Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Appeasing Anti-Vaxxers

As the ongoing pandemic obviously causes immense harms, there are correspondingly immense benefits to vaccinating people sooner. Our actual policies have failed at this in a number of ways (from failing to encourage experimental vaccination, to gratuitous delays in approving successful vaccines even after the trial data were received). Now some countries are suspending use of the AZ vaccine due to (poorly-grounded) fears about rare side-effects, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there's a much more serious (and high-probability) "side-effect" to non-vaccination, namely, COVID-19.   This all seems bad enough, on straightforwardly utilitarian grounds.  But I now want to argue that it's even worse than that: even if these delays did some good, by reassuring the vaccine-fearful, they would still be wrong.

To see this most vividly, focus on some particular individual -- call her Sophia -- who dies from Covid as a result of being deprived of early access to a vaccine that she strongly (and reasonably) wished to take.  (I take it to be obvious that there will be many such individuals as a matter of fact.)  Her government's obstructionism is then causally responsible for her death: had they not blocked her access to the vaccine, she would have survived.  Moreover, it's entirely foreseeable that people will die as a result of such policies, so it further seems that the government is morally responsible for her death.  They have, in effect, indirectly killed her (and others), by blocking her (and others') access to life-saving vaccines.

Now suppose that someone seeks to defend the obstructionist policy by arguing that it helps to reassure fearful members of society that the vaccines have been scrupulously investigated and are safe for them to (eventually) use.  It strikes me as empirically implausible that this benefit to public acceptance of vaccines would be sufficiently great to outweigh the harms of a slower vaccine rollout. But suppose I'm wrong about that.  Suppose, for sake of argument, that delays really would save more lives by winning over more borderline anti-vaxxers.  We can still ask: is that worth it?  Could you justify that to Sophie?

It would be one thing if we had to explain to Sophie that we couldn't save her without endangering a greater number of innocent people.  I'd be on board with that.  But that isn't the situation here.  Anti-vaxxers aren't "innocent" in the relevant sense, as they're freely choosing to reject the protection that's available (or would be available if not for their unreasonable attitudes).  Anti-vaxxers who die of Covid as a result of their own anti-vax attitudes are responsible for this outcome: they ultimately harmed themselves by freely rejecting the available protection.  And as a general moral principle, we should not harm innocent people (like Sophie) merely in order to convince benighted fools not to harm themselves.

To further illustrate the principle, suppose that anti-vaxxers constituting 10% of the population became even more hardcore, and threatened to kill themselves en masse unless the government immediately and permanently outlawed all Covid vaccines. Should we appease them, and let the pandemic continue since it wouldn't do anywhere near as much harm as this mob was threatening to self-inflict?  Surely not.  Even if harms to innocent victims are smaller in magnitude than the threatened self-inflicted harms, the harms to innocent victims matter more.  The correct response to the anti-vaxxers is: "Don't be stupid.  But if you insist on being stupid, that's your responsibility, not ours."

And so it goes in the less-extreme case.  The vaccine-fearful are being foolish and facing self-inflicted risks as a result.  It isn't right or fair to harm innocent, sensible people in order to protect fools from self-inflicted risks.  It'd be a shame if people died as a result of their own foolish fears, but it's even more of a shame that completely innocent people are dying through no fault of their own.  We should care more about the latter than the former.*

* = [Incidentally: this is, I think, the best counterexample to utilitarianism.  It turns out that we shouldn't count all interests equally.  That's only true of the innocent.  "Guilty" or irresponsible agents are liable to have their interests discounted.]

A complication: some innocent (e.g. immunocompromised) individuals may be unable to be safely vaccinated, and may be indirectly harmed by the borderline anti-vaxxers getting infected and then spreading the illness to them.  (In other conceivable cases, the vaccines themselves might offer sufficiently imperfect protection that even vaccinated individuals could still fear infection.  Fortunately it appears that our Covid vaccines offer near-perfect protection against severe illness, so this isn't such an issue.)  So it might be more analogous to a version of the case where the mob of anti-vaxxers strap bombs to their chests, and some innocent bystanders might also get hurt in the blast.  If it would actually save more innocent people to appease the mob, and if it wouldn't have bad long-term effects (incentivizing similar hostage-taking in future) -- both big "ifs"! -- then it may be that appeasement is called for in such special situations.  But I think it's generally unlikely that the necessary conditions would in fact be met.


  1. Regarding the objection: If we did nothing at all to appease anti-vaxxers, the demand for vaccinations from everyone else would continue to exceed vaccine supply for months to come. As long as that's the case, I don't see real social benefit in jabbing a recently-converted former anti-vaxxer over someone like me or my parents, who never even flirted with anti-vaxxing.

