Tuesday February 1st 2022: I’m not permitted to travel from my home country Norway to Brazil, where I have planned to move with my boyfriend. After 31 years of diverse and extensive world travel from the very beginning of my life, I have never been rejected from leaving my country due to a medical decision. I have not taken the Covid vaccine.
Tankwa Karoo National Park, South Africa.
My whole life, especially the last 10 years, I’ve been traveling and exploring a vast number of countries. Many of which have required either certain vaccinations like Hepatitis A and B, or medical prophylaxis to prevent diseases like malaria. I got the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) when I was 6 months old, due to the fact that my father is from Egypt and Tuberculosis was still a substantial threat in that part of the world when I was born in 1990. At no time have I had to show proof of any vaccination or medical prophylaxis, neither at the airport of my departure or the airport of arrival destination. (One time I forgot to bring my yellow card to Mozambique, and had to wait for 20 minutes to log into my public health documentation, but before I got a wifi-connection the security guard let me through, so I don’t count this as an occurrence).
What I’m trying to convey to you, is that I am not an anti-vaxxer. I understand medical requirements for global traveling and have taken all mandatory vaccinations, and plenty more, to travel to countries where I pose a threat both to myself and the local citizens of the country I’m visiting, if I’m not vaccinated. However, this is not the case with the Covid vaccines. Even though you are vaccinated against SARS-CoV 2, you can still transmit the virus, you can still get sick and the virus seems to be endemic. I can say that and still believe that SARS CoV-2 is a serious virus that should not be taken lightly.
What I’m wrestling with, and really can’t fantom, is how my medical decision, suddenly and arbitrarily, ended up making me an undesirable traveler to many countries? And soon, if we are to believe the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who “urges the World Health Organization to build a global digital vaccine standard.” – the majority of countries in the world.
I want to be very clear from the beginning: I’m not advocating for or against the Covid vaccines. I am advocating against a global Covid vaccine mandate. The majority of my peers, including most family members, are vaccinated – and I respect their choice to do so. We can disagree about health decisions, and still get along greatly.
What I do find worrying, and a valid reason and basis to write this essay, is that important topics that could radically transform the way we live our lives, are not being discussed in any productive, open, emergent way. No questions asked. No questions even encouraged. The Socratic method, part of the bedrock of the values of the West, is seen as ill-mannered – if it dissents from the mainstream conception. We’ve been so entrained that we do not seem to notice, or care for that matter, that we are deviating further and further away from the values and the legacy by which they stand on.
What are the inquiries we ought to be questioning at this moment in time? How will the decisions we are in the midst of making change how we think about ourselves, others and the world, forever? What does it say about our philosophy of life? Are we actually creating a better future for ourselves and the people who come after us? And what choices do we have, you and me, to affect this radical transformation in the best way we can?
What kind of world do we want to live in?
Golden-mantled howler monkey, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
First of all, I will lay out my decision for not taking the Covid vaccine. Even though this is not the primary motive of this essay, I think it is a useful framework to come to understand how I ended up where I did. Both because I think many people find themselves in more or less the same position; not recognizing the labels that are used about us and feeling perplexed and disturbed about the way the world seems to proceed. But also because I think you can be vaccinated against SARS CoV-2 and still come to acknowledge the absurdity of a global vaccine mandate at this point. It’s not all or nothing. It’s knowing where to draw the line, and be willing to stand up for what you believe to be true.
Already a few months into the pandemic (spring/early summer of 2020), it was becoming pretty well understood that the risk and potential dangers of getting sick with Covid-19 for healthy, young people with no underlying conditions, was minor. Long-term harm was, and still is, unknown. There is always potential risk when you get sick with a virus. As a personal antidote, in 2006 I got a mild form of Mononukleose, but ended up in the hospital after a week, with 20% lung capacity – because, at the same time, I had contracted pneumonia. So, I personally understand that there is a risk with every disease. That doesn’t mean we can go around and be anxious of every little pathogen that might harm us. We can, and absolutely should, apply the precautionary principle, but we also have to evaluate risks to be able to live our lives.
