Brendan Hoban:”…two inescapable conclusions: (i) vaccines work and (ii) vaccines are the best protection against the virus.”

There’s no denying how to beat the virus

Western People August 10, 2021

If we want to put some clear water between ourselves and the Covid-19 virus, it really is a contest to the death between ‘the Virus and the Vaccine’. The virus mutating itself into yet another variant – now the aggressive Delta variant – has underlined that truth. ‘Herd immunity’, once derided as an irresponsible even slightly crazed objective, is making a comeback in a different form – the effort to maximise the numbers vaccinated, including children.

When the vaccines for Covid-19 first began to emerge, even the experts held out little hope that they would prove to be the lifeline they are. Now there’s almost a consensus that vaccinating as many as it is possible to vaccinate safely is the only secure way forward.

Thankfully, the response to opting for the vaccine has been extraordinarily high in Ireland. This is clear – I write on Thursday of last week – as I see from a graphic of the vaccine uptake by age-group the following:

  • 80+      99%
  • 70-79   98%
  • 60-69   96%
  • 50-59   94%
  • 40-49   89%
  • 30-39  82%
  • 20-29   64%

Here are a few other telling statistics re vaccination:

  • Less that .001% (or one on a thousand) of those fully vaccinated have had a fatal outcome
  • Less than .004% (or 4 in a thousand) have been hospitalized.

The above proves two inescapable conclusions: (i) vaccines work and (ii) vaccines are the best protection against the virus.

Considering that 300,000-plus have contracted the virus in the Republic of Ireland and that 5,000-plus have died as a result, it’s frightening to contemplate what life would be like now in Ireland if there was no vaccine or if the Irish people had decided not to accept vaccination in large numbers.

How many more thousands would be dead now and how many multiple thousands would have contracted the virus – and everything that entails including the spectre of ‘long Covid’?

Yet despite everything, the conspiracy theorists are still making hay. A mix of attention-seekers, religious extremists, trouble-makers and the incredibly gullible – all it seems blithely unaware of the telling statistics quoted above – are pooling their nonsense and gathering in groups to protest against the vaccines, with spectacularly unqualified people offering opinions based on little more than what they read in the papers or what they saw on Google.

As I wrote in this space last May the blunt truth is that taking a vaccine is a personal, family and social responsibility. Taking the advice of a conspiracy theorist is nonsensical and may well prove fatal.

Despite the progress we’ve made, Nphet and Niac are still cautious because the figure for new cases is still uncomfortably high and they are still nervous that the target for herd immunity has still not been reached. We are in sight of clear water but we’re not there yet.

It is a sensible, responsible course to take because even though statistically the numbers are less that they were, we’re still dealing with an aggressive disease that can have huge implications not just for long-term, debilitating illness but for death.

The stakes are still high and it makes sense to be careful. Which is why the government needs to keep its nerve and not be jumped into conceding immediately opening up everything when waiting for a few more weeks would significantly increase the numbers vaccinated, limit the numbers contracting the virus and the numbers dying.

Inevitably, some protests about the unfairness of the lockdown are inevitable. Some of it is understandable, more is a bit problematic and still more is just blatantly childish and sometimes just plain selfish.

In the Sunday Times, Brenda Power suggests that the pandemic has brought a sense of proportion to the excesses, for example, of the wedding industry which seems geared to concocting ever more ingenious ways to part young couples with their savings. Little wonder, she writes, that ‘wedding planners were protesting outside the Dáil hoping to resume the money-spinning excesses of those ridiculously extravagant events’.

But, it seems too, there may be hundreds of couples thanking heaven for the pandemic, the limited guest lists and the simplicity of getting married. And not just the couples getting married but the guests too, one of which confided to me once that she would rather get a summons in the post than a wedding invitation.

The same I suspect is true of many parents of First Communion children who stand to save hundreds of euro on not having a Bouncy Castle, 50 plus guests and the varieties of excess attending such landmark ‘spiritual’ events. Or indeed the reluctant guests for whom attendance is a ‘command performance’.

There’s a message there that we would do well to take on board – those who make the loudest noises (or succeed in generating the loudest support) are not always those who make the greatest sense.

