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Foto: F.l.t.r. Victor van Veelen, Maria Rios and Ece Utku
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These UvA students do not want to be vaccinated

Mella Fuchs,
16 september 2021 - 14:34

With the corona pass being introduced for cafes, restaurants, theaters, and cinemas, the disadvantages of being unvaccinated are multiplying. Moreover, unvaccinated students are at increasing risk of becoming infected now that all measures at the university are being phased out. Yet Victor van Veelen, Maria Rios and Ece Utku are not to be convinced. ‘Vaccinations should protect the person, not society.’

Third-year Italian language & culture student Victor van Veelen (24) doesn’t see the need for vaccination. He doesn’t know anyone who has become seriously ill from corona. ‘I don’t think it’s crazy to follow your gut. It's a heavy flu, that’s for sure, but still, if I didn’t have a TV or phone I wouldn’t have heard anything about a crisis. I don’t know anyone who has died or has become seriously ill from corona. I do know people as old as 95 who have had corona and they had hardly any trouble at all. How can you blame me for being skeptical?’

How could vaccines be developed so quickly?

‘The studies on corona vaccines were conducted in the way that studies on vaccines should be conducted, with randomized placebo-controlled trials for the different vaccines,’ says Menno de Jong, professor of virology at Amsterdam UMC and member of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). ‘The reason those studies could be done so quickly is because there were so many infected people, so the intervention and control groups are quickly large enough to conduct reliable studies. For most other diseases for which vaccines are being developed, the process is slower because there are fewer infections. Furthermore, with none of the vaccines did they wait ten years to look at the long-term effects before they were put on the market. That is done in so-called phase four studies, and those take place when the vaccine is already in use. If you look at how quickly the thrombosis cases were responded to with the AstraZeneca vaccine, you can see that very careful attention is paid to any unexpected side effects.’

Still sick

Maria Rios (20), a second-year Economics & Business Economics student, also relies on her own observations. When her grandmother was given the Pfizer vaccine, the veins on her leg became very visible and she had blood accumulation, Maria says. ‘She got scared and told me not to take the vaccine. Before my grandmother was vaccinated she had had corona. She was sick but survived. Maybe sometimes the vaccine is more dangerous than corona itself.’ Moreover, vaccinated people still get sick, observes third-year psychology student Ece Utku (21). She doesn’t think the research on the vaccines is substantial enough.

 

The fact that scientists have developed the vaccines does not remove the distrust. Victor doesn’t trust anyone, including scientists, he says. ‘Science is very dynamic. One study is disproved by another. I don’t know at all who the scientists behind the vaccines are, I don’t know their interests. The fact that it’s scientific doesn’t mean you should just trust it,’ says Victor.

 

Big profits

Maria agrees. ‘I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. There is no chip in the vaccine, I know that. But scientists can also be wrong.’ That’s why she trusts her intuition. ‘It tells me: it’s okay, if you don’t need it you don’t have to take it. I respect the findings of an expert, but I believe in my own intuition more.’

‘I don’t like large companies. They don’t care if I'm healthy’

That the companies developing vaccines make billions doesn’t make it any better for Victor. ‘I don’t like big companies. They don’t care whether I’m healthy or not, they only care for big profit. Where big money is made, things are usually not quite right. You can see that from the huge fines that companies like that have received in the past because they put toxic substances in medicines and didn’t report it, for example the American Johnson & Johnson that used asbestos in talcum powder for babies. I don’t want to be used for someone else’s business model.’

Do vaccines make sense against the delta variant?

‘The current vaccinations do indeed protect a little less against mild infection by the delta variant,’ says De Jong, ‘but they still protect very well against serious infection and hospitalization. So it’s very good if the majority of the population is protected with a vaccine that works at least against serious infection. Although you can still be infected if you are vaccinated, the amount of virus particles you make is less (some of them are not viable) and you are infectious for a shorter period of time. For a smaller group that is vulnerable and for who the vaccine doesn’t work (well) you want to achieve that group immunity through vaccination, so the virus doesn’t spread easily.’

