When a family member is an anti-vaxxer

PAT PILCHER made a shocking discovery this week when he discovered that a family member was posting anti-vax misinformation.

I find this hugely embarrassing, but I just discovered that one of my family members is an anti-vaxxer. Things kicked off when they shared an anti-Covid vaccine post on Facebook. While most of their Facebook posts are innocuous, I draw the line at Covid vaccine misinformation posts, so I expressed my disappointment. That’s when things got really interesting.

 

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My rationale for doing so was simple. Covid is deadly. We are not talking about the flu or the common cold. Covid-19 and the Delta variant have killed millions globally. A quick check online reveals that there have been 4,515,104 deaths from the virus. That’s a staggering number, and putting it into context it is equivalent to the death of most of New Zealand’s population.

If someone reads these anti-vaccine Facebook posts and decides not to vaccinate, they run the very real risk of catching Covid. By implication, this means getting sick and potentially dying (or even spending the rest of their life suffering from long Covid syndrome). Worse still, the damage isn’t limited to those who read my relatives ill-informed post. The post might be shared by others and then re-shared again and again. It isn’t hard to see how the proliferation of anti-vaccine misinformation happens. Either way, the consequences can be deadly.

Sadly, none of this occurred to my family member, who chose to stick to their anti-vaccine guns, arguing that it was not good. Like so much anti-vaxxer misinformation sprayed about online, the arguments used appear superficially compelling. That is, provided you didn’t apply critical thinking or question their credibility.

The first argument put forward was, “We don’t know what the long-term effects (of the vaccine) are”.

This rationale gave me pause for thought. It is a half-truth. Indeed, we don’t fully know the long-term effects of the vaccine, but we do know that the long-term effects of not being vaccinated are far worse than getting the jab.

This is particularly apparent in the USA. A recent story from the Associated Press shows that 98-99 percent of all recent US Covid deaths are from those who are unvaccinated. Only 1.1 percent of those who are vaccinated have been hospitalised from Covid symptoms in the US. Put simply, a little checking of credible sources quickly reveals that the argument for getting vaccinated is very compelling indeed.

This didn’t phase my family member. They threw another zinger into the mix. This time it was that the vaccine is still experimental.

Again, as a headline statement, there is some truth. The vaccine is still technically experimental. That said, all vaccines and medicines are experimental when first introduced. Also, when the potential side-effects of the vaccine are taken into account, its benefits far outweigh the impact of contracting Covid.

This is backed up by a large-scale study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that involved close to 2 million people in Israel. The study did find that the Pfizer vaccine can increase the risk of heart inflammation, swollen lymph nodes and shingles. It also found that Covid-19 infection raises the risk of heart inflammation, blood clots, heart attacks and a host of other deadly medical outcomes. This isn’t to say that the vaccine is 100 percent safe, but peer-reviewed science again shows that the risks from the vaccine are far lower than the dangers posed by the COVID virus.

So, just how risky is the vaccine? This is a particularly salient question as New Zealand recorded its first Covid-19 vaccination-related death this week. The vaccine safety board said the death was “probably” due to myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle, a rare side effect of the jab. The board also noted other medical issues were also present and that these could have “influenced the outcome following vaccination”.

Putting this into context, Ministry of Health data shows that 2.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in New Zealand to date. While the vaccination death is a terrible outcome, the reality is that one death after close to three million doses translates into a vanishingly small risk for the general population. As noted by the Vaccine Safety Board, other medical conditions may have caused the fatality. In short, you’d have more of a chance of being run over while crossing the road.

Despite the abundance of credible evidence, my family member continued arguing their anti-vaccination views, stating that the vaccine trials won’t be over until 2023.

Like the other arguments they put forward, this is correct, but again, the devil is in the detail. This argument ignores the numbers I’ve already listed above. They clearly show that anyone who decides not to vaccinate runs the very real risk of death.

Last (but by no means least) is the part I really struggle with. I don’t get how anti-vaxxers, despite a huge body of peer-reviewed information, peddle blatant misinformation. Why do they do this, knowing that death is a possible outcome for anyone gullible enough to take their nonsense seriously?

So, what should you do if you see friends or family posting anti-vaxxer misinformation on social media? First things first, report them. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms all have a low tolerance for Covid misinformation. Reporting such posts should, at the very least, see them removed. Secondly, if it’s family or a close friend, politely remind them that posting Covid misinformation has consequences. If they want to argue the issue, present some facts. Stick to debating the issue and don’t attack them, as that is a zero-win scenario that you will probably regret afterwards. Look for common ground, and if push comes to shove, agree to disagree and move on.

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