Deconstructing Vaccine Logic

As Covid continues to mutate and vaccines are achieving or approaching formal approval by the FDA, we continue to find ourselves mired in a lack of progress in terms of mitigating the Covid pandemic. In particular, there is a strong contingency opposing vaccine implementation for a wide variety of reasons. While many of these reasons are founded on what would correctly be labeled as conspiracy theory (at best), arguing the validity is of little value. If an individual selectively rejects the scientific process objective data is of little concern. Instead, I find it more useful to dissect the various logics at play in hopes of creating a better understanding of the various positions.

To start, I want to clarify the idea of selectively rejecting the science behind the Covid vaccine. To be clear, while there was an emergency approval early in the pandemic, the current approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the pending Moderna decision are both subject to the FDA process that all other medicines have/are/will be. To that end, to decide that this (or any other approved vaccine) is in some way not safe is to deny the efficacy of any approved treatment. In the absence of scientifically generated data/evidence supportive of such a position, to do so is an arbitrary position unless one is also foregoing the use of all other medicines/treatments. The process can be trusted or not, but any value of a position must needs lie in the consistency of how that position is reached. Selective application is merely an invalidation of the position, regardless of what that position is.

I want to focus this article on the two primary ideals behind refusing to vaccinate, namely freedom and religion. There are certainly other claims (infertility, magnetism, etc) that could be addressed, but given the evident fallaciousness of those types of reasons, we will focus instead on the rationalizing occurring within the guise of freedom and religion.

Freedom of choice is a prominent reason for many who are avoiding the vaccine and, in particular, oppose mandating vaccinations. This is a predictable, and to some extent, understandable position for Americans to espouse. It is, in many ways, the calling card of modern Americansim. The underlying pretext, of course, being that the individual is free to choose the course of said individual’s life and that no one, including government, ought interfere with that course. Incumbent in this position (and the very founding documents and philosophies of this country) is the reality that we are free to choose, providing we are not harming others as we make our choices. In the event that one individual does harm another, the intervention of a governing authority on some level becomes reasonable, warranted, and expected. It is the sole responsibility of the government, after all, to protect the rights of its citizens, and this includes safety. In addition, there are responsibilities that a free citizenry is obligated to honor. Of necessity, if one truly believes in freedom for individuals, one must act in such a way that consideration for others is a necessary component in decision-making. The very underpinnings of free society rest on citizens making choices in a manner such that they are not only considering their own interests, but the well-being of their fellow citizens — unless we are to neglect that freedom hinges upon not harming others. It is, after all, not possible to act in consideration of others if others are disregarded in the decision-making process.

It is here that we must acknowledge the crux of the “freedom” argument in that it must, of necessity, reject either the prospect of not harming others or the merit of the scientific process used to produce the vaccine (the latter, obviously, brings the logical baggage of rejecting all medicine and, truthfully, any scientific advancement that resulted from the process being rejected). One cannot lay claim to the right to remain unvaccinated, in light of the empirical evidence available, without disregarding the safety and well-being of others in society, rejecting the methodology that leads to the conclusion of the dangers that Covid poses or the solutions that have been methodically developed to battle it, or both. In this light, it becomes an argument contingent upon the valuing of self preference above all else, including empirical evidence. An interesting consequence of this is that the choice to willingly harm others is expected to result in the loss of freedom; a governing authority is expected to stop individuals from harming others by restricting rights and actions. It stands to reason then, that if science and the methodology behind it (which certainly includes medicine) is valid, refusing a vaccine is grounds for some sort of authoritative intervention.

The other prevalent rationale to not be vaccinated is religion (where vaccines have been mandated, religious exceptions are required). At its core, this becomes a rather curious issue. The basis of a religious refusal would lie in some doctrine that prevents vaccination. This would have its basis in either the vaccination being of an undesirable source or the focal point of the religion being the source of all things, including remediations for medical ailments. The crux of the religion argument is to limit the manner in which a deity can influence events in our lives.For example, I will use my own faith, Christianity, to illustrate.

One might offer the position that the pandemic is, itself, of the will of God. This would be scripturally sound as all things are of His will. To that end, it would certainly be God’s will that a person be afflicted with Covid, or not, that a person be killed by Covid, or not, as with any and all other outcomes. Along this logic, we must immediately confront the idea that, if all things are of God’s will and the vaccine is a thing, it must also be of His will. The assumption being made in avoiding the vaccine in this instance (that God will protect/decide) is that God is not providing the vaccine for His people. It discounts the very premise that God acts through other agencies, despite the fact that he does this directly and indirectly time and again throughout the Bible. It strikes as very much akin to the idea that, as they stood on the shore of the Red Sea watching it part before them to provide a means of escape from the Egyptians, the Israelites refusing to enter their salvation and instead waiting on the shore for God to make the Egyptians disappear. To assume that the vaccine is not God helping his people through other agents is to lay claim to the will of God and know His mind and ways. Regardless, I find a joke a pastor used in a sermon when I was in high school to be of some relevance here (and one need only insert the deity of choice for a selected religion):

A great rain was causing floods in a town and authorities showed up with buses to a man’s house to tell him he needed to evacuate and they would take him to safety. He responded “God will take care of me.” Several hours later, the rains had caused the floods to reach the second story of his house. Again, authorities came, this time in a boat, to take him to safety. Again the man said “God will help me.” The waters continued to rise as a result of the rainfall overnight, and in the morning, the man was on his roof and a helicopter flew over his house and over the bull horn he heard “climb the ladder and we will get you to safety.” To which the man replied “My faith is in God. He will provide for my safety. And the waters rose and the man was drowned. In Heaven, the man, speaking with God, asked “Lord, I put all my faith in you. Why did you do nothing to save me?” To which God replied “I sent a bus, a boat, and a helicopter. What did you want me to do?”

I often find myself picturing this conversation, but God replying, “I gave humans the intelligence and the means to discover a treatment and then mass produce it. Why did you reject it in My Name?”

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John Tedesco

I am an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with profound interest in philosophy and faith.