    Once every willing person is vaccinated, the anti-vaxxers can only do limited damage. Indeed, the most effective argument against their position will be that the vaccinated people are ok, and the only people who are still being killed by COVID-19 are other anti-vaxxers. I don't see any reason to make much effort to convince anti-vaxxers up front. We lose nothing by making the case to anti-vaxxers post hoc, and our arguments will only grow stronger with time.

    That's in addition to all the other stuff you said about moral responsibility, which I think is exactly right.

  2. Hi Richard,

    Good points; I agree they are on the wrong, and also that they already were that when they did not allow people to use experimental vaccines.

    I'm not sure how much weight appeasement has in the decision-making process. Of course, it has some weight, but different government officials involved in the decision-making process have different motivations, and for example the statements from the Danish Health Authority ( ) suggest that some of them believe the risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefits given the available info, even leaving aside who gets convinced. Government officials sometimes are subject to the same irrational reactions as so many other people, and maybe some of the people making the decisions are themselves irrationally fearful.

    1. Hi Angra, yes, I agree -- I didn't mean to imply that decision-makers were relying on the appeasement argument (I don't know what their true motivations are, but sheer irrationality does seem sadly plausible). But I've seen other philosophers raising "public trust in vaccines" as a reason to go slowly, so it's really them that I'm arguing against here.

  3. PART1

    Hello Prof Chappell, Angra, commenter Unknown.

    I was thinking the same thing with both of you regarding the vaccine in Europe, namely that those who wished to take the vaccine should have been allowed to have access to it. Once again, like with the Covid response, I see a paternalistic response by governments that disregards the interests (in particular, the medical freedom) of people, in this case the people who wish to be vaccinated with the particular vaccine.

    I would like first to pose a question regarding a point that both you and Angra made, namely the point about the irrationality of the fear of the vaccines – which I would rather call “unwarranted fear” so as to distinguish more easily between the irrational belief of arachnophobic 1 who believes that spiders are indeed dangerous to people and is also petrified at their sight, and arachnophobic 2 who sincerely admits that spiders are not dangerous either to people or to her (so she does not have an irrational belief) but still feels petrified at their sight (I have tacitly assumed that arachnophobic 1 came to hold the false belief without being subjectively justified to do so, that’s why I am calling his belief “irrational”). Arachnophobic 2 has an unwarranted fear like arachnophobic 1 (because the spider is not the sort of thing that merits fear) but does not hold an irrational belief in the dangerousness of spiders (though I guess at this point a possible objection could be that arachnophobic 2 practically holds the belief that spiders are indeed dangerous even though she sincerely asserts that they are not when she is queried; does the objector have a possible point that the hypothesized belief is an unconscious belief, or something along the lines of Schwitzgebelian in-between belief?(1) ). The reason I am making this distinction between the two arachnophobes is to try to gain some conceptual clarity as to what exactly the problem is with so called “antivaxxers”. But before posing my questions I need to get something out of the way, because the fascinating philosophical issues re vaccines are unfortunately laced with very aggressive public discourse, so I’d rather be transparent on where I stand so as to dispel any mistaken, associations that could cast me in a very bad light given the level of hostility that discussions about vaccinations tend to give rise to, as I fairly recently discovered (I mean after the arrival of Covid). As usual, Prof Chappell, your blog is an oasis for those who want to learn to approach things from an analytically philosophical perspective, and especially for me it is valuable over and above the learning experience. So I’d better be done with the disclaimer below so that I can return to the philosophical analysis of the subject of vaccines and the fear of them that is exemplified by some people.

