The other day, someone on our local chat group posted a 29-word message about a 42-year-old female nurse at a hospital in Greece who had symptoms of an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome immediately after receiving a second vaccination against Covid-19.
There is so much to unpack in this simple, short message that I felt it would be a great place to start the exploration of Covid-19, the pandemic and the whole vaxxer story. Each of the issues the message raises has counterpoints in alternative narratives swirling around the internet. So, what are the issues, and what are the counter-narratives?
There are a few basics I like to have in mind while considering the Covid-19 pandemic and on which many of my assessments are based. Principle amongst these is that the pandemic has thrown four powerful drivers of modern society together: politicians, scientists, economists and business (principally but not exclusively the pharmaceutical industry). Each of these have their own ‘skin in the game’, their own interests to pursue or protect, and their own spectrum of personal and public interest. All their contributions in the form of data, policies and statements should be interpreted against the background of these factors.
This spectrum of interests is important because what is in a single individual’s perceived interest might not be also in the wider public interest. There is an innate tension between personal freedom and protection of society, and a pandemic stretches this enormously. Equally, but less widely appreciated, there is a disparity between public health and personal health. Face masks are one of the clearest examples of this: the wearing of the vast majority of face masks protects those around the wearer, but affords little protection to the wearer. It’s an effective public health measure, but a much less effective personal health measure (more on this later).
In summary, in assessing the usefulness of any contribution from politicians, scientists, economists, business or supporters of some counter-narratives, questions like ‘what is their objective here?’, ‘who benefits from this narrative?’ and ‘are there other supporting data available?’ are the constant companions of any enquiry.