All of this to say that even before the Covid vaccines were rolled out into the public, by January 2021 in my home country Norway, it was never an intelligible reason for me to take a vaccine to prevent and protect against a potentially harmful outcome, if I were to contract the virus. Because the chances of a harmful outcome was almost negligible. In theory, most reasonable people agree about this. However, people don’t take the Covid-vaccine primarily for personal health reasons, this is only the rationale for the most vulnerable people in the high risk groups. The majority of people have taken the Covid vaccine in solidarity, to protect others and to stop the spread of SARS CoV-2. Which is perfectly reasonable, if the remedy actually worked as stated.
Sugba Lagoon, Siargao, Philippines.
The public health message has been all throughout this pandemic, at least in Western countries, that you should take the Covid vaccine, not mainly for personal reasons, but to take care of others. I understand that a certain argument can be made in favor of this being the public health message. The public health apparatus is instantiated to solve national-health-collective-action-problems, and in well-functioning, democratic societies we do many things for the purpose of serving the collective first. For instance, take vaccines to eliminate viruses. Because even though some things may not be in the interest of every individual in a country, it will serve the collective, and for that reason achieve the best outcome for all.
So why not comply this time? In principle, I abide by this logic and have taken other vaccines to contribute to the elimination of viruses. However, by the summer of 2021, when I was offered the first dose of MRNA-vaccine, it was becoming evident that the Covid vaccines did not stop transmission. For something to be effective in stopping the spread of a virus that’s causing a worldwide pandemic, the minimum requirement must be that the proposed remedy will actually stop transmission. Transmission between individuals is one of the primary ways in which you really can take care of others, the more vulnerable in society, when faced with a virus on the loose. If the majority in society take a vaccine, which for this to work must be a non-leaky vaccine, you make it impossible for the virus to spread further, and it will most likely die out.
During the entirety of 2021, the Covid vaccine narrative went from affording you full immunity, to a bit less effectiveness than predicted, but still enough to only carry the virus, not transmit. Oh, wait a minute, you can also transmit. But! Only a tiny bit. Weeell – actually, we have to expect regular transmission between vaccinated people also. Though – remember, you don’t get nearly as sick as the unvaccinated. Never mind your chances of getting so sick that you have to be hospitalized, as a healthy person with no underlying condition, is almost non-existent. Just hold on one second; the main reason for getting vaccinated has always been to prevent overburdening the health care system. Since you can do the math, you probably know that this equals taking the Covid vaccine. One size fits all.
Actually, no, I can’t do the math of these Covid vaccines. I found myself in a very perplexing situation due to the fact that my chances of catching and spreading the virus is high, also if I got vaccinated. However, the chances of getting so sick from the disease that I would have to be hospitalized (and take up space in the hospital) is negligible – even without taking the Covid vaccine. I also found that many doctors and medical professionals had a more holistic and multi-layered approach to SARS CoV-2, for instance emphasizing the importance of Vitamin D and home-based early treatment.
So, I concluded, to the best of my ability, and to the degree that I could discern and comprehend the medical information at the time I got offered the first vaccine dose, that the best decision for me and my body was not to get vaccinated. What I did start doing though, was supplement with Vitamin D and making sure I had everything I needed for early treatment. To this day, April 2nd 2022, I have not had Covid-19 (not that I’m aware of at least), yet those in my family who’ve had it have been following the early treatment plan and only experienced a very mild, short disease span.
Inside Sakkarah pyramid in Sakkarah, Cairo, Egypt.
I find it difficult to grasp why the Covid-vaccines has created so much tension and fraught in our public discourse. During the fall of 2021 the Covid-rhetoric really started heating up, even in my home country Norway, were we usually are so meek and timid. Somehow the unvaccinated were now to blame for everything that is not getting us back to “normal”. Even with the real complexity of the situation, and the impossible categorization of people, when you’re dealing with a mutating virus that changes the rules of the game every week, if not every day.