  4. PART 2

    Though I am one of those who would rather not be vaccinated with any vaccine for any disease (and being willing to undergo deliberate natural infection, preferably medically-supervised natural infection, if it is asked of me, so as not to pose a threat to other people who are afraid of this virus, or who are afraid of any other vaccine-preventable virus, that is posing a threat to society(2)), I am reluctant to apply the term “antivaxxer” to me. I am not even sure what the current usage of the term essentially includes, but the connotations are certainly horrible so I definitely need to state that some of the most prominent connotations (e.g. that antivaxxers reject the published scientific studies re vaccines, that antivaxxers tend to believe in conspiracy theories, that antivaxxers are politically in the realm of the Right or even the Far Right, that antivaxxers have no concern for the safety of their fellow citizens or for public health—I have an abundance of links with such allegations) are certainly not applicable to me: I can’t be a member of the Right because being pro-trans is almost a defeater for membership in the Right, and I am pro-trans. I also trust the scientific studies published about the safety of vaccines (so we have no disagreement as to what is the average risk of serious bodily harm for any vaccine for a substantive period after its uptake, I fully accept that the average risk is the ultralow one recorded in the collective body of the studies). I also know enough from real life as to know that members of the so-called elites are way too busy to have the time to be with Hilary, in a pizzeria in Quanon’s world, running a pedophile ring or what have you (3). By the way, this is a devastating point against many conspiracy theories, i.e. the lack of time of the supposed conspirators, who usually hold demanding jobs and hence cannot but be short of time. It is an argument (4) to which many believers in conspiracy theories can relate to, because they will know from their own lives how short of time we all are. So maybe they would be amenable to belief revision if the point was made to them politely –though maybe the uptake will need some time, sometimes we don’t endorse immediately the belief that is suggested to us, but later on we come to appreciate its truth (I am merely reporting personal experience from introspection here, not a result of a scientific study; I’ve also heard others referring, in phenomenal-experience lingo, to the very same fact about their belief-revision process at an aha-moment). There is another devastating counterargument for a specific class of those who oppose vaccines out of fear that the studies published are all concocted, and since I see no one having thought about it let me prove my bona fides as not being “against” people being vaccinated (as opposed to being against mybeing vaccinated, an agent relative permission that I believe is objectively fitting for me) by stating it in footnote (5). If I look overly eager to prove my bona fides, the explanation resides in the fact that people like me who would rather not be vaccinated have been likened to terrorists, and some of these allegations come from influential groups advising on policy (6), and there are even attempts by influential-in-the-blogosphere persons (7) to deprive people like me who don’t want to be vaccinated of a fair hearing by turning our initial dialogue move that disavows the harsh connotations of the term “antivaxxer” into evidence that we indeed should not be listened to with an open mind . So I don’t think I am being too touchily cautious, there is a discourse around vaccine-abstinence that falls squarely under the concept of demonization (the most benign is the Prime Ministers of Greece and England calling us names).

  5. PART 3

    But even if the current usage of the term “antivaxxer” is properly applied to a person if and only if she is against her taking at least a few vaccines, or even just one vaccine, it would still be misleading to label me as an antivaxxer, and it would be misleading in that it would give the wrong impression about my motivations. When we say that John is an antisemitic racist we tacitly imply that his attitude towards Jewish people is more bigoted than towards some or other group of non-Jews, i.e. the claim is understood contrastively by hearers. If we were to discover that John is a misanthrope who hates all humans, and therefore hates in particular all Jews, we wouldn’t call him an antisemite, because this would give a misleading impression as to what property of the Jewish people he resents, it would give the impression that it is their Judaism (religion) or Jewishness (however it is better construed) that is the property that motivates John’s hate of Jewish people, whereas the property that does the trick of ticking John’s hate of Jews is their being human, not their being Jewish. Which is why he hates all non-Jews too equally, he doesn’t even distinguish between the objects of his hate, he doesn’t think of them as being bad qua Blacks, or qua Jews, or qua Greeks, but qua humans. In the same vein, if one were to say that I am an apple-lover she would be misleading you in that she would be tacitly casting me as loving apples in particular more than some other unspecified foods that definitely include other fruits, i.e. she would be casting me as loving apples more than some unspecified fruits. But in reality I love all fruits more or less equally, so I do love apples in particular, but it would still be misleading to call me an “apple-lover”, even though I love apples, because this would give the mistaken impression that there is a property in apples, and apples only, rather than a property present in other fruits, that I find wholesome. But in reality the property that I like in apples, their refreshing fruity sweetness, is present in all other fruits, which explains why I like all fruits more or less equally, because the refreshing fruity sweetness is present in all fruits, not just apples – in grapefruits too, it’s just a (very) bitter kind of sweetness, but once your taste buds become discriminating enough you can tell the similarity.

