Guest columnist Chris Matera: With mandatory booster jabs, have the Five Colleges lost their way?

  • People wait on line to get tested for COVID-19 on Dec. 21, 2021, in New York. AP

Published: 1/10/2022 6:00:55 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 6:00:08 PM

This commentary is a request of the Five College community to consider new scientific data relevant to the mandatory booster shot policy for all Five College students, teachers, employees and even remote workers.

I hope to encourage rational debate about the wisdom of this important decision because I believe the current climate of anxiety, fear of reprisal for raising basic questions, and group-think has left the colleges sleepwalking into a counter-productive booster mandate policy without considering if this one-size-fits-all strategy is logical, ethical, or even safe.

The recent holiday week spent dodging fully vaccinated and boosted relatives getting COVID made it painfully clear that the vaccines and boosters do not prevent catching or transmitting COVID. Omicron is clearly more transmissible, but mercifully seems less virulent and some scientists say this lucky break in virus mutations could increase herd immunity and help end the pandemic.

Officialdom, admittedly in a difficult position, seems tragically fixated on doubling down on more ineffective jabs despite the futility of this policy becoming clearer each day. Does injecting more “old model” shots make sense when updated ones tailored to new variants could be ready in March? Those forced to take another ineffective jab now may suffer buyer’s remorse or even become upset enough to seek redress when they realize that updated vaccines were in the pipeline and that too many shots may harm our immune systems. In medicine, “First Do No Harm.”

A recent story in the New York Times reports that Israel is desperately initiating its fourth shot after omicron evaded the supposed protection from the third shot and reported that: “Some scientists warn that too many shots might actually harm the body’s ability to fight the Covid-19 virus,” and “Too many shots might cause a sort of immune system fatigue,” and “Booster doses are less effective against Omicron than previous variants, and their effectiveness wears off faster — within 10 weeks. Vaccine makers are trying to adjust their shots to target Omicron.”

A credible new Canadian report shows the first two doses of the current mRNA vaccines have only 6% vaccine effectiveness against omicron, which lasts for only eight weeks, and that boosters provide only a brief rise to 37%, which unfortunately fades out within 10 weeks, and then may even turn negative.

Many say more shots will protect hospitals. This is an important concern, but when looking at reports from countries where COVID is less politicized, and with better data transparency, this narrative breaks down and we see most hospitalizations occurring in vaccinated patients. The latest data from England shows that 72% of hospitalizations were vaccinated patients (with one, two or three doses) and 25% were unvaccinated. From Canada, the latest data in Ontario says 76% of hospitalizations are vaccinated (fully and partially) and 24% are unvaccinated. 

Considering the ineffectiveness against omicron, the potential health risks of this new technology (there are legitimate risk signals despite the “all is well” mantra), the quickly shifting nature of COVID waves and variants, the hopeful reduction in serious illness with Omicron, that the vaccines can add mutation pressures, that protection from previous infections matters, and that the current vaccines do not prevent transmission, the decision to take this old form booster shot, at this time, should depend on a person’s situation and their doctors advice.

Those who believe a theoretical short-term immunity boost overrides any potential added risk can get another jab. Those who think otherwise should not have their world turned upside down by powerful institutional coercion and threats to their livelihood or education during a pandemic.

Boosters for those who want them, along with minimally invasive protective measures such as N95 masks, rapid tests, better air filtration, attention to prevention and treatments, and increased outdoor activities are ways most reasonable people will pitch in to get through this difficult pandemic until it inevitably burns out. Kindness helps too. But forceful mandates of ineffective, bodily invasive, and non-reversible injections of experimental shots without informed consent is truly frightening.

Normally, we expect the university community to help protect individuals from powerful interests telling them what to do with their bodies. Yes, moral imperatives sometimes occur (on either side of the argument), but now that we know the current vaccines do not stop catching or transmitting COVID, forcing everyone to take another one, and to assume the associated risks, is not only illogical, it is unethical.

The Five College booster shot mandates should be scrapped.

Chris Matera is a structural engineer living in the Valley.

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