The fear of developing cow-like features

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, why is it a question?

Patience with the corona virus is wearing thin. We are all fed up with being confined to the sanctuary of our home, being deprived of visits to friends and family, the forced abstinence of cafés and restaurants and having to deal with travel restrictions to other countries. 

But the tide is turning and 18 months after the outbreak in Wuhan the worldwide vaccination campaign against corona is finally getting steam. Multiple vaccines have been developed in various countries and many governments have started to issue mass vaccination campaigns to protect their inhabitants. According to Bloomsberg, right now 1.43 billion doses of corona vaccine have been administered across 176 countries.

But remarkably, not everyone is welcoming the much-awaited vaccine for corona with the same eagerness. Why would people object to vaccination and is there a way to take away their objections?

Why would anyone object against a vaccine for corona?

It seems ridiculous that there is resistance against vaccination. If you logically weigh the pros and the vaccination has more advantages than disadvantages. That we’ve found, tested and fabricated multiple vaccines for a virus like corona within such a short time frame is a remarkable achievement. Normally it takes years, even decennia, to achieve just that. 

But that speedy process could be one of the reasons acceptance level are relatively low. Normally vaccines are tested extensively, first in laboratories on animals and then human volunteers before administering it to the public. But since everyone wats to return to normality as soon as humanly possible, the process has been sped up to accommodate that demand. 

But if the process of developing a vaccine normally takes years and suddenly it is possible within months, to the public that doesn’t feel right. They reason that either the process could have been faster before, or we have rushed through the process and as a result the vaccine might be flawed.  

And there are more reasons why people object to vaccines in general. To understand the reasons for these objections we have to look into the history of vaccination.

Smallpox, a highly contagious matter

Vaccination in itself is a remarkable innovation. In the past we tried anything from herbs to evoking divine intervention to prevent infections from diseases. The smallpox was one of those highly contagious and devastating diseases one would try to avoid. The smallpox killed more than 400,000 people every year, and people were desperate to find something to prevent infection.

Hundreds of years ago someone in China discovered that if you’d grind up the scabs of smallpox, and rub the powder in small incisions in the skin or inhale the powder through the nostrils, it could prevent infection. The downside of this method was that you had to jeopardise the health of perfectly healthy human beings by purposely infecting them with a deadly disease. As you might imagine, this sometimes went horribly wrong. 

The miracle of dairy workers

This practice of purposely infecting healthy people with a disease was called variolation, an early form of vaccination. The real invention of vaccination took place at the turn of the 18th century. Edward Jenner was a physician and scientist who lived and worked in Berkeley, a small town in the southwest of the United Kingdom. Dairy farms were quite common in that area. The dairy workers were often infected with cowpox, a disease commonly found in dairy cattle, similar to smallpox but milder and less deadly. During his work as a physician Jenner discovered that if a dairy worker had contracted the cowpox, he or she afterwards never became infected with the smallpox. 

He wondered if this was just chance or that he might be on to something that could possibly prevent people from dying of the smallpox. So, he decided to conduct an experiment. He intendedly infected an 8-year old boy with the cowpox virus by injecting cowpox pus directly under his skin. The boy indeed never contracted the deadly disease after the injection, proving his theory that infecting a healthy person with the cowpox would prevent them from being infected with the smallpox. 

The fear of turning into a cow

In these days the whole scientific community would vilify the man as an unethical sadist for this experiment, but two hundred years ago purposely subjecting a little boy to a disease was perfectly acceptable. 

The use of cowpox matter was much safer than using the actual smallpox virus, and

Jenner started the world’s first vaccination campaign to stop the spread of the deadly smallpox. The term vaccination is actually derived from the word ‘vacca’, which is Latin for cow, and the popularity of the practice steadily grew over the years. 

But even though the results were great, not everyone was convinced. It was still feared that infecting someone on purpose, even with a much milder disease, was dangerous. Some even believed that vaccination with cowpox matter would cause people to develop cow-like features. Right after the first vaccination campaign the first anti-vaccine movement was born.

Emotional reaction to an injection with particles of a virus

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/v-a-n-3-ss-a-13670757/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=5057119">v-a-n-3-ss-a</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=5057119">Pixabay</a>

Resistance against vaccination is apparently not only reserved for corona vaccines. 

Ever since the invention of vaccinations there have been antivaxxers who either want to keep control over their own bodies or want to have the freedom to opt out of state-mandated vaccinations. 

Resistance against vaccination is in a sense quite understandable. The idea of injecting yourself with particles of a virus is unsettling, even if there is a neglectable risk and the vaccination could lead to the eradication of a disease, as happened with the smallpox. 

When health is involved, people tend to react emotionally instead of logically to solutions that are being offered. 

Is there a way to take away their objections?

What we see is that either the objections are downplayed and the antivaxxers are seen as paranoid, ore antivaxxers are being ushered into talk shows and pitted against scientists. Both tactics are only making the situation worse. By downplaying the objections, the antivaxxers are only strengthened in their conviction that there is something wrong and that they’re not being told the truth. And pitting antivaxxers against scientist makes them equals in a debate. Scientists address the problem with arguments based on objective data, whereas most of the antivaxxers respond form a gut feeling.

The only solution is to take the fears and doubts the public might have about the vaccination seriously. It doesn’t help to use force them to believe otherwise or to downplay the risks. That will only make it worse. Providing the public with facts is necessary but be aware of the fact that their actions are based on feelings, not on logical deductions. Using facts to argue your case on order to convince them is like comparing apples with pears. Facts and feelings are completely different things. The only purpose providing facts has is that it is part of the process to gain their trust, and gaining their trust begins with taking them seriously and listening in earnest to their objections. The scientific facts can be used to show that the vaccines are trustworthy: seeing is believing. Proof was needed to debunk the claim that the first vaccine would cause people to develop cow-like features. As you might imagine, no-one changed into a cow when administered a vaccination for the smallpox.

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