The Canadian professor in Philosophy and Ethics, Dr. Julie Ponesse, pointed out something that I find to be part of the problem regarding the tension around Covid-vaccines. After the vaccine rollout, it appeared to be a common perception among people that the Covid vaccines didn’t just give you biological immunity, it also gave you a form of moral immunity. No one could criticize the vaccinated – they had done their part of the job. You can easily see the downstream effect of this perception spiraling out of control in such a socially connected world. If you honestly believe the choice of taking the Covid-vaccine was never actually a medical decision, but a choice of goodness and solidarity – the justification for shame and ostracization towards the group you have understood to be nothing but immoral is pretty easy pickings.
The problem with this train of thought is that it is completely illogical in our current situation, as I have tried to thoroughly lay out above. Many others with the proper credentials have done exhaustive and careful analysis elsewhere. This illogical and confused perception of being granted moral immunity with the Covid-vaccine, I will argue, is one of the reasons we’re now seeing a global vaccine mandate on the horizon. When the Covid-vaccines are recognized as your moral duty as a citizen of a country, you can easily misconstrue the fact of being granted treats from authority (for instance to travel), as a signal of your morality, rather than merely obedience. This will get further muddled when you now can spot “the good people”easier, the ones who also got treats. As evolutionary biologist, Heather Heying, puts it; “once the asymmetrical distribution of treats begins, it is easier to maintain the asymmetry by blaming those who don’t receive treats. Those people don’t deserve treats. Those people are dirty. They are sources of disease. They are non-compliant. They are, in the end, the other. They are not us. If they were us, they too would get treats.”
Besides the obvious hazard of dehumanization, this is not the way we deal with either morality of our actions, medical decisions or how we usher in rules and regulations about important matters in democratic societies. This perception is a kind of kindergarten play, and it should have no acceptance among adults who we trust to make informed, intelligent decisions to achieve the best outcome for all. A global vaccine mandate that do not successfully prevent spread or contraction of Covid-19, which is the sole reason for the mandate in the first place, has no justified or valid grounding. Furthermore, as PANDA, the Pandemics Data & Analytics highlights as just one of their 10 reasons for why a global vaccine mandate should never be mandatory; “herd immunity can be reached through a combination of natural infection and vaccination. It is not necessary to vaccinate the entire planet for the ‘greater good’ of society.”
Winter Wonderland, Tryil, Norway.
My decision to not take the Covid vaccine is actually irrelevant to what I’m advocating against, namely a global vaccine mandate. However, it is important to lay out the grounds for why I ended up where I did. Because I did not aspire to be a part of a fringe, a small minority who oppose the mainstream narrative, for the sake of opposing. I was not disapproving of the fact of getting vaccinated against a virus, and I understand that some mandates are justified. I am in no way anti-vax, or the slightly less condescending phrase vaccine-hesitant. The latter term, vaccine-hesitant, which also glues to all sorts of other conspiratorial beliefs about the world, is artificially created for the very purpose of ostracizing people, and not having to deal with questions we don’t have the answer to. Frankly, everyone who are rational in their thinking should be hesitant, and apply a level of critical thinking to what they’re putting into their bodies. This is, or at least was, common sense.
As of yesterday a level of critical thinking and good faith skepticism was seen as something to aspire to. It was encouraged. We perceived it as truly valuable to improve our sense-making, and expand our ability to make informed decisions. Both for ourselves, but also with other people and in approaching the world at large. During the course of this pandemic, critical thinking has been weaponized to indicate something almost equally dangerous as the virus itself. A state of emergency, an “infodemic” as WHO calls it, to fight misinformation that kills people with wrong and bad faith misinformation. Conspiratorial thinking do exists, and may have increased in the course of the last two years, but the imperilment arise when we start conflating a rational level of hesitancy and risk-benefit analysis that ends up concluding something different than the consensus, with bad faith misinformation that should be canceled and censored.
