Vaccine Mandates are a Systemic Risk
We are still in the thick of it. We didn’t nip COVID in the bud. Some believe it’s not possible and was never possible to stop this or any viral contagion. I disagree, but a lot hinges on what we mean by “possible”. Save that for a future essay.
In any event, it was clear in mid-2020 that governments were banking on a vaccine to solve the problem. Not only that, but it is clear that a vaccination strategy had other side-benefits from perspective of central government, for instance the rationale to implement more granular digital tracking and bookkeeping for command and control purposes of all kinds, that made them doubly attractive as an agenda-fit solution.
So unsurprisingly we are being “nudged” — more like shoved — into blanket adoption of one of the novel technologies that is meant to serve as a vaccine for COVID.
My goal here is to simply lay out some of my thinking with regard to vaccine mandates and why in my view they represent a systemic risk.
I should first say clearly what I mean by systemic risk. I consider a risk to be systemic if it represents possible irreversible harm to ‘the system’ as such. This could be because it directly impacts the operational nature of necessary societal functions (e.g. an event that causes a widespread inability to produce power) or the harm to some set of individuals is widespread enough for it to stand out among other sources of harm to be deemed ethically and morally unacceptable (in which case the breakdown of ethical and moral norms is likely to harm societal function as a higher-order effect).
The scope of the system of interest will vary with context, but here we are generally referring to the ‘societal’ system.
Many risks are individual in the sense that they are statistically independent. It is important for instance to not compare car accident data directly with contagious disease data precisely because car accidents are (macroscopically1) independent from one another. A car accident today does not increase the likelihood of one tomorrow. A car accident in New York does not increase the likelihood of one in California. A contagious disease does2.
The link between contagion and systemic risk is in the fact that something contagious can grow. It can scale from something too small to directly impact the system, to something that is large enough. Contagion is an enabler of large-scale impact.
For this reason some commentary of what constitutes a systemic risk, including by me, has focused on contagion being a key indicator of systemic risk (sometimes referred to as multiplicative dynamics). While this is not incorrect, it is incomplete.
More directly, the main parameters that identify something as a systemic risk are scale and irreversibility.
Vaccines scale up by other means. They are not endogenously contagious, but they are amplified via industrial manufacturing process.
Vaccine mandates are systemic
Vaccines don’t inject themselves, but broad-scoped mandates ensure that the impact will be large-scale. Large enough to impact the system as such, and therefore large enough to present the possibility of harm to the system as such.Moreover, it is irreversible. This is not a medication with a transient effect and a half-life that will allow people’s biology to return to its previous state. With vaccines we are teaching the immune system something, something we want it to remember.
It’s not yet clear what exactly we are teaching the immune system when we induce our bodies to endogenously synthesize a novel protein outside the context of other viral elements.
Crucially, immune function depends on detecting both what is a harmful invader, and what is NOT3. The hope is that the body accurately identifies the protein as an invader, and generalizes to viruses that express that protein. There is evidence that with COVID MRNA vaccines this happens initially, but the relatively rapid waning of the effect adds to the doubt that we understand the full story here.
Tradeoffs in a messy world
It must be acknowledged that in the case of a vaccine that is intended to stop a contagious disease, we are put in the position of weighing systemic risks against one another. If the spread of a harmful disease can be halted, then it may be warranted to have large scale vaccination, preferably by voluntary uptake4.
With COVID, it is now widely understood that it is not-very-rare to have a “breakthrough” case. That is, to catch COVID and potentially experience symptoms and crucially to continue to spread it to others.
So it appears that with current technology, we are not trading one systemic risk off for another, but instead layering them on top of one another. In the same way we don’t understand long-term impact of COVID, we do not understand long-term impact of vaccines. Historically, some medical whoopsies have showed up in the next generation. The timescales that biological processes unfold over demand massive patience.
So far the response to the breakthrough problem has been to double down on the tactic: boosters every few months with the hope this will counteract waning efficacy (optimistically, with the Nth booster finally inducing lasting protection).
The first-order problem with this is it might just not work. The higher-order issue is that it opens society to repetition risk. With each round of vaccines, each time we don’t experience obvious disaster, we develop the bureaucratic justification to do it again. And again.
These repeated risks aggregate. It’s not a one-off event, but now a routine. Using the same vaccines and expecting the same results is by itself misguided5, nevermind the introduction of a series of novel technologies.
I would be remiss not to address the deepening risk of societal fracturing itself as a response to and risk to a mandate that is perceived by a sizable proportion of the population as necessary and another sizable as unnecessary and unjust overreach of state power. Because of the visceral nature of disease, it is also uncomfortably adjacent to a situation in which the latter cohort are widely perceived as unclean or generally dangerous. There have been not-so-subtle-hints of this beginning to happen.
It is simply not warranted to shame or ‘other’ a large proportion of society who have reasonable doubts and skepticism about an intervention that doesn’t look to be able to stop the spread and continued evolution of COVID. If the vaccine is taken as one component of overall mitigation, which is how it must be viewed given what we know today as opposed to a silver bullet then even if one believes it is incumbent on individuals to modify their behavior to mitigate spread, reducing that to “vaccine or nor vaccine” is horribly reductionistic, and misses the point. Consider: the unvaccinated mountain hermit and the vaccinated barfly. Who is more likely to participate in the spread?
The social polarization this oversimplification is contributing to is itself a risk to society as we’ve come to know it. Our leaders-so-called should be “messaging” against it — instead they are feeding it.
Vaccine mandates for COVID are a systemic risk.
Pileup accidents are precisely a result of non-independence of car accidents — but they can only scale up so much. A pileup in New York will not cascade to California.
This long-range lack of independence is not solely generated by flying, but massively exacerbated by it. We have built a world in which it is unimaginable to not have thousands of planes constantly in the air shuttling people to-and-fro at all scales across the globe.
The breakdown of the immune system’s ability to accurately discern this is the source of autoimmune disease.
I’m intentionally avoiding here the question of whether vaccine mandates are ever ethical. Something to be tackled separately.
A future essay: Doing the same thing and expecting the same results is the definition of insanity