The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest story in the world for the better part of two years now, and people are understandably tired of this dark cloud hanging over every waking moment. That is exactly why people were so excited when vaccines were rolled out in January of 2021. That is, most people were. Some people were not as sold on the idea of a vaccine for COVID-19.
Initial conspiracy theories about the vaccine ranged from doses containing Bill Gates sponsored microchips to them being an agent for population control, and have since included everything from the vaccine causing people to become magnetized, to spontaneous foot amputations, to Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s vaccine induced testicle growth and impotence. It is interesting to note how quickly conspiracy theorists move onto the newest claim that supports their views, abandoning the discredited point despite having previously based their whole argument on it, but that is neither here nor there.
Alas, the frustration of debating an anti-vaxxer is rivalled only by that of retrieving one’s phone from a thin crevice or perhaps writing a particularly painful lab report. That said, it is also quite predictable, as there are only a handful of current anti-vax arguments, all of which can be refuted quite easily. The goal of this article will be to systematically go through these arguments one-by-one and discredit them.
“The vaccine doesn’t work.”
This is perhaps the first argument that anti-vaxxers made against the COVID-19 vaccine, and despite being disproven time and time again, it persists to this day. Despite its longevity, it can be disproven easily by simply pointing at numbers both from clinical tests and real-life use. In their respective clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were both found to be over 90% effective at preventing infection with COVID-19. A more recent study found that the vaccine was slightly less effective against the Delta variant, but only found a decrease to 88% effective in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Some anti-vaxxers bring up the example of Israel, where over 80% of eligible people are vaccinated and Covid cases have skyrocketed. The key word in that sentence is ‘eligible.’ While over 80% of adults who are medically cleared to receive the shot, have received it, that only makes up 64% of the general population. Original estimates placed the threshold for herd immunity at 60-70%, but that number is likely to have increased as a result of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Thus, if the case of Israel serves as any kind of example, it is a warning of what can happen when full reopening takes place before herd immunity, not proof that vaccines don’t work.
Many people also believe that the vaccine is ineffective because vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19. By this measure, the measles, hepatitis, and polio vaccines also don’t work since none of them provide complete immunity. Vaccines function on the basis of herd immunity, which is when enough of the population is vaccinated that the virus cannot spread enough to maintain a foothold due to the partial immunity provided by the vaccine. When this occurs, the infected population steadily decreases until the virus eventually dies out, as measles and polio largely have.
“The vaccine is unsafe/untested.”
The aforementioned clinical trials were both conducted on groups of over 30,000 people, and subsequent studies have provided even more information on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, so the claim that the vaccine is untested is blatantly untrue. While it was rushed compared to most other drugs (because of the situation of emergency), the vaccines still followed rigorous testing practices including both in vitro and in vivo testing. While it is impossible to know for certain if the vaccine has any long-term health effects, the probability of this is considered to be very small, as determined by studying the mechanism of action of the vaccine and analyzing its ingredients. When it comes to the topic of ingredients, some might argue that “we don’t know what’s in the vaccine.” Again, this is not true. In fact, the ingredients of the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines are publicly available.
“The vaccine doesn’t stop transmission.”
While it is technically true that there is no proof that vaccinated people who catch COVID-19 are less contagious than unvaccinated people who test positive, this is a near-sighted point which fails to consider the bigger picture. While the vaccine doesn’t necessarily make people less contagious, it does make them a lot less likely to contract the virus in the first place, thus reducing their probability of spreading it to another individual by the same factor.
“My body, my choice.”
While the patient’s autonomy is a fundamental principle of medicine, and thus anti-vaxxers are technically right that no one can force them to get vaccinated, this remains a selfish, uninformed argument. The reason this argument is selfish lies in the concept of herd immunity. Vaccines can only work to their fullest potential when a high enough percentage of the population is immunized for the virus to fully or almost go away. As long as there are enough people who remain unvaccinated, herd immunity cannot be reached, and the virus will stick around, endangering everyone. Therefore, the choice to not get vaccinated directly undermines the choice made by those who are vaccinated, fundamentally contradicting the basis of this argument.
The most important thing to remember when interacting with an anti-vaxxer, though, is that for the most part it is not about the arguments being made or the things being said. As mentioned above, these arguments are surely just placeholders until they are widely discredited and the next set of mistruths takes up the mantle. No matter how many times their claims are disproven, anti-vaxxers often refuse to be convinced. This is because their opposition to vaccines is almost entirely ideological.
In many cases, being anti-vaccine is a heavily political decision. It is used an act of rebellion by people who are unhappy with the system or believe that the government is acting against their best interests (which, to be fair, is often true) and decide to turn to alternative sources of information. These sources, either intentionally or ignorantly, spread false information which leads people further and further down the conspiracy rabbit hole until beliefs become entrenched. As a result, it can be impossible to change their minds, as these beliefs have turned into realities in the person’s mind. The actual argument they make is just grasping at straws to back up the world view they now inhabit.
So with that in mind, you now know how to refute the false claims made by anti-vaxxers, but don’t expect too much if ever you use them; you probably won’t change anyone’s mind.
Covid-19: Moderna vaccine is nearly 95% effective, trial involving high risk and elderly people shows: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4471
COVID-19 vaccines and decreased transmission of SARS-CoV-2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8287551/
Effectiveness of Covid-19 Vaccines against the B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8314739/
Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00728-2
Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: What you should know: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/moderna.html
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine: What you should know: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/pfizer-biontech.html
Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7745181/
Vaccinations and COVID-19 – Data for Israel: https://ourworldindata.org/vaccination-israel-impact