large degree driven by emotions and unsubstantiated fears. As such, ironically, the study could itself be understood as an exercise in disinformation — ignoring the extent to which any recognition of the case for a Precautionary Principle is necessarily unsubstantiated.
Evidence-based science? The “scientific” basis for dismissal of resistor arguments is curiously unaffected by evidence of fatalities and vaccine injuries (Zero Hedge, 7 European Nations Halt AstraZeneca Jabs on Reports of “Serious” Blood Clots, Global Research, 12 March 2021). The question of unreported (or misreported) evidence is set aside. (AstraZeneca defends COVID vaccine as handful of nations pause use over fear of blood clots, CBS News, 12 March 2021). Little has apparently been learned from the authoritative handling of the thalidomide scandal (1950s-1960s) and its resulting birth defects, to the extent that these are recalled. What indeed is the quality of evidence-based science that has justified masking and lockdowns (Steve Watson, Fauci Admits There Is No ‘Science’ Behind Continued Lockdown, Global Research, 12 March 2021).
Mainstream promotion of the necessity for universal vaccination has tended to de-emphasize the degree to which the fast-tracked vaccines are necessarily experimental — in scientific terms — irrespective of whether or how their use has apparently been “authorised” and questionably upheld to be “safe” (Rosemary Frei, No Safety Data? No Problem! US, UK, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Singapore will let new-variant vaccines onto the market without safety or efficacy testing, OffGuardian, 10 March 2021). Specifically little is said about the normal multi-year requirement for an extensive testing period for new drugs before approval of use is accorded.
Side-effects? Less is said about the possible side-effects which drug use may engender in some, especially those of a long-term nature — whether more generally or specifically with regard to COVID-19, Those common side-effects typically dismissed as temporary “indications that the vaccine is working” may include: swelling, fatigue, headache, chills, fever, nausea, swelling (Michelle Crouch and Rachel Nania, What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines? AARP, 1 March 2021). On the blithe assumption that every body is similarly responsive to such vaccines (even the pregnant and the young), little is volunteered about their impact on those with pre-existing medical conditions or the problematic interference with medications they may already be taking. Those cited by vaccine resistors include: allergic reactions, infertility, cancer, and the like. Such concerns for the future, beyond the scope of current testing periods, are dismissed as myths (The real facts about common COVID-19 vaccine myths, UC Davis Health, 21 December 2020).
Especially problematic is the dismissal of reported incidents of fatal side effects of vaccines after administration — whether denied or attributed to other factors (Children’s Health Defense Team, 653 Deaths + 12,044 Other Injuries Reported Following COVID Vaccine, Latest CDC Data Show, The Defender, 12 February 2021). This is far from exhibiting an appropriately responsible scientific consideration of experimental results (Jen Christensen, Past vaccine disasters show why rushing a coronavirus vaccine now would be ‘colossally stupid’, CNN, 1 September 2020).
This practice is comparable to the standard commercial response to rushing a product to market in full knowledge that some are below the quality claimed — a proportion treated as negligible, for which compensatory funding is set aside. In the case of COVID-19 in the USA, for example, a declaration by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act for medical countermeasures against COVID‑19, covers “any vaccine, used to treat, diagnose, cure, prevent, or mitigate COVID‑19, or the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or a virus mutating therefrom“, and precludes “liability claims alleging negligence by a manufacturer in creating a vaccine, or negligence by a health care provider in prescribing the wrong dose, absent willful misconduct“.
Experimental “guinea pigs” versus “controls”? In this context it is appropriate to recognize that those seeking and accepting vaccination are appropriately to be recognized as “guinea pigs” — the colloquial term used by health scientists to describe the subjects of drug testing. The question here is the framing by “guinea pigs” of those seeking to avoid vaccination — given the degree to which refusers are seen to be a selfish threat to the larger community, or held to be “domestic terrorists”.
Exploration of any such framing can draw on parallels from the past. Authorities can be recognized as relying on the pattern of “policy playbooks” variously deployed in relation to: conscientious objectors, heretics, dissidents, outlaws, collaborators, terrorists, indigenous peoples, refuseniks, travellers, and the deplorable “unwashed”. However such framings of vaccine refusers call for recognition of how each such category has been subsequently reviewed by history.
Human “guinea pigs” can indeed be considered heroic in voluntarily subjecting themselves to the testing of experimental drugs. However is it not the case that the refusers can also be considered heroic in consciously failing to take advantage of the protection which the vaccines are held to offer — especially when many in the world do not have access to the limited supply? Who indeed merit framing as cowards in the face of global crisis?
As noted in the description of scientific control of an experiment, this should always address what controls are used to limit the independent variables to the one of concern. A good control group has subjects that, in every important way, resemble the experimental group, except for the difference in the experimental condition. When the possibility of experimenter bias or subject bias is an issue, the control group is managed through double-blind testing. Has this been envisaged with respect to the effects of COVID vaccines in the longer term?
In a situation in which the experimenters are ensuring their own vaccination, in accordance with their principle of universal experimental vaccination, the question arises as who are then to be recognized as the “controls”? Arguably it is the much maligned vaccine resisters who are effectively sacrificing themselves in forgoing the safety offered in favour of those most anxious to ensure it.
The resisters can then be understood as acting for the benefit of humanity as a whole — in contrast to the selfishness so short-sightedly attributed to them by the experimenters and their “guinea pigs”. Rather than according immunity passports as envisaged, should the “controls” be accorded suitable insignia to be worn like medals of honour? Given the war narrative, with its COVID marshals framing the response to the pandemic, such insignia would also recall the armbands by which observers are distinguished in war games.
Having reneged on their objective responsibility for the global experiment, the dilemma with respect to the experimenters so highly implicated in the experiment is usefully recalled by the question of the Latin poet Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — perhaps to be translated as Who will oversee the experimenters?
Tags: COVID-19, Coronavirus, Vaccines
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