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Why I no longer talk to vaccine conspiracy theorists

When someone asks me about the Covid vaccine now, I say I will be getting jabbed and then I change the subject, says Peter Kelly...

Like many other people, the pandemic has highlighted to me that I have friends who believe in conspiracy theories. I was not fully aware of who they were prior to the arrival of Covid-19. Sure, the odd friend might have said something on a night out, but I downplayed it in my head, assuming they were just joking. 

I now know better: some of my friends really do believe in conspiracy theories and, potentially, will act on them. The idea that there is a hidden agenda in trying to end the disruption of a global pandemic by administering vaccines is nonsense to me, but I have friends who are not sure and probably will not get the vaccine because of their paranoia. 

At the start of the pandemic I was stunned to discover I had friends in WhatsApp groups who thought Covid was a hoax and that vaccines cause autism. They thought there was a coordinated effort by big business, government and the media to control us and change our culture to something less desirable, to produce a more ‘controlled’ society. 

Initially I discussed, debated and argued with them. All our conversations followed a similar pattern: they would lay out their beliefs and concerns, and I would rip their position apart with my superior intelligence and more informed understanding. Rather than concede any ground, they would simply reiterate their position.  

I would get frustrated and insult them personally. I would then regret my comments and feel bad about myself for being so rude. I would apologise and try to rebuild the bonds of friendship. This is much harder at the moment as you cannot meet up face-to-face, have a drink and laugh it all off. 

So now, when people ask me about the vaccines for Covid, this is what I tell them. I will be getting the vaccine at the first opportunity I can. I appreciate that there is some risk involved in getting vaccinated. I know that governments and politicians cannot be fully trusted. My dad was a politician and he once promised to buy me an ice cream and he didn’t, so I know all about politicians casually lying for expediency and an easy life.  

I know big pharma cannot be fully trusted because I have read Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients by Ben Goldacre. I know they are structured to put sales and profit before all else, sometimes even patient safety. I know they have let us down in the past and some of the things they did were criminal, but I am still going to take the risk and get the vaccine.  

And if they say “But what about this…. What about that …. Do you know this doctor who said ….”, I just tell them that I am not interested. You cannot live free from all risk. You cannot navigate a way through life avoiding all its perils. It is not possible and, frankly, it would be far less interesting if you did.  

I appreciate there is some risk to having a Covid vaccination, but I am less fearful of vaccines than I am of infectious diseases and this virus. When you read about how Covid-19 affects people in so many different ways - some are asymptomatic, some die, some get long Covid - it appears to me that the disease is far more unpredictable that the effects of a vaccine.  

I am also far less fearful of the vaccine than I am of the effect that another few years of lockdown life might have on my mental health. I am also far less fearful of the vaccine than I am of the economic devastation, social disharmony and mental health crisis that a longer period of intermittent lockdowns will have. 

Am I happy about getting the vaccine? Not really. Every year I get a flu vaccination and I always hesitate slightly, mainly because it involves going into a pharmacy on my day off and nobody wants such a vivid reminder of their job on their day off! A day off is for forgetting about work and relaxing Going into a pharmacy for a vaccine takes a couple of hours out of my day off and reminds me of work!  

But after I get it, I always feel virtuous because I know I have done the right thing and fulfilled my civic duty. I have done what is best for the greater good and society as a whole, and that is a nice feeling. I have done my bit to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the nation. 

So, when someone asks me about the vaccine now, I say I will be getting jabbed and then I change the subject. 

Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and occasional stand-up comedian.

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