A case of anti-vax fatigue syndrome

6 minute read

It’s exhausting to go straight from pleading with patients to get vaccinated to pleading for their children.

An acquaintance of mine publicly posted on her Facebook page in early this month about her experience of getting covid, together with her family and posting about how it floored her for days even though none ended up in hospital.

In a show of support I commented that I was glad she was better, and my own fear as a healthcare worker these 18 months and my gratitude for the vaccines. Her reply was to tell me she is pro-choice, does not agree with the vaccine mandate and could I please keep pro-vaccine comments off her page.

I deleted my comment and unfriended her.

A day later, on a public page, I read “I don’t like the term antivaxxer; it takes away from the critical thinkers that choose not to vax and lumps them in with those who follow blindly.” I asked her what her understanding of antivaxxer was: “Anyone against vaccinating, no reason given.”

A nurse reached out to ask my opinion on ivermectin over the vaccines. She wanted me to send her articles proving vaccine efficacy. My reply: “You know the same TGA that approves all the other drugs we are happy to inject into patients? They approved the vaccines too.”

Yet another nursing friend who’s vaccinated said she’d not be vaccinating her kids as “it’s too experimental”.

The antivaxxers are coming out of the woodwork and they are emboldened.

I am hearing of under-16s with antivaxxer parents wanting to be vaccinated who cannot (yet) be as we do not have a way of bypassing parental consent for this group.

I am hearing of people feeling pressured into getting vaccinated to retain their job who will not be vaccinating their kids. No amount of discussion around how these are not experimental, how the TGA does not do Emergency Use Authorisation (i.e. no shortcuts) and billions have been safely vaccinated to date, will sway these people.

I hear this and I admit to feeling sadness, despair and grief. I feel exhausted and tired, having to pivot, this late, from urging, nagging and BEGGING adults to get vaccinated, to now urging them to get their kids vaccinated.

Like many of my colleagues, I wonder what is coming to NSW post-11 October, especially in general practice, with limited access to PPE, and rising demand for face-to-face care.

With today’s shocking jump in numbers in Victoria, I fear for my colleagues there too.

“But why should I vaccinate my kids?” is the commonest question I get. “Covid doesn’t affect 99.6% of kids, and is mild so why would I inject my kids with an experimental poison/vaccine?”

So here is what I say, if they ask: “Do you really want to know?” Many will say no.

If they say yes, if they aren’t simply regurgitating what they have heard on the internet, I tell them.

  • We know as many as 10-20% of adults will choose to remain unvaccinated. That’s several million Australians, plus their kids, at risk of mild, severe or fatal illness from covid.
  • We know with delta, herd immunity is unlikely, so every single vaccinated person counts, even if your individual chance of getting sick from it is minuscule.
  • Every kid who gets covid, and is fine, but takes it home to an elderly family member, even if vaccinated, places that person at risk.
  • Every child who gets covid may still risk infecting several unvaccinated people, some of whom will get covid, enough to end up in hospital or dead, adding to our hospital crisis. In regional areas, this will be much worse, where even a few cases may overwhelm the area.

To date, the focus around vaccinating has been to protect yourself, and your family, your children, and that is right, but we have not focused as much on protecting the community at large.

We have not fully considered the pockets of disadvantage in Sydney and in NSW, where vaccination numbers are low, and some groups, such as Indigenous populations, are at greater risk of getting sick and dying if they get covid. We have done really well to link employment to vaccination in LGAs of concern, but we have missed out on pockets of disadvantage including in affluent areas, among the homeless, those with disability and mental illness, and the incarcerated.

We have not fully considered the fact that by and large, regional NSW has lower vaccination rates thus far and taking covid there, with very limited hospital facilities, may be truly life-threatening to its populations when tourism within NSW resumes. 

We have not fully considered that even in fully vaccinated elderly, and other immune-compromised groups, they could still become unwell enough to end up in hospital or die after exposure from someone who can be vaccinated and chooses not to be.

The lie, over and over, that the people peddling antivaxxer theory sell you, is that you will be fine; this is all OTT; your immune system knows what to do and it is nothing more than “a bad flu”. What they do not tell you, because they do not themselves understand this, is that it is not just about you.

In the process of your getting “natural immunity” from covid, how many other people will you infect, and of those, how many will succumb for the sake of your “freedom” and “right to choose”?

Pre-covid, patients would say that about the flu vaccine, except with covid the stakes are so much higher – especially on the cusp of reopening, when case numbers could explode and overwhelm the hospital system in mere weeks.

I want to say: I hope and pray that you will not end up in hospital with covid, wishing you had made a different choice as you are about to be intubated, or turned away as you fail to meet triage criteria in an overwhelmed hospital system, or die at home.

I want to say: do it for your kids, if not for yourself. What parent does not want safety for their kids?

I want to say: I hope you will not be the reason someone else goes to hospital or ICU.

The fact that the vaccines do not confer sterilising immunity is all the MORE reason to get every single eligible person vaccinated, not less. 

These and so many more thoughts swirl through my tired mind, as I listen to the rote arguments from people who simply do not get. My colleagues and I are only too aware of what’s imminent; but it’s madness to keep trying to persuade someone unwilling to listen to logic, or science and learning – to disengage is then wiser for your own sanity.

Dr Imaan Joshi is a Sydney GP; follow her @imaanjoshi

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