COVID is a numbers game — so let’s roll the dice

If getting the COVID vaccine was a purely personal choice, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it — at least not yet.

As a person with health anxiety, I figured that as young as I am, and in a country which (at the time) seemed to be controlling outbreaks and maintaining a functional health care system, the risks (namely: panic attacks that I’d die from whatever I’d just had injected into my arm) outweighed the blurry benefits.

When I saw case numbers going up, I thought back to the times I’ve had to go to hospital. I remembered how packed the waiting rooms were, even pre-COVID, and how many specialist doctors I’ve had to wait over 6 months to see. I remembered how, in February of this year, my physio told me that the hospital she worked for was talking about having her work overtime to fill in the gaps. I realised that getting the jab is not a personal choice. It’s a choice that profoundly impacts countless other people. I refuse to be complicit in the overload of an already struggling healthcare system. I can’t advocate for mental health while making a choice that negatively impacts the mental health of doctors, nurses, and those who are, directly or indirectly, affected by COVID.

What I found when I started to read up on vaccines was that my fears were rooted not only in my own battle with anxiety but in misinformation and in the misrepresentation of statistics. The facts are simple: this is a numbers game. Contracting COVID and then dying is rare(-ish), but the risk of side effects from the vaccine is orders of magnitude rarer. I realised: if I decide not to get the vaccine, it’s likely that I won’t ever need to be hospitalised even if I get COVID: if thousands of others make that choice, some of us WILL be. In doing so, we will restrict access to healthcare services for others who need them: for specialist doctors, various diagnostic appointments, skin cancer check-ups, and more. These are people we know and people we care about, put at risk. So I got my jab, and three weeks on I am fine

A 24-hour, profit-centric media cycle, and the insidious “wellness” industry, both propelled forward by social media and an incredibly fraught social and political climate, are responsible for a scam of impressive proportions. On the one hand, even “responsible” news outlets have failed to put into context the risks of vaccination: you are more likely to die from a regular, OTC dose of aspirin or experience a fatal lightning strike than you are from the AstraZeneca vaccine. If you ever need an anti-seizure or anti-viral medication, you are significantly more likely to die of an adverse drug reaction, but I’m sure you’d still like your odds. If you get the vaccine (as the young and relatively healthy people who are most likely to be reading my posts), you are virtually guaranteed survival from COVID (which, let’s face it, isn’t going away anytime soon) and have a high likelihood of avoiding hospitalisation. Long term vaccine effects have not been reported, and if they were, it would be a novelty in the history of medicine. On the other hand, wellness and fitness influencers are pushing the false and problematic narrative that if you take care of yourself, you won’t ever get sick — I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this is ableist, incorrect, and quite frankly disgusting.

Another important note: the deals to buy vaccines will be made whether or not you choose to get them, and governments themselves do not directly profit from this. Media outlets and influencers, on the other hand, do. Do not think for one moment that because their rambling, misinformed Instagram captions or inflammatory headlines are free, that they cost you nothing. You are the product, and you are being sold to advertisers. The more they scare you, the more you are engaged with their content, and the more money advertisers will pay them. On news sites, they pay to screen targeted ads, and on Instagram and Facebook for influencers to ply you with promos for skinny teas, green smoothies and workout packages.

Your anxiety about the vaccine is fair enough, considering all that we’ve been through and the uncertain future we face. Your decision not to get your dose, quite frankly, is not. One person refusing the vaccine will have little impact on ICU numbers, but by sharing your unfounded and misinformed fears with your own social circle, it isn’t just one person. It’s thousands and thousands, and we don’t have the medical capacity for that: the numbers don’t lie.

News outlets and influencers cannot be relied upon to do their part, but by having discussions with neighbours, friends and family, and putting their minds at ease with facts and perspective, we can help ourselves move forward.