Protect those you love, don’t be taken in by anti-vaxxers

'Please be afraid of this disease and save lives by getting vaccinated. You can change the course of this pandemic if you do.'

Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

A COUPLE of years ago, a colleague presented an interesting paper at a conference titled “Anti-Vaxxers and Flat Earthers”.

A well-researched paper studying the “grey” literature such as media and online posts, he warned about the dangers of some of the bizarre ideas that were being spread. At the time, it didn’t really mean much to those in the audience; “So what?” people thought, these “fringe” ideas would never gain traction in a well-informed and articulate community.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic , we face an “epidemic” of vaccine hesitancy and outright refusal. It would seem that our colleague was truly prophetic. Many in our community will have friends and family members who have expressed the view that they will not get vaccinated. Some cite conspiracy theories and look to scientifically debunked and dangerous treatments as “the way out”.

What is happening here? In the two largest Jewish communities in this country (Melbourne and Sydney), where the Delta variant of COVID has spread, there are those who remain resolute that they won’t get the jab. Please stop and listen to the doctors and nurses working in our overstretched hospitals who plead with the community every day, “Help us help you by getting vaccinated.”

Our intensive care units are filling up with the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated. Those who have been “double vaccinated” if they catch the virus (which is much less likely), will have a mild illness, and are unlikely to need hospital care. And for every health care resource tied up in managing COVID, other services are affected such as elective surgery and the proper functioning of our already overcrowded emergency departments.

Fortunately, the majority of us are scared of the possibility of death, illness or chronic residual symptoms from this virus and immunisation numbers are progressing well. Our states have plans in place to open up.

But a time bomb is awaiting us.

In our community, there are those who remain unprotected. Our greatest concern is for the elderly in this group where there is significant risk of death and serious illness. The best way to protect the vulnerable is to get vaccinated. No one wants to be the person who has infected their parents, grandparents, and the immunosuppressed

You have the “power” to protect our community by vaccinating yourself. It seems inconceivable and irrational that our community members are resisting; despite all the knowledge and all the arguments for vaccination, there are those that will not change their opinion.

Sure, it is an individual’s right to choose. It’s a free society. But why choose to risk yourself and your loved ones? Why not trust science, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Doherty Institute, the experts?

The truth is most of us wouldn’t be able to understand the statistics behind a vaccine trial or a scientific paper – only a small number do. That is their expertise. Yet the repeated anti-vaxxer arguments concerning the vaccines, woven into the language of the conspiracy theorists just don’t make sense. It’s such a tragedy that they’re not protected.

These are the people who will ask for vaccination just before we insert a tube into their throats to put them on a ventilator, but by then it is far too late. Why haven’t we got through to them?

In the ultra-Orthodox world, careful adherence to halachah means that there is great importance given to obtaining an opinion from a respected and learned rabbi. In other words, a trusted expert. And yet there are individuals within the community who cherish the value of this scholarship, but won’t get a COVID vaccine because they choose to listen to falsehoods about “gene experiments” and disregard the evidence that has come from scientific study.

This is in a population that has suffered greatly from this virus!

We do not have a magic wand to bring back those in our community who are part of the anti-vaxxer “cult”. The roadmap back to some form of normality rests in everyone’s hands. We implore you; if you have friends or relatives who are in this position, particularly if they are elderly, then give it another go, tell them you’re trying to convince them because you love them. Ask them to look at the images of stacked up ambulances at hospitals, of the hopelessness written across the faces of our nursing and medical staff as they watch another unvaccinated patient die.

Please be afraid of this disease and save lives by getting vaccinated. You can change the course of this pandemic if you do. We hope our community gets through this difficult time – no one wants to lose those we care for.

Dr Jack Green is president of Australasian Jewish Medical Federation (Victorian branch). Prof George Braitberg is Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Melbourne.

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