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Risk Assessment

I got the COVID vaccine yesterday. Given all the hopeful freight that this solitary word—“vaccine”—has carried in our cultural discourse over the past thirteen months, it was a rather understated affair. I phoned a local pharmacy on Monday night inquiring as to when I might receive my precious dose. “Tomorrow morning?” was the unexpected reply. So, on a bright Tuesday morning, off I trudged toward my equally bright, post-pandemic future.

I filled out my form, acknowledging that I was ok with taking the discount AstraZeneca vaccine with all its attendant risks, waited half an hour in a faux-leather chair while an assortment of fairly grouchy humanity shuffled by to get their prescriptions filled, got my jab, wandered around the pharmacy for fifteen minutes to make sure nothing terrible happened, and made my way toward the exit to head back to work.

The heavens didn’t part. A dove didn’t descend. Waves of relieved euphoria did not wash over me. A cashier lazily rang through a bunch of leftover Cadbury chocolate eggs. A very angry customer berated a hapless pharmacist for getting a prescription wrong. A heavily tattooed and haggard-looking woman confusingly (and loudly) proclaimed to people in line that there were no more vaccines. A drugstore cowboy fiddled with his mask. My glorious COVID-free future felt very much like the decidedly uninspiring present.

I hope it is obvious that my tongue has been fairly firmly in cheek for the preceding three paragraphs. But my vaccination experience did get me thinking, again, about risk. How do we assess it? How much are we prepared to live with? Who bears the brunt of it? Is it ever really avoidable? I know, of course, that my AstraZeneca vaccine does not magically mean that I will never get this virus or that I won’t be able to transmit it to someone else. It lowers my odds, and I’m glad for this, but my first steps out of the Shoppers Drug Mart yesterday morning were quite obviously not into a risk-free future.

Around one year ago, on April 27, 2020, I wrote these words:

We know, of course, that life is not safe, and it never has been. COVID-19 is simply laying bare in acute form what is always true for each one of us. To eat and to drink and to go and to stay and pursue and to try and to fail and to run and to sit and to reach and to retreat… all of our human living and doing has risk attached to it. Bad things are always happening all around us. Sickness and disease stalk us all the time. We manage to ignore these realities most of the time, but that doesn’t make them any less real…

[A]t some point, we are going to have to emerge from our barricades and get back to doing the things that are necessary, the things we love, the things the world needs, the things that bring joy and connection and meaning. There are no risk-free options going forward. There never were.

One of the things that concerns me about how our collective psyches have been affected by the last year or so is that we often seem to labour under the illusion that it is our government’s (or any other authority’s) responsibility to ensure us a risk-free future. The only acceptable level of risk for many, it seems, is zero. This is concerning because this has never been among our options. Can we acknowledge this honestly? Will we be able to make our way back into shared spaces together without fear and suspicion? Or will our default be to constantly be scanning the horizon for the potential health risks of eating and talking and playing together, even in a post-vaccine world? Will we be able to put the safety genie back in the bottle? Will we want to?

The Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell recently penned a little book called On Risk. In it, he discusses the term “phantom risk” and a prediction by the economist Tyler Cowens:

“[S]ociety will move from seriously underrating pandemic risk to badly overrating it,” he predicted. Such phantom risk “will remain a binding constraint even after most of the real dangers are past.

I don’t think that most of the real dangers are past us here on April 21, 2021. Hospitals and ICUs are still way too full. There are still too many heartbreaking stories. We still clearly have some road left to walk on this pandemic journey. And I think it’s probably impossible to marinate in fear and anxiety for over a year and not come out of the experience at least a little bit prone to overrate risk. But the question of how we will move back into a life together that acknowledges risk and determines to live with it together will be one we nonetheless have to face. I hope we will have the resolve to face it well.

Image source.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. howard wideman #

    We  got Moderna 10 days ago. Had a sore arm 2 days. We avoided astrozenica as Mary has factor 5 Leiden mom and dad me just from mom. Our daughter has lived with deep vein thrombosis since 17 yr old daughter born. We are as leary of blot clot as Romanov were of hemophilia 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    April 21, 2021
  2. It breaks my heart that you are rushing headlong, like most of your generation , into the very processes that will lead to more virulent strains of Sars-2.