  6. PART 4

    The same reasoning, with regard to the propriety of labels, applies to my purported “antivaxxerism”: it is not an avoidance of vaccines only, it is a generalized avoidance of many (though definitely not all, or even most) of our era’s conveniences: in general, I try to avoid as many synthetic chemicals (however they are defined) as possible – so my avoidance includes aspirins and detergents too, and paints, and everything else belonging to the same broad and fuzzy category (“synthetic chemicals”? no, I don’t have necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in the extension of the concept. I can tell you though for any two options which one I see as the most natural one, in a non-arbitrary-sounding way. Given that the choices we need to make in real life are finite, calculations via brute force maybe can do the trick for theory, maybe I can make the ad hoc theoretical claim that the set of my actual choices, which are the choices of most who share the pro-Nature attitude, constitutes what counts as natural. I can offer very suggestive examples but I will not bother you with this topic, I am only mentioning it due to the ridicule that talk about “natural products” or “synthetic chemicals” draws). But even this description (“anti-synthetic chemicals”?) does not capture my motivation properly, for I am not “anti”, I am just trying to live in a healthy and more Nature-friendly way, and the way I have chosen to do it is by trying to use as less options as possible from those options that wouldn’t be available to me in the state of nature(the demandingness of an option is a very serious defeater for me for any option, hence the caveat about possibility); I try to choose A instead of B on account of A’s being more natural than B – I am not suicidal, I will go to the doctor to fix my fracture, and I thank mother Nature for the existence of dentists, I thank the dentists too 😊; but I will put on my door a no- resuscitate order when it comes to cardios, though I will probably never have to put my money where my mouth is because I live so healthy a lifestyle, especially in my diet, that it is statistically unlikely that I will ever be put to the test of needing medication or surgery for cardiovascular diseases). Is, then, my mindset adequately described by “antivaxxerism”? Would any aspect of an orchestra conductor’s relationship with music be captured by saying of him “he is anti-Britney Spears”? A final detail: when I decided for this radical change in lifestyle, I decided to stay away from synthetically chemical medication too. But when I asked myself about vaccines, my initial reaction was “yes, vaccines are permissible, they are natural, it’s just a virus”. Only later did I decide to shun those too, on account of some of them containing some synthetic chemicals, and additionally on account of their teaching my immunity system in ways different from the way natural infection teaches one’s immune system, provided she survives the encounter with the real potent virus. If I am an anti-vaxxer, vaccines were the least antithetical to my mind from among Medicine’s offers. By the way i am not advising my lifestyle to anyone in a blanket way (and I should stress that I was in excellent health before the change anyway), I am just opting for a different lifestyle that looks appealing to me and objectively good for me for good reasons that I will not bother you with. In saying all this I am only trying to dispel the label “antivaxxer” as it pertains to me because it is very toxic, to the point of turning antivaxxers into possible targets of society in the future – I mean we may be targeted even more seriously than it happens today. Sorry for the longish digression, but it was needed in self-defense, such is the level of current popular discourse on vaccines (I am not exaggerating when I say there is an abundance of links proving my points, the accusations are ubiquitous and suffocating for those who are vaccine-hesitant). Back to (a non-philosopher’s attempt at) analytic philosophy!

  7. PART 5

    I referred to the arachnophobe in order to draw a parallel with vaccine-hesitant people. Arachnophobe 1 is the person who sincerely believes, contrary to fact, that the spiders are really dangerous (Arachnophobe 2 does not hold the false belief that spiders are dangerous but harbors a fear of spiders that is inexplicable via any conscious belief even to herself). The analogue of arachnophobe 1 in the case of a vaccine-hesitant person could be someone who sincerely believes that vaccines pose a greater average probability of serious bodily harm than contracting the disease does. I am unaware of the subtleties of the analytic philosophy literature, (and from a recent discussion at PEA SOUP (8) I understand the appropriate conceptualizations are still not settled) but I guess for our purposes we can see this false belief as irrational, but only if it has been acquired in defective ways. Real life example from a lady I know: her doctor advised her not to have the Covid vaccine, or any vaccine. She then formed the belief that vaccines are more dangerous than Covid. Is she irrational in holding this belief? She trusted her doctor (let’s stipulate she is very happy with the doctor’s services up to now, though, to be honest, I didn’t ask her if the doctor had proved himself to her in the past). She can see that the majority of the other doctors are saying that the vaccine is safe. But is just one (or maybe a few more) seemingly credible source(s) of information that say “not-A” in the case of Medicine enough to make the lady’s belief rational? If not why not?
    Now, let’s assume that another one analogue of arachnophobe 1 in the case of vaccine hesitance is someone a bit different from my previous example: she is someone who believes that vaccines do indeed pose a serious average risk of serious bodily harm but not bigger than the risk that contracting Covid poses. And still she is reluctant to take the vaccine, motivated by tacit omission bias. In such a case (assuming the source that told her to refrain from taking the vaccine was not credible), one could call her belief irrational. But is her fear uwarranted? Is there some useful distinction to be drawn between the explicit belief that accompanies her fear, namely the belief about the numerical magnitude of the risk of vaccines (a belief we can surely call irrational, since she believes it is way bigger than the consensus one), and her tacit belief that it is worse for her to act than not to act? Probably yes, but this does not save the day for the vaccine-hesitant for it still seems her tacit belief is irrational and also that her fear is unwarranted. Prof Chappell you have expressed something along those lines in this intuitive assessment in a recent post of yours:

    Sometimes the pressure to do nothing seems to stem from inflating fears of potential downside, while disregarding missed potential gains. Relatedly, we tend to blame people for harms that stem from action (whether performed or allowed), and ignore or downplay harms that stem from inaction (& so are seen as built into the status quo).