There comes a time when leaders have to lead and when the more moral and responsible approach trumps the more limited perspective of those who imagine that what’s right for society is what they decide they want to do or have to have.

For Catholics, in terms of social teaching, the key tenet that always guides (or should guide) our approach is what we call ‘the common good’ – even when those you’d imagine should be reminding us of it seem to have forgotten it.






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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    One of the challenges is how best to convey effectively the facts about a situation like Covid-19. Emphasising that it is important to trust the science is not effective with people who believe that the science is compromised from the word Go. In addition, “science” is not an unchanging monolith: there are various views, and science develops by learning from where it has been wrong. Medical science is similar.

    An article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 96, September 2021, entitled “Misplaced trust: When trust in science fosters belief in pseudoscience and the benefits of critical evaluation”, says:

    “We identify two critical determinants of vulnerability to pseudoscience. First, participants who trust science are more likely to believe and disseminate false claims that contain scientific references than false claims that do not. Second, reminding participants of the value of critical evaluation reduces belief in false claims, whereas reminders of the value of trusting science do not. We conclude that trust in science, although desirable in many ways, makes people vulnerable to pseudoscience. These findings have implications for science broadly and the application of psychological science to curbing misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    This suggests that, paradoxically, a critical evaluation of the science is vital: not just saying “I trust the science”, but seeking also the limits of science in the matter, and, as far as possible, asking relevant questions and querying the answers. This means we can also critically evaluate the pseudoscience, and perhaps identify which is which.

    This may seem difficult, but our own experience can help. It has happened a number of times that I needed to correct medical consultants when I knew that they were working from incomplete or incorrect data.

    In the same spirit, may I also make a small correction to Brendan’s article? It says:
    o Less that .001% (or one on a thousand) of those fully vaccinated have had a fatal outcome
    o Less than .004% (or 4 in a thousand) have been hospitalized.
    0.001% (I have supplied the zero before the decimal point for clarity) is not one in a thousand, but one in a hundred thousand. 0.1% is one in a thousand.
    Similarly, 0.004% is not 4 in a thousand, but 4 in 100,000.
    This correction does not weaken Brendan’s case, but strengthens it.

  2. Ger Hopkins says:

    Sticking to the science, Brendan:

    The HSE’s own published statistics say that someone my age and without comorbidities has a minimal risk of hospitalisation or dying from Covid.

    The HSE and your own article say that the risk of such outcomes for the *fully vaccinated* is also minimal. Of the same order as the flu. (Again, I’m talking about the fully vaccinated.)

    The vulnerable have all been vaccinated as have most people who want it.

    Based on this level of risk to myself and others I won’t be getting the vaccine. Same risk calculation means I never get the flu shot. No one’s ever had a problem with that before.

    The flu season will roll around again as it always does. Posing the same low overall risk of serious outcomes that it always does. Next time though will I find myself being coerced in to getting a flu shot?

    P.S. Good luck on Saturday. Even this Dub thinks seven in a row is too many.
    Check out the Ballyroan live stream.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    Children and adolescents are dying in the current Delta devastation in the US, and the chief culprits are self-centered anti-vaxxers who calculate the risk to themselves but not the risk they pose to others. Drs like Fauci are urging desperately that all should be vaccinated and now even GOP pols are seeing the light as their people sicken and die. There is no good reason to refuse vaccination, which is a matter of hygiene and responsibility. Even a healthy person can be a carrier of the highly infectious variant, and presumably a fully vaccinated person is less at risk of infecting others in this way.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    I see that new cases in Ireland are clocking up at 1509 on Aug 10, 1819 on Aug 11, and 1733 on Aug 12, despite the vaccine roll-out. Proportionately that is higher than Japan where the current surge inspires great anxiety.

    Not a good time to relax one’s guard, especially given that a more deadly variant may be awaiting its cue in the wings.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Japan has 20,000 infections a day for a pop. of 126 m. Ireland has 2,000 a day for a pop. of 5m. With 1 million vaccinations a day, Japan is losing the battle. The rate of infection in Ireland is 1 for every 2,500 persons daily and in Japan it’s 1 for every 6,300 people; but Ireland is ahead of Japan in the vaccination stakes.

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