Due to the global COVID-19 vaccine conversation, I have been thinking a lot about vaccines and their effect on society. All vaccines. Imagine the vaccine against Polio and the difference it has made in society. Measles and other previously fatal or decapitating diseases. I have heard the logical and theoretical discussions about a world without vaccines but I have never cognitively imagined a world where Polio, measles, mumps, yellow fever etc could infect anyone anytime. By cognitively, I mean visualizing and verbalizing world without vaccines.
Let’s imagine that for a moment, a world without a polio vaccine.
Close your eyes. Visualize a person or child with polio, you must have seen that in the streets of your city or among your neighbours. Now visualize that with more people. In a world without vaccines, how does that look in your country, county, village? How many people do you see with Polio in your community? Why?
Are you done? Me too, and I don’t like how my imagination can exaggerate the numbers.
I have been thinking that most of us receive most vaccines as children, so our parents make decisions for us. The first vaccine I took as an adult, a young adult, was for yellow fever when I was traveling to Europe for the first time. That was the first time I read about how vaccines really work and took some time to consider choice, or the lack of it where vaccines are concerned. I could not travel to Europe without the Yellow Card so if I wanted to travel to Europe, that was a no-brainer. So yellow fever vaccination became a means to an end, not the end in itself. If I wasn’t traveling, would I still take the yellow fever vaccination, to protect myself from Yellow fever? I don’t know. I will never know. I had never met anyone with yellow fever so I had no fear- or existential-motivation.
Come 2021/2022 and COVID-19 vaccination. Again I am an adult and it took me many months to decide that I would take the vaccine. I didn’t have that kind of time when I was making the decision regarding the Yellow fever vaccine. I am not anti-vaccination, on the contrary, I believe disease control is one of the best ways to improve global quality of life. To equalize the playing field. Sick are like hungry people, they cannot focus on learning all the things people need to learn in order to change their prospects, their lives and the way their countries are ran. Stable good health is underrated mostly because people spend so much time avoiding pain and avoiding the thought of pain.
Individuals are quite poor at predicting how events and situations will affect them so they can’t really predict how failing health or the constant threat of disease can affect them. I assume that is why we have governments cajoling and threatening people to take vaccines, especially the current COVID-19 vaccine. Which is both good and bad, considering nothing is only good OR bad. That’s something else people are poor at, recognizing and harnessing the power of AND in their personal lives, so they are able to look at both sides of a situation without bias. But the question is now on the table:
"what kind of trauma are we experiencing as a global community and how is it affecting our mental health? Globally. Short term and long term.
What does it do our mental health when our access to community, relationships and services is threatened unless we vaccinate? We all know community and relationship support is the only way we survive a pandemic.
Those of us who took a long time to decide on the vaccine were bundled with the ones who are generally against vaccines and labeled anti-vaxxers. I found that hilarious in a country like Sweden where decision-anxiety is accepted as intelligence. To buy a simple TV takes 2years because we have to think, consider, compare, wait for sales, change our minds, start over – well, until the TV break down. However, on COVID-19 vaccination, we were expected to rush to the vaccination centers because “science says si si”. But I took my usual decision-anxiety route:
- Loving & maintaining my status quo – I have survived without this vaccine
- Anchored in my bias and stereotypes – I am African, how many viruses have passed through me without killing me
- Overloaded with choice– Should I take Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, AstraZeneca … and which is which??!!
- Fearing Loss – that the vaccine would ruin my health, my menstrual cycle that works like clockwork, my immunity that fights most flues
- I have been decision fatigued since 2020 – should I isolate myself, wear a mask, go get myself infected so I can antibodies, or should I just say survival of the fittest? If I die I die.
- Past experiences with for example swine flu and other vaccines and their side effects
You get my point right? Past experience has taught me that my best decisions are when I take time on them, when I am not pressured. So if I am not free to take my time, to change my mind from one day to the next, asking people about their side-effects and reading to ascertain that these side effect are registered – am I then really free to choose? If it’s not my choice, will I be compensated in any way if my health is ruined by the vaccine? Anyways, why do I want a vaccine? I am not traveling for the foreseeable future and I can follow all the other recommendations! So it went, for months.
However, I knew I would vaccinate. By second half of 2022, I started to feel like I needed to lie that I was vaccinated just to avoid the anti-vaxxer accusations. To avoid being ostracized from society, because that is a constant threat. In some countries, they are even threatened that they can’t go to the supermarket if they are not vaccinated.
I did vaccinate with Moderna when I was ready.
The Trauma of Forced Positivity in the face of side-effects
In all mental health conversations, we insist that people should be allowed to share their negative experiences, no matter how subjective they are, so they can get space to feel what they feel and heal. In COVID-19 vaccination conversations, sharing our worst side-effects is met with criticism and being shut down.
Oh “now you are scaring people! You know you should be encouraging people to get vaccinated.”
“bohoo you are feeling a bit sick, the protection you are getting is worth the pain so shut up.”
Which ones have you seen?
So, we are gaslighted, manipulated, bullied and threatened into silence. How does that affect our mental health? For those who have been healing from all these abuses in the past, how do they meet the re-traumatizing? What happens to those who get long term side-effects from the vaccine? When will they be able to tell us about it and what will have happened to them by then?
I got all the side effects and then some!
In the arm where you got the shot:
Possible Side Effects
Side effect I got
Pain – 3-4days 1st shot. 2-3 days 2nd shot
Redness – I am black. I can’t see redness
Swelling – Swollen for almost a week
Throughout the rest of your body:
Possible Side Effects My Side Effects
- Muscle pain
- Tiredness – for almost 2 weeks after each shot
- Headache – migraine-like headache
- Muscle pain – everywhere on the 2nd/3rd day after each shot
- Chills – oh my gods
- Fever – oh my gods’ gods
- Nausea – as if I were pregnant
- Dizziness – I had to stabilize myself a few times
- Mouth/tongue sore – as if I had a bad bad flu
When it was all over, I was glad my menstrual cycle wasn’t affected because that is too long-term for my taste.
The worst thing I think is how we are shamed for wanting to discuss that you can still get the corona virus and feel quite sick, even if you are vaccinated. Like the vaccination should protect us from our need to share our experiences with other people. Sharing has been our evolutionary way to educate, to warn, to celebrate, to mourn/grieve – our survival. And now we should censor ourselves so we don’t discourage those who are still un-vaccinated.
This is my last trauma on this list but please feel free to share your own in the comments!
For us who are immigrants in our countries of residence, the next trip home is sometimes the thread that holds our body, mind and brain together. Especially during a pandemic when we also need comfort of the people who know us well, and we are constantly worried when we hear our old mothers cough on the telephone line. What happens to us if we can’t even plan travel to our families because we don’t know if we will be allowed back to our countries of residence where we have work, school, friends – and sometimes new families. NO, not all of us are citizens of our countries of residence.
We are isolated, scared by the pandemic; we are not only worried about getting sick, we are worried sick that our loved ones could die and get buried in our absence because we dare not travel. Our vicarious jobs cannot wait for us if our entries were denied because we are still thinking and mulling over the vaccine. So either we pay for the extraordinarily priced PCR travel certificate and we still cannot be sure it will be sufficient for travel, which increases our stress levels enormously. Alternatively, I suppose the “acceptable alternative” is we vaccinate against our own conscious need to think it over. Or lastly, we suppress our need to meet our families during a pandemic and wait for the end. What does that do to our mental health?
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