    It seems closely related to the omission-commission error. Whatever its roots, it strikes me as a very deep-rooted psychological bias, and one that is plausibly behind much bad thinking about the pandemic. One recent example of this mistake:

  8. PART 6

    Now I wonder: isn’t this case of Arachnophobe 1 with the tacit omission bias (and the belief that vaccines pose an equal threat with Covid) one that starts seeming like it has a parallel with Arachnophobe 2? No matter what she explicitly believes, she feels --without having any conscious thoughts on the matter-- a predilection for the omission (i.e. for refraining from taking the vaccine) rather than the commission (i.e. taking the vaccine). Could it be the case that there are some unconscious calculations relevant to the expected regret in case she takes the vaccine and gets hurt by the vaccine and in case she does not take the vaccine and gets hurt by Covid, and she unconsciously calculates that the first harm would be emotionally unbearable whereas the latter, undesirable as it would be, would still be more bearable? Supposing that something such as this psychological mechanism is possible, is there any indication that the regret she expects she will experience is the regret that she will indeed experience? Because it could turn out in the future that the expected regret she calculated today while hypothesizing the eventuality of getting hurt by the vaccine is not the one she will experience if the extremely unlikely eventuality of getting hurt by the vaccine materializes. But let’s assume that the unconscious calculations that I am ascribing to her are indeed veridical, i.e. the regret she would experience is the one she predicted. In such case, what would be the proper way to describe her fear? I guess we could still say that the fear of the vaccine is unwarranted, but could we say that her decision to refrain from the vaccine is irrational? After all, we stipulated that her unconscious bias and her fears track a real fact about her psychology with regard to future regret. I don’t know, I am posing it as a question. What would it take to make us see her decision-making process as rational?

  9. PART 7

    Maybe some more explicit thoughts of hers to the effect that even though she does not know what’s going on “at the back of her mind” she still has reason to “go with her gut” (which may be an ingrained omission bias, as it is the case with most humans) because she has independent reason to believe that if she doesn’t go with her gut, and if it so happens that she gets hurt, she will experience far greater regret than if she does go with her gut and refrains from taking the vaccine and as a result gets hurt by Covid? (how could she have acquired knowledge of how she will likely react in such a scenario where she goes for the commission instead of the omission and the commission turns out to be emotionally devastating to the point of making it clear to her that in such cases it is better all-things- considered for her psychology to refrain from action,? Maybe a past vivid experience exactly such as the one I just described would in principle give her reason to believe that it is likely that the probable regret she expects now at t that she will experience at t+1 if she chooses now at t to act instead of refraining will be very similar in intensity and longevity with the regret she experienced in the past when in a relevantly similar situation at t-2 she acted instead of refraining as her gut dictated, and as a result of this past decision at t-2 she experienced at t-1 immense regret that stayed with her to this day – imagine how i felt when the vet told me that we could have conducted a blood test and we would have found out that my first dog, a mongrel I picked from the streets, was suffering from irreparable kidney failure, and as a result there was no point in administering these 20 daily injections of some or other medication (antibiotic? I can’t remember, but it was something that was bad for kidney failure) that she mistakenly had initially prescribed without bothering to prescribe a blood test first. The dog hated the injections, and I hated them because he was looking me with sad eyes before I injected him with his daily med. I should add that the vet had a postgraduate degree from the US and she was the most respected vet in town. None of these experiences gives all things considered reason to refrain, I think, be it from vaccines, or particular therapies. But I am mentioning these cases by way of a how possibly-explanation regarding the decision making process of the antivaxxers in case it makes them look more human. There are people among them (most of them, I think) who are genuinely afraid and I would argue that even if a fear is unwarranted, there can be unwarranted responses to this fear by third parties. It is not just the governments that are indeed paternalistically trying to “save antivaxxers from themselves” at the expense of those who want the particular banned vaccine – in this I agree with both you Prof Chappell and Angra— there are also unwarranted responses in the form of calling the vaccine hesitants “extremist” (i.e. potentially terrorist) – and the latter responses are harming the vaccine-hesitant badly for life in that they apply stigma on them.