Moreover, people have the wrong idea about the vaccine, Maria says, because the vaccine does not make you immune to the virus. ‘In most cases, the vaccine stops you from getting so seriously ill that you have to go to the hospital or die. But it doesn’t prevent you from getting the virus.“

 

Victor agrees. ‘It is not at all certain that you are necessarily more dangerous as an unvaccinated person than as a vaccinated person. Israel is in yet another lockdown; the third and fourth doses are already on the agenda. When will it be enough? You could also say, if you are vaccinated you no longer have symptoms and therefore you can go out faster. For me, as an unvaccinated person, I might get a running nose faster and stay home. In that way, a vaccinated person might be more likely to infect others.’

 

Wrong priorities

For Victor, the fact that the intensive care units are now mainly occupied by unvaccinated people is not enough proof of the importance of vaccination. ‘There are not that many people in the ICU. 400 people in a population of seventeen million does not sound like a lot. The number of beds has decreased dramatically in the last ten years, healthcare has been privatized, and now we’re saying healthcare can’t handle it. That’s strange, isn’t it? The corona crisis has already cost 150 billion, and still hardly any additional ICU beds have been added. First scale up that IC before you let Formula 1 go ahead.’ According to Victor, the priorities are not right, ‘and that makes me unwilling to go along with what this government is putting out.’

I’m not responsible for someone else, am I?

‘Unfortunately, not everyone is in control of their own health. Large groups of people in our society live healthy lives but have impaired defenses. The frail elderly, people who are chronically ill or who have to undergo operations. They all have impaired immunity and react badly to any virus or bacteria whatsoever. They can’t do anything about it, and I would like everyone to try to feel responsible for that vulnerable group. They don’t respond well to vaccines but they do have a high risk of infection, and the best way to protect them is to make sure the pandemic is over. For that, you need group immunity, and to achieve that, everyone can do their part, because we need at least 80 percent vaccination coverage. Besides, as a healthy person, you are also not definitely protected against the long-term symptoms of long covid.’

Not that he’s against the openings. ‘I think the country should never have been closed. But I do find it strange that certain things are allowed to open and others are not. On the one hand, the government expects people to get vaccinated, but on the other hand, they can all go to an event like that. PCR tests are not completely safe, vaccines do not fully protect, according to demissionary prime minister Rutte we are supposedly in the worst crisis since World War II, and yet 70,000 people stand around partying. At least let me just go to a restaurant.’

 

Maria also feels no obligation towards others to get vaccinated. ‘I’m very careful myself and therefore I don’t put others at risk. I wear a mouth mask, get tested if I have symptoms, and keep a meter and a half away, even if no one else does that anymore.’ She understands that it is important for people in high-risk groups to take the vaccine, because the virus can be very dangerous for them. ‘But apart from that, I think the virus is becoming less and less serious, because more and more people have already been infected.’

 

Solidarity

Victor thinks it’s hypocritical to pull the solidarity card while people are walking around with phones in their hands that used raw materials from a mine in Africa where children worked. ‘If it’s far enough from your bed you don’t have to be so solidary anymore. Everyone has to decide for themselves what they want to be responsible for, but we are generally not in solidarity with each other at all so why now all of a sudden?’

‘When it comes to health I am a selfish person, but I think everyone should be, because in the end you go to the grave alone and you don’t take others with you’

Moreover, most people don’t vaccinate out of solidarity, Victor observes, ‘but just to travel again or go to festivals. The motto, it should be noted, was ‘Dancing with Jansen,’ not ‘Dancing for your health’ or anything like that, which is weird, isn’t it? It’s hypocritical to pretend that you take that vaccine to show solidarity, but actually do it so you can go on vacation.’