When you prime citizens, in all sorts of ways, to believe that critical thinking is equal to conspiratorial thinking, and with that the spread of dangerous misinformation, you will not get anyone who dares (or get the chance) to utter anything other than what is validated by the media, public health and politicians. Instead of a rational, resillient populace, you get a nervous populace that breaths emotional fear and anxiety. No wonder we have to be constantly comforted and protected by a level of safety that only can be recognized as infantilization, as well as told what and how to think about everything in life.
This has huge consequences when we now face radical transformations like a global vaccine mandate. Which will, without a doubt, change the way we live our lives even more. And nothing at this point suggests for the better. I’m not qualified, scientifically or otherwise, to present the plentiful, abundant evidence for why Covid vaccination should not be mandatory. Nor do I have an interest in trying to do so here. What I’m advocating is the acute need for ordinary people like myself, who are not scientists, medical experts or doctors, to be able to discern, analyze, and think critically for ourselves. This is not a violation in open, free democracies. Quite the contrary. This is what we believe to be our sacred values. People in the West are free to think and not outsource every bit of thinking to authority. Exactly because we believe in humans’ capacity for rational thought. This right to think freely is coupled with a responsibility to stand up when something threatens our freedom, and frankly our democracies. When something breathes absurdity and incoherence, and has the potential of affecting the world as we know it, in a detrimental way – we have an obligation to stand up. Vaccinated or not.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall (pseud. S. G. Tallentyre), 1906, in the biography “The Friends of Voltaire“.
Cenote Kankirixche, Yucatan, Mexico.
To now be contemplating the fact that children who are not born yet, people who have most of their lives ahead of them, may not be able to experience a world that is free to explore, makes me furious beyond belief. To travel the world and experience the beauty, wonder and diversity of cultures, natures, cuisines and people is something that can never be taught. It must be actively explored and fully participated in for the learning to occur. In that, it has the capacity to expand wisdom and knowledge beyond comprehension.
Figs from the garden: Samos, Greece.
I am fully aware that most people don’t have the privilege to be able to travel the world, which is something that should not be taken for granted by the ones who do. Advocating against an absurd global vaccine mandate is a way of not taking your privilege for granted – as you will absolutely not fix any problems of inequality with this approach. You will make it worse. The people who have been offered Covid vaccines from the end of 2020 are primarily Western countries, many of which are now implementing a 4th vaccine dose. While many developing countries are looking at a vaccination rate less than 10%. As Our World in Data states; “only 14.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.”
A global vaccine mandate that is claimed to be justified on the basis of protecting and preventing the spread of SARS-CoV 2, will only continue to safeguard and wield the class division both within and between countries. The middle class and elites will have access to boosters every 6 months (or whatever the time frame will end up being), to make sure they’re “up to date” and get their precious treats. Which of course makes it no surprise that the people both cheering on and quietly going along with this global vaccine mandate, are exactly the middle class and elites who would like to feel protected by more rules and regulations. It is pernicious, like a classic ancient tragedy, how it is so easy to welcome a mandate that you know will never really affect you, if you just abide, because you are protected by your class status. This is the problem with luxury beliefs. Demanding changes that ultimately does no greater good for the whole, especially not for the lower class, but the self-congratulatory belief that it does signals ethical superiority, if you just take them at face value.
“The result of preaching totalitarian doctrines is to weaken the instinct by means of which free people know what is or is not dangerous.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945.
We find ourselves at a crossroad. And it is not about you being vaccinated or unvaccinated. It’s about pursuing a real life or an artificial life. One way forward offers you safety, protection, surveillance and control. The wisdom of Aristotle comes to mind; the person who is ignorant doesn’t know better, the person who is foolish does know better, but still chooses to do the stupid thing.
There is no life without risk. There is no life with 24/7 surveillance. There is no life with full control and protection. That is imprisonment. By going along with a global vaccine mandate that is not, by any stretch of the imagination, justified medically, you are opening the door to something much more frightening, that will further limit hard-won rights and freedoms. And eventually, terminate life itself.
As the brilliant poet Wendell Berry writes:
“as soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.