  10. PART 8

    But now I have moved closer to citing two from among the set of my overdetermining reasons for my preference not to participate in vaccinations. My first reason is relevant to my past experiences with doctors. I will not cite examples, I will just ask you to stipulate that i have had an immense amount of bad experiences with mistaken medical decisions/advice, up to the point of developing such an aversion to medical doctors (not to the scientific method) that I prefer not to come in contact with them unless it is absolutely necessary due to exquisite pain (the fractures and the tooth fillings I spoke about before). I think I can liken my decision-making process with a raped girl’s: imagine Jasmine being forced to choose between getting slapped ten times by X and getting slapped only one time by Y, all the slappings being of the same intensity. Is she irrational if she prefers the ten slappings instead of the one if the one is going to come from her ex rapist? The question is rhetorical, we all agree that there is nothing irrational in factoring in the psychological effects that the source of risk imposes in case it materializes, the impossibility of getting the perpetrator out of one’s head in future memories of the incident because it so happens that this was a person that you had it in for him. I am mentioning this as a clear case where the expected utility calculations deliver a seemingly counterintuitive choice (preferring the ten slaps instead of only one) but the choice becomes intelligible and actually rational once one factors in the past trauma and how it has changed the sensitivities of the agent and hence her preferences and her lived experience: “I’d rather die than ever again be touched by you”, Jasmine tacitly says with her choice for the option that has a greater expected bodily harm (ten slaps are worse than one). It is perfectly rational, I would argue. But then it is possible for specific antivaxxers who may be sharing similar valuations with me to be rational, if I am rational: “given my risk factors relevant to Covid (level of obesity, age, comorbidities, etc) my probability of getting harmed by Covid is very low. But never mind how low, if something bad happens that hurts my body irreparably to the degree of having to live with a chronic condition for the rest of my life, let it come from Nature rather than doctors”. If my life is going to be turned into a nightmare in the extremely unlikely (on average) scenario of a vaccine longterm harm, a nightmare whose demon will be (over and above whatever debilitating chronic condition will have afflicted me) my own inner speech in my head asking me why did I trust the doctors against all my predilections to do the opposite, whereas a longterm harm from Covid will make me indeed unhappy but also eager to go for a “natural comeback”, a comeback via an attempt at regeneration through (evidence-based) lifestyle interventions geared to my hypothesized chronic condition due to Covid, without being poisoned by the bile of blaming (because I have no reason to blame Nature or anyone in case I get harmed by Covid), how can I fail to choose the second option? Sheer prudence dictates it, given the facts of my psychology. If there is something bad here, it’s not an epistemic mistake in my decision making process not to vaccinate, I think.

  11. PART 9

    The comment is getting so large that I will stop here and not mention my second overdetermining reason for abstaining from vaccinations (let alone a third one), I already have posed many questions anyway. But in case someone is interested let me motivate a future discussion with a question of scientific fact that I have been unable to find a definite answer for: Is the immunity from natural infection always better, always worse, or sometimes better and sometimes worse from the immunity that is developed from vaccines? The answer to this question of scientific fact is philosophically relevant for deciding on issues of rationality about certain people’s refusal of vaccinations: is there a way of knowing now for sure which from the two possible immunities (immunity from natural infection, immunity from vaccines) is better? I am asking here that we leave aside temporarily the different level of risk involved in getting each type of immunity (the natural infection on average represents far greater risk compared to vaccine-acquired immunity) and concentrate only on the question which of the two immunities is more protective against future reinfections, and/or against future mutations, and/or against future novel pathogens. In the last case, the case of protection from future novel pathogens, I am assuming that it could be in principle possible that the immunity that one develops now to Covid can act as cross immunity against a future different pathogen. I have no clue if this is even possible, I extrapolate from what I have read about immunity to previous viruses acting as a shield against other viruses (cross immunity). If someone happens to have a link, any answer is welcome, the comment sections of analytic philosophy blogs are the most epistemically responsible comment sections I have ever come across. My own impression is that there is no definite answer as of the time we are speaking, judging from conflicting statements from Professors of Medicine that I have encountered.

    Many thanks to Prof Chappell for the stimulating disussions he systematically generates, but even more thanks for his creating an environment that contrarian philosophical views on very touchy subjects can be safely expressed in an attempt at analytically philosophical thinking. It is my observation that most analytic philosophers usually display immense charity (“epistemic chivalry” I like to call it) towards non-philosophers, but, as far as I am concerned, his blog is the only place that I felt comfortable expressing contrarian views since the arrival of Covid.



