We need transparency when it comes to vaccine data

I’m fascinated, as I’m sure many are, about how the persuasion vs. coercion tug-of-war concerning Covid vaccines will end up in the coming months and years. 

As Covid-19 merges into the general miasma of respiratory diseases that infect people during the winter months, there won’t be the same sense of urgency that’s driven emergency use authorizations, the same desire to have something—albeit with a few question marks around safety and long-term effectiveness—that cuts the reins of government-mandated restrictions that turned our lives upside down in 2020. 

These restrictions seemingly came out of the blue for many, yet were stage-managed by a globalized, inter-governmental system that assumed control of the pandemic from the day it was declared.

It will likely be the courts, not the politicians, that will have the last word, and it’s reassuring that some heavyweight lawyers like Dr Reiner Fuellmich and Robert F Kennedy Jr have rolled up their sleeves and gotten involved. But I want to mention here a few aberrations in what’s going on that might hold value to humankind if they are ever to be dissected by impartial, clear-thinking, unconflicted judges.  

The first is that right now it seems one of the worst things you can be in the eyes of many governments is a vaccine hesitant. (Remember when it used to be a terrorist?) It’s seen as an inadequacy, a limitation of intelligence—plain ignorance coupled with a hefty dose of selfishness. By kicking the can to the foot of the vaccine hesitant, public authorities and the vaccine industry can sit pretty, despite their checkered history of withholding vital information of overriding public interest. 

The tobacco industry, you’ll recall, got lambasted when the truth was eventually revealed that it knew for years tobacco smoking causes lung cancer. Vaccines have a clearer benefit to health through their ability to protect against disease, although that can be debated at length.

But vaccine companies and drug regulators can’t escape their long record of failure to disclose key information to the public—not dissimilar to what tobacco companies were accused of. 

Dr Peter Doshi, an associate editor at BMJ and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, has been among the most consistent high-profile complainants exposing vaccine transparency. 

Doshi and the BMJ recently called for full disclosure of raw data. The logic is clear: if you want to “cure” vaccine hesitancy, let independent scientists review the data, and you can pretty much guarantee people will be less hesitant and more likely to decide one way or another.

The blame for vaccine hesitancy needs to be turned around and placed firmly at the feet of the vaccine industry and regulators who’ve done far too little to give the public and inquisitive health professionals the confidence they would have if more information was put into the public domain.

Another aberration is the presumed acceptance of coercion when it comes to vaccination. Because it’s assumed that so many people are too stupid to realize how good these vaccines are for themselves and society, the best way of pressuring them is to withdraw rights or privileges, as if we’re trying to encourage good behavior from children. 

It might be arguable to take this approach if you accept that vaccine refusers are behaving badly or irresponsibly. But not if you see it from a different, and I would argue, more realistic perspective: they’re behaving responsibly because they’ve yet to receive the necessary information to give informed consent. 

This coercive strategy, one being increasingly adopted around the world, drives inequality between those who are vaccinated and those who are not. It creates more, not less, polarization and flies in the face of all the recent efforts to reduce social, ethnic and health inequalities. 

It trashes the individual’s autonomy in how we choose to manage our own health, something we know is central to getting on top of the key disease burdens in society, and it needs to be roundly opposed.

I’ll end with one more aberration: the idea that governments can claim Covid vaccines are “safe” when a mountain of data compiled over decades of regulatory assessment show you can’t call safety until you’ve studied vaccines for years. 

Back in the 1980s when I was campaigning to reduce indiscriminate use of pesticides in Australia, we were eventually successful in banning companies from using the term “safe” in their advertising. 

In national vaccination programs, governments take responsibility for the sale and distribution of vaccines and indemnify the makers in the event of ‘no-fault’ injury, so it’s governments we need to rein in. Quite simply, they’re lying to us when they claim Covid vaccines are safe, when some safety-related endpoints in clinical trials won’t be met until late 2022. It’s like giving a car a five-star safety ranking before you’ve checked the breaks. 

All of that before you even delve into the available data, which are problematic enough. 

Find out more about our work on Covid-19 at www.covidzone.org and please sign up to our weekly newsletter at www.anhinternational.org.