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As I am fast approaching my Rendezvous with my conscience, scheduled for some time between the end of February and the beginning of April, I am frequently being asked the crucial question “will I be taking THE vaccine?”

It seems that the answer is a moral issue and that refusing vaccination an act of careless social cowardice.

In this world of uncertainty, more than ever, we are looking for simple, unequivocal answers to our situation. One of the notable features of this crisis is how increasingly divided we are becoming. The greater the fear the stronger the views… whether those are about the necessity to sacrifice all remnants of enjoyments in life to the God of lockdown or about the conspiracy that drives our governments towards a worldwide “technocratic dictatorship”!

It seems to me that if there is an answer at all it is in factoring in the grey areas and in recognising that fuelling divisions is what weaken us; no matter how strong our views might feel, in this context of partitioning (the very function of lockdown), rigid views only give us the illusion of strength.

Flexibility, tolerance of different perspectives, and compromises is what will keep us from unreconcilable divisions and wars… there is only but a thin line between conflicting individuals and conflicting nations!

Our governments may be failing in their willingness to nourish dialogue, promote different scientific views that include health promotion in their measures and in so doing are increasing divisions, but nothing is stopping each one of us from responding in a measured way to the various pressures.

Unfortunately, there is no one-answer-fits-all. Ultimately our choices should be just that…a choice not a mere reaction to social pressure, fear, righteousness, or ignorance.

The first step to choosing is recognising that, despite the pervading admonishment for isolation and an ambient scent of repression, choice is an embedded condition of our human spirit and is independent from circumstances even if circumstances limit choices.

On her way to Auschwitz and certain death, (by all accounts a desperate situation with no obvious choice left), Etty Hillesum grasped at that very essence of Choice when she vouched to actively keep connection with her faith, no matter the fear and horror, and wrote: “I shall try to help YouGod, to stop my strength ebbing away”.

Intrinsic to our nature, choice is less of a birth-right than an endowment of responsibility, a fact that we would rather forget than measure. In truth, keeping track of the consequences of our daily choices is untenable which is why it is tempting to dissociate from the concept altogether and be lured into delegating responsibility while applying soothing solutions to cure anxiety… the list of beguilement is terribly long indeed!

So, what are the considerations that will influence my choice aside from personal circumstances (such as the need to travel) which may well end up being the decisive factor in me accepting to be injected with a slightly dubious cocktail of mRNA and PEG (Poly-Ethylene-Glycol)?

Fundamental beliefs about health

Mine lies in the fact that I view health as the experience of life managed rather than a state of being or the absence of disease: health is the criteria for my daily and active commitment to life affirming practices, thoughts, relationships, foods, drinks etc.

This implies that I take full responsibility for my health rather than make the government, the environment, or the NHS responsible. I may suffer symptoms or require medical intervention, but I also accept that I do not control my life’s outcome only my inputs through the informed choices that are available to me. To inform ourselves thoroughly and critically is the most health affirming act available to us.

A vaccine could fit into a life affirming choice but not without also fitting with individual Values and Needs.

Values

In theory we may well share general values such as love over hate, respect of our neighbours and the preference of health over disease but in practice what really does guide my choices when faced with challenging options?

I respect my neighbour, but would I sacrifice my health for someone else? The answer to this would entirely depend on who it was, how vulnerable they were and how much of my health would have to be sacrificed to significantly protect them!

The idea that vaccination is a civic act simply does not stand. Just like lockdown, it implies that we are spreading the disease with equal amounts of risk and that we hold individual responsibility for causing Covid19 related deaths. This is obviously not true; the virus is the cause of death not the vector! Nonetheless we are required to lockdown and sacrifice our life in equal measures regardless of age, state of health, living conditions, education or means!  

A modulated approach cannot be lawfully policed, but if we are to come out of lockdown free from the heavy burden of resentment, this should not be the reason for casting blame; we are in Lockdown because governments have declared it so without meeting opposition and for no other reasons!

Needs

At present, I have no personal needs to vaccinate against Covid19; my risks of dying from it are too small to factor in. Statistically I have far greater risks of dying from breast cancer. I may want to protect a vulnerable loved one but evidence that vaccinated individuals are no longer carriers are sorely lacking... in fact it would appear the opposite. I may recommend vaccination to my vulnerable loved one but if they are very frail the possible side-effects are lethal enough and statistically significant to put this into question. 

There do appear to be some benefits in vaccinating the not frail but statistically vulnerable individuals aged between 60 and 80, but crucially the nature of the virus and the speed at which it mutates means that a vaccine will only have a limited time efficacy and will require yearly shots. Already the results from Israel are disappointing showing that 17% of people in hospitals with Covid19 have already received one shot of vaccine

But, however relevant, the risks must be evaluated relative to the benefits…

Risks versus benefits

Life is a risky business; our nervous system has evolved from a primitive freeze response faced with predatory encounters to an extremely sophisticated system of conscious and subconscious perceptions, neurological feedback loops and complicated interactive communications with others; all for the sole purpose of measuring safety while expanding our consciousness and experiences of life. This level of complexity means that it can easily go wrong!

The proof is in the general malaise affecting us all; questions we never asked ourselves before are becoming daily struggles… “is it safe to step outside my front door”; “do I really need to make a trip to the shop and encounter another human being”; “can I trust my best friend”; “am I safe enough to visit my own mother who needs me”; “am I putting my family at risk by going to work”.

We are overwhelmed; a vaccine could provide a reliable solution to our pervasive sense of insecurity and may justify the calculated risk of an injection with limited safety data and time-limited efficacy...

Perhaps the decisive element in all this lies in our Faith.

Faith

Whether agnostic or religious, Faith concerns all of us because at its most fundamental it fathoms our relationship with Death.

Until Covid19 our Western Societies were enjoying a substantial stretch of peaceful times undisturbed by deathly wars and lulled by the steady increase in life expectancy. This made the shock of mortality all the more traumatic when those numbers and pictures started to flood in back in March 2020.

I wonder how many of us are still suffering from the trauma and are feeling permanently unsafe? We all must face up to our mortality at some point but only to feel the more alive from it. Tragically, shock and trauma have a way to freeze us in fear and death and corrupt our life. Recovery needs connections not isolation.

Faith gives meaning and purpose to life. Without a faith, Death dominates our life; either by triggering strenuous denial of our mortal condition or by inducing gripping fear to engage with life.

My routine spiritual practice is based on acceptance (of Death and all that I cannot change) and surrendering (to something higher than me which is organised and influenced by my choices).  My decision(s) will aim to be congruent with my beliefs about health, and fit with my values despite the risks. 

In the words of Etty Hillesum

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

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