  13. FOOTNOTE 2

    I am alluding here to my willingness to be naturally infected in case people express a (warranted or unwarranted) fear along the lines of commenter Unknown’s thoughts in the comment thread: “Once every willing person is vaccinated, the anti-vaxxers can only do limited damage [via infecting others]”. I’d rather not be thought of as someone “doing damage”, so I would be glad if everyone who would think of me this way would first ask me whether I am willing to be deliberately infected naturally so as to develop immunity in order not to pose a threat to them, and after they find out that I am indeed willing to do it, they could try persuading the medical establishment to acquiesce to some such solution involving my being naturally infected under supervision – in other words, instead of my going to the hospital to be vaccinated by the nurse, the nurse could just point me to whoever Covid-sick old lady is in the ward and feels lonely so that I could go there and keep her company for the optimal duration that the doctors would specify is appropriate for someone to be naturally infected (and repeat the process as many times it is required , and in intervals specified by the doctors, if I don’t catch the virus immediately. Obviously afterwards I will self-quarantine). That’s a win-win for everyone: the concerns of the people who fear my abstinence from vaccines due to the risk of my infecting them are annulled thanks to my naturally acquired immunity, I clear my name from allegations of selfishness or lack of adequate concern for the collective, and the old lady has someone to read to her or hold her hand during those lonely moments of despair at her hospital bed. The allegation about selfishness is very prominent, and it even came from the number one (or number two) of my medical academic heroes, Oxford Prof Sunetra Gupta:[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3

    Natural infection with measles provides lifelong immunity, and we now have a vaccine which provides similar solid, durable protection. We have not been able to eliminate the disease, but those who rather selfishly choose not to vaccinate their children are only able make that choice because the risks of infection are kept low by those who are immune — currently, a combination of those, like me, who caught it and recovered and many others for whom it is vaccine induced

    She is mistaken to attribute selfishness to most antivaxxers, most are fearful of vaccines and fear of vaccines, warranted or unwarranted, is a defeater of selfishness if it is not accompanied by a free-rider desire to enjoy the benefits of others’ vaccination. But most antivaxxers do not believe they derive a benefit from other people’s vaccination, let alone desire to benefit from it. And there are cases where the fears are definitely not of the sort that anyone would attribute to selfishness: Black people have, as a group, the higher participation among vaccine-hesitant people, due to past experiences of racist treatment from the medical establishment. Does it make any sense to see them as selfish?

    Footnote 2 continuing

  14. Footnote 2 continuiation

    But I was speaking for myself: if I am willing to be naturally infected in order to assuage the fears of those who voice fears, surely then the one responsible for the perpetuation of their fears will be anyone who prohibits my state-supervised natural infection that I suggested. If I am willing to take the precaution that commenter Unknown in this thread tacitly asks of me (i.e. not to damage his health via infecting him), the one endangering him in case the medical establishment refuses my proposed solution is the medical establishment, not me. It would be the medical establishment who would be preventing me from saving commenter Unknown from both his fear of my possibly infecting him and from lowering the probability of my infecting him. Just to clarify: I am not looking to be naturally infected, I just don’t mind doing it if people tell me they are afraid of me because I did not get vaccinated. I mean it, given also that I belong to a very low risk group, as a beau geste, not as a death wish or as a silly macho/patriarchal challenge.

  15. (3)the correct theory is, of course, that Hilary arranges the pedophilic fixes in a shop selling organic foods, not in a pizzeria.


  16. (5)The idea is pretty simple: once it can be established via an abundance of online links that four prestigious doctors, who were respected by the establishment before Covid, have been gravely attacked for their positions on Covid (I am referring to Profs of Medicine John Ioannidis, Sunetra Gupta, Ray Battacharrya, Martin Kulldorff) then this gives reason to the vaccine hesitant to believe that these doctors are not “in the pocket” of the establishment, for otherwise they wouldn’t have been so strongly attacked. Yet every single one of those doctors has come out in favour of vaccinations. Ergo, serious scientists who are (rightly or wrongly) willing to confront the establishment when they believe it is promoting mistaken medical policies are also promoting vaccinations. Hence the almost wall-to-wall agreement on vaccinations is not made up of people who are blindly following the establishment’s desiderata, there are proven “rebels” in it, and they too promote vaccinations. This argument could alleviate the concerns of those vaccine-hesitant people who think of the establishment as a monolithic thing that claps its hands and has its wishes satisfied. It shows them that almost everywhere there are whistleblowers (or wannabe whistleblowers), and that the absence of such grave reaction in the case of vaccines greatly increases the likelihood that the results of the scientific studies are not concocted. This argument, coupled with quotes from each of those doctors who come openly and forcefully in favour of vaccinations (not mandatory vaccinations, Prof Battacharrya has explicitly strongly supported optional vaccinations, I don’t know the position of Prof Ioannidis re the mandatory character though he systematically praises vaccinations, and though Prof Gupta is vociferously supporting vaccinations I am willing to bet that she does not support mandating them, but I can’t remember any relevant quote from her, Prof Kulldorff has stated it is extremist to mandate vaccines, though he supports vaccinations) it should help some vaccine-hesitant people realize that the scientific consensus on vaccines is real, not manufactured, and agreed upon by people who have shown they are willing to swim against the current if it goes against their scientific views. I am more than glad that I offered an argument that philosopher Mark Alfano can use in his endavour to persuade vaccine-hesitant people to change their mind though I doubt he will persuade me to get “the jab”, even though I am one of the most open-minded from the class of people he wishes to address 😊