    As you say and even the least of us are beginning to understand, these treatments are not vaccines in the previously understood sense; live cultures of the existing virus that interact with our innate immune system as to create long term immunity. Rather they are sub optimal synthetic processes that will not reduce rates of infection or contagion, only lessen the symptoms for some of the people who take them for an as yet to be fully understood and quantified, indeterminate length of time.

    Meanwhile the variants adapt and become more toxic. The young, unvaccinated populations will start to get sicker, outcomes previously experienced mostly by the elderly will be experienced more frequently and violently by and ever younger population. More mRNA treatments will be rushed into service and a cycle of sickness and death will plague the world as never before…

    The heavens haven’t parted yet.

    April 22, 2021
    • erahjohn, thank you for making these very important factual points.

      April 22, 2021
  3. I contracted covid 19 around the 1st of December. I was an unbeliever up till then. I was very sick for 3 weeks. The worst part of it is that I still have not fully recovered. I remain at 1/2 strength, I no longer sleep well as before, persistent hair loss, foggy mind..etc ..etc.

    At my annual check-up I bluntly stated to my doctor: “this pandemic isn’t going away is it”, she replied “NO”.

    I think erajohn makes an excellent point about the evolving mutations and strains.

    In my mind, this is a PLAGUE of biblical proportions, and we ain’t seen nothin yet.

    April 22, 2021
    • God bless you, Mike.
      Vitamin D, protein rich diets with some whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. No processed foods. Water as your primary beverage. Ivermectin, if you can get it, especially if your symptoms worsen. Exercise, walking on a treadmill, around the block, whatever you can do. Building up our natural immunities and ultimately something approximating, herd immunity is our only Godly hope out…..most of all we pray. “Father if it be your will, let this cup pass”. For myself, for my family, for the world.

      Pray for what we see as the, “best”. Prepare for and accept what may be the necessary, “worst”.

      Whatever our future in this life, hold on to His love and His promise. He will never let you down, my friend.

      April 23, 2021
      • Thank you very much, erahjohn. your recommendations and Wisdom carry much weight with me.

        April 24, 2021
    • I, too, pray for God’s blessing for you in the days ahead, Mike. I’m so sorry that you to hear that you are going through this. May God grant you (and all of us) strength, courage, patience, and perseverance for the road ahead.

      April 24, 2021
      • Thank you so much, Pastor Ryan. I appreciate you!.

        (I hope everyone understands that I told my story as a matter of fact and not to garner sympathy)

        April 24, 2021
  4. Elizabeth #

    To vaccinate or not? A question fraught with personal opinions since I can remember. Non-vaxxers just got a new virus to deny. We could debate COVID until the cows come home but the reality is – we, the people have changed regardless. You ask the searching question, “Will we be able to make our way back into shared spaces together without fear and suspicion?”
    I ask myself this very same one.

    Thank you for such a well written post.

    April 30, 2021
    • Those I know, like myself, who reject mRNA therapies, don’t deny the reality of Covid-19. We acknowledge, as does the objective science, that this is a significant respiratory illness, with outcomes similar to those of seasonal influenza.

      What should be shocking and an affront to thinking people everywhere is the gross over reaction of the political class to this illness and the pathological willingness of the vast majority, who accept, without question, the dictates of those who wish to rule over them.

      April 30, 2021
  5. Rather then unintentionally create confusion or mistrust I would recommend watching a podcast between Bret Weinstein and Geert Vandenbossche.

    Their sound definitions and descriptions of what present Mrna treatments do and are likely to cause, are the basis for my rejection of the, “vaccines” presently being offered.

    May 1, 2021
    • Thanks for the podcast lead, erajohn, both fascinating and concerning.

      May 2, 2021
      • You’re welcome, Mike.

        We are being experimented on.

        The most chilling aspect of the conversation for me, is Mr. Vandenbossche”s very rational explanation that if you were looking to increase, “gain of function” and create a super virus, this method of mass vaccination would be precisely the means by which you would do it.

        If his assertions prove to be correct, the, “vaccines” are a death sentence.

        May 3, 2021
  6. jc #

    +1 for Tyler Cowen. I can count a lot of ways that prediction has already come true.

    May 20, 2021
  7. Thanks ggreat blog post

    February 14, 2023

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