Why I’ll Not Be Taking a Covid-19 Vaccine — and I’m a Scientist

Why I’ll Not Be Taking a Covid-19 Vaccine — and I’m a Scientist

Michael Zimmerman
Aug 28 · 4 min read

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When a vaccine for Covid-19 is released in the United States I will likely be one of the millions of people who abstains from taking it.

As a scientist with a Ph.D. in biology, I am shocked to be writing those words.

As someone who has written and spoken out regularly about the value of vaccination and against the pseudo-scientific position promoted by anti-vaxxers, both on the right and the left, I am shocked to be writing those words.

As someone at higher risk given my age and the fact that I take a drug suppressing my immune system, I am shocked to be writing those words.

As someone who has already had a flu vaccine for the coming flu season, I am shocked to be writing those words.

As an American who cares about the health and well-being of those in my local community and across the nation, I am shocked to be writing those words.

I am shocked to be writing those words.

But I have written those words and, as much as they distress me, I believe them and I believe that my decision is the correct one. It’s the correct one for me, it’s the correct one for those I love and it’s the correct one for our country.

A vaccine that doesn’t work will likely do more to spread Covid-19 than no vaccine.

A vaccine that hasn’t been proven safe can do irreparable damage to those who do opt to be inoculated.

I haven’t come to this conclusion lightly; the consequences are simply too great to trivialize the issue.

Perhaps I’ve not been cynical enough over the 45 years since I entered my Ph.D. program. I’ve trusted the process of science and the scientific method. I’ve believed that science consistently brings us closer to the truth — even as we discover what we don’t know and modify how we view the world.

Perhaps I’ve not been cynical enough, but despite the role of money in the drug development business, I’ve trusted the CDC and the FDA to make public health decisions based on data and on what’s in the best interest of the population of the United States.

Perhaps I’ve not been cynical enough, but I was convinced that collectively we learned something from the thalidomide disaster of the 1950s.

But, for me, all of that has now changed. Actually, that’s not true. I still believe that the scientific method is one of the most important tools we have. I still believe that we need to make decisions based on data rather than opinion or wishes. I still believe in the power of science to progressively help us make sense out of the world.

What’s changed is that I, like so many others, no longer have any reason to trust either the CDC or the FDA.

I have no reason to believe that the decisions they are making are based on data.

I have no reason to believe that the decisions they are making are designed to protect and promote the health and well-being of people in this country.

Instead, I can only conclude that the leadership of both agencies have been thoroughly corrupted and are acting for political rather than scientific reasons.

What else can anyone believe when the CDC changed its guidelines for opening schools upon the direction of the president?

What else can anyone believe when the FDA commissioner granted emergency authorization for the use of convalescent plasma despite remarkably limited data supporting such a decision and then lied about what the data actually indicate after pressure from the president?

What else can anyone believe when the CDC, after hearing the president demand that Covid-19 testing be slowed down, rewrote its guidance for testing saying that asymptomatic individuals, even those in close contact with people who have tested positive, should not be tested?

What else can anyone believe when these actions, as well as so many other recent actions, are attacked by virtually all in the scientific community as being scientifically and medically unsound?

For all of these reasons, when a vaccine for Covid-19 is announced in the United States, I will have no choice but to treat such a proclamation as a political rather than a scientific statement. I don’t take medical advice from politicians — of any party — and thus I will not trust either the words spoken or the vaccine itself; at least not if the current president and the current CDC and FDA leadership are still in place.

I’m not pleased to be taking this position. Indeed, I fear that this position will likely inflame the passions of those who are already opposed to vaccinations putting a growing number of individuals at risk from diseases that are easily controlled. And it will likely help grow their numbers putting even more people at risk.

But that’s the cost of allowing politics to trump science.

That’s the cost of permitting previously respected agencies to be subverted for political gain.

And that’s the cost of casting doubt on all previously trusted and knowledgeable voices.

I know that I will not be alone in shunning a Covid-19 vaccine announced by the current administration; numerous polls have made that clear. What is striking is that if I’ve come to this conclusion, someone who rejects conspiracy theories, promotes vaccines and, as a scientist, accepts the scientific method, we’ve likely reached a tipping point.

It will take new leadership for perceptions to change and even then, it will take time, a lot of time. As a former FDA spokesperson told POLITICO recently, “The damage that has been done will take at least 10 years to repair.”

It didn’t have to be this way but, as Donald Trump said, “it is what it is.”

21

Michael Zimmerman

WRITTEN BY

Founder and executive director of The Clergy Letter Project, Ph.D. in ecology, promoter of the liberal arts, long-time academic administrator

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