    By the way, I think Prof Alfano’s observation about the importance of the insularity of the vaccine-hesitant community is spot-on, judging from what I have seen here and there in relevant blogs. I have no clue whether his strategy will succeed but it is certainly good to give his strategy a chance to try to talk to people politely – instead of calling them “national security threats” or even terrorists, as the gentleman in the next footnote (6) almost did.

  17. (6)Here is the claim, putting the words “antivaxxerism” and “extremism” and “national security threat” in the same sentence:

    The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said the number of people viewing pages and posts claiming that a Covid-19 vaccine is unnecessary or would pose a health risk had risen dramatically during the pandemic.

    “[Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the CCDH said] But I would go beyond calling anti-vaxxers conspiracy theorists to say they are an extremist group that pose a national security risk.”Mr Ahmed said the movement “transcended left and right-wing boundaries” but warned: “Once someone has been exposed to one type of conspiracy it’s easy to lead them down a path where they embrace more radical world views that can lead to violent extremism.”

    It is rhetoric such as the one Mr Ahmed is deploying that might ultimately lead to a state of affairs accurately and presciently described by the Guardian’s title:

    “It is only a matter of time before we turn on the unvaccinated

  18. (7) The reason people want to deny the label “antivaxxer”, even people like me who do not want to be vaccinated with any vaccine (and hence I am the closest that one can come to the literal content of the term “antivaxxer”) is that we definitely want to deny the bad connotations that are not true of us, not necessarily to deceive about an aspect of our stance towards vaccines. Here is a tacit allegation by Professor of Surgery and Oncology David Gorski that takes for granted that starting one’s talk with some or other disavowal of the term’s “antivaxxer” being applicable to her is a sign of either antivaxxerism or of being misguided. It does not even occur to him that people who want to talk about vaccines in a contrarian way are forced to disavow the term so as to disavow some connotations of the term that are inapplicable to them:

    Before he gets to his concerns, like anyone spreading antivaccine disinformation, whether as an antivaxxer or someone who’s misguided, Dr. Vanden Bossche, like RFK Jr., must proclaim himself so very firmly “not antivaccine

    Let’s just say this. If you claim to be “not antivaccine” but your message is so attractive to a rabid antivaxxer and leader of the antivaccine movement like Del Bigtree that he spends an hour promoting it, you are either deluding yourself about being “not antivaccine,” or you’re a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement, possibly both.

    And here is Dr. Zubin Damania making more explicit the case that Dr Gorski is trying to make, warning his own audience that the statement “I am not an antivaxxer”, uttered by anyone, should “be a trigger for you” signifying the fact that the utterer of the statement is an antivaxxer because, as he very suggestively intones, “every single antivaxxer starts his statement by the statement ‘I am not an antivaxxer’ ” (just 15 seconds, from min 1:58 up to min 2:13), please do watch, it’s unbelievable:

    Sounds like he is epistemically vaccinating his audience against antivaxxers. The trouble is that, given the way he vaccinates his audience, his audience’s immune system will learn to ignore me too (for he is priming them not to listen openly to people like me who necessarily have to disavow the label even while I am fully being upfront that i don’t want to be vaccinated) and hence his audience’s immune system will kill the benign “virus” that my vaccine talk is by ignoring me after I utter my first sentence that disavows the label “antivaxxer”. I sincerely hope that real-life vaccines for Covid are more wise (more discerning in the collateral damage they take) in teaching long term immunity than this particular social vaccination was.

  19. (8)

    Both the article and the discussion in the comments were very useful for me, not just the comment i cite,


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