 

Victor himself is solidary in his own way, he says. ‘I drive very carefully, I don’t have accidents, I don’t smoke, I don’t eat cheap meat. I am in solidarity with the things I find important. But it is not the case that with that vaccine you can no longer make other people sick or infect them. I am not someone who went to a festival when I could. Many people who are vaccinated blindly follow the rules, regardless of what is logical, and as soon as they can they are all crammed together in the pub or at a festival. That’s not really solidarity either, because they could still be contagious. If the vaccine offered 100 percent protection against infection and infecting others, I would think about it. But it’s not like that.’

You can just live a healthy life, right?

‘Healthy living alone won’t get us there,’ warns De Jong. ‘If we didn’t have vaccines it would have taken three to four years to get out of this, with a lot of casualties. And look at what other vaccinations have brought us. We don’t have measles in the Netherlands anymore, except occasionally in the Bible belt, where just two years ago young adults and children died of measles. Measles is a very important cause of death in parts of the world where vaccination is not practiced. The smallpox virus has been eradicated thanks to vaccines, the polio virus has been nearly eradicated, the meningitis vaccine has ensured that far fewer children have to go on living with all kinds of neurological abnormalities, the HPV vaccine ensures that far fewer young women will die of cervical cancer, and so there are more vaccines where one shot did guarantee health.’

Healthy living

Ece finds it strange that vaccinations have become a political issue. ‘Vaccinations should protect the individual, not society. The people around me who push others to get vaccinated often don’t live healthy lives at all; they smoke like crazy, drink, are overweight. Health doesn’t come in one shot; it takes effort, time, money. If they don’t care about their own bodies, why should I? When it comes to health I’m a selfish person, but I think everyone should be, because in the end you go to the grave alone and you don’t take others with you,’ she believes.

 

By the way, she won’t be a danger to others, Ece thinks, because this coming year, besides writing her thesis, she only has to take one subject on campus. ‘I will self-test once every two weeks and not get close to people. I don’t really like people around me anyway.’

 

The people around him don’t find it scary or annoying that Victor doesn't get vaccinated. ‘Elderly around me say: I’m very old now, so I can also die from a normal flu virus. Everything comes to an end. Before, people died before their sixties. My parents are not afraid either, because we are two years down the road now and they have had nothing. My father has cancer so he did get vaccinated, but he won’t take a third or fourth vaccine, because there is just no end to it. Many people got vaccinated a long time ago and yet there seems to be no improvement in anything. There are only more regulations coming in. When will that finally be done?’

‘Many people do things just because others also do them. They don’t want to understand how it really is’

No chance

Ece did receive a lot of negative feedback from people around her. ‘You have no idea! Some people don’t want to see me anymore because I’m unvaccinated. Of course I understand that people have concerns. I have enormous health anxiety myself. If I feel something in my body I can’t sleep, I need to know what it is. But the problem is that others don’t try their best to understand me. I am sorry for them that they see the vaccine as their only way out, but when I tell them there is a more natural and evidence-based way to stay healthy they laugh in your face. They won’t even give it a chance.’

When will it finally be done?

‘Eventually the vaccine will have to be adapted to the variant that is circulating in the world at the time. People are already working on that. In my view, in the future the corona vaccine will work like the flu vaccine, so people at serious risk - the elderly, people with immune disorders - will be vaccinated every year, and just like the flu vaccine, the corona vaccine will be adjusted every few years. This third booster that people are talking about is not at all on the table for young people. The only thing being considered is to give that vulnerable group a third vaccine.’

Maria also received negative reactions. ‘Some of my friends say they are disappointed in me, but I trust myself. Many people do things just because others do them. They don’t want to understand how things really are.’

 

All three are outraged by the lack of discussion when it comes to vaccination. ‘The fact is that we are all here, together. We all have different ideas, different perceptions, and in that we have to respect each other,’ Victor thinks. ‘It is very distressing that such pressure is put on people who do not want the vaccine. They get up every day with a bad feeling, and think: I wish it felt good to take that vaccine, but it doesn’t feel right and there are too many reservations. People like me get made fun of for all kinds of things, that is not okay, is it? It is not selfish not to take the vaccine, it is your right. After all, you are free.’