Debate Over COVID-19 Is Exactly What Austria Needs

The crux of the controversy in Austria is around the efficacy and the ethical component of vaccine mandates.
Austria, Austria news, news on Austria, coronavirus, Austria COVID-19, Austria coronavirus, Europe news, European news, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Ahmed Khalifa

Graz, Styria, Austria on 2/12/2021. © J. Adam / Shutterstock

November 30, 2021 07:41 EDT

Fair and well-balanced discourse is something I profoundly encourage, especially regarding a contentious topic such as COVID-19. The more we openly present and discuss facts with each other in today’s polarized climate, the better we will fare in reaching common ground and understanding another person’s point of view. 

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That’s why when reading Sebastian Schäffer’s response to my earlier article on Fair Observer, I welcomed his perspective on the matter. However, I couldn’t help but notice certain misassumptions he has made regarding my stance on the pandemic and the dilemma Austria currently finds itself in. Furthermore, I would have hoped that some of the studies I previously included, pertaining to rising infection rates among those vaccinated and the efficacy of vaccines in combating new strains, would have been addressed in his piece. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of his comments and focus on the crux of the issue: the efficacy and ethical component of vaccine mandates. 

Divisional Sentiments

This ongoing pandemic has caused people from all over the world to experience a host of emotions, including apprehension, doubt and anger. Schäffer is not alone in feeling frustrated that things have “gone this far” regarding the status quo in Austria. Those who have read my article know that frustration is a key sentiment felt not only by myself, but by countless people around the globe. We need only to look at riots in the Netherlands or the Solomon Islands to confirm this.

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I believe Schäffer is mistaken in assuming that mandatory vaccinations would “help to alleviate” the division in Austrian society. But don’t take my word for it. Thomas Czypionka, head of health economics and policy at the Vienna-based Institute for Advanced Studies, argues that a vaccine mandate “deepens the chasm in our society” and “may well serve as a strong push to more radicalization — especially with our history.”

Similar sentiments are echoed by Eva Maria Adamer-Konig, head of public health at FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences in Graz, who is of the conviction that most unvaccinated people “will probably even go into more resistance.” In an interview with Time magazine, she cites a pertinent study by the European Journal of Public Health in 2016 that found mandates for selected vaccinations can make people more likely to refuse other vaccinations they had previously been comfortable with. I would invite our esteemed readers to have look at the study and assess its implications for today.

Nonetheless, the question remains: How can those who have fundamentally opposing views still remain inclusive, fair and non-partisan when attempting to dissect the hard facts and plethora of information available on this subject?

Shunning Those You Politically Oppose

A recurrent theme not only in Schäffer’s response, but from many media outlets covering the recent demonstrations in Vienna was the presence of right-wing and extremist sympathizers. Schäffer affirms that hidden “reasons” were behind the massive protests in the Austrian capital on November 20 and that one should remain cautious over those who “organize and attend such protests.” To my dismay, not a single source or reference was included to provide further insight into these hidden “reasons.” It is true that among the protesters in Vienna were those from the far right. Yet, as already confirmed, the protest was not merely limited to individuals with such political leanings.

Let it be known that the ideology and policies embraced by the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) could not be more antithetical to my own political beliefs. Also, those demonstrators who wore yellow Stars of David with “unvaccinated” during the protests are not only tone-deaf, but their actions were abhorrently reprehensible. (I myself did not see any badges at the protest, but I acknowledge a few people were reported to have worn them.) But does this give us the right to shun and disenfranchise the concerns of the protesters as a collective based on the actions of certain individuals? That would be akin to trivializing and marginalizing the Black Lives Matter movement based on the violent actions of a few rioters. That sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? 

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Yet even if someone is politically opposed to those who have a different view on COVID-19, does their voice bear less significance as a result, and should they be treated disparagingly? As Voltaire reportedly once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Citizens of a democratic nation have an equal say in matters pertaining to their country. That means I can protest against a common issue even with my most staunch political adversary. For one to claim that “opposition to COVID measures plays into the hands of populists … for their own agenda” is, again, an assumption without any factual clarification.

Furthermore, even if criticizing the state broadcaster ORF has been a tactic employed by the FPO, if I criticize them as well, does that automatically nullify my critique from being valid? I could not wrap my head around this faulty reductionist logic. Citing an article from The Atlantic pertaining to anti-vaxxers in Germany in which Austria is not even mentioned and correlating this by vaguely implying these two countries are similar (perhaps based on a shared history) is frankly confusing and misleading to the reader. Germany and Austria are two separate nations, with different cabinets and policies regarding COVID-19

Being Receptive to Data Contrary to Your Beliefs

When mentioning the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin in my earlier article, I was simply raising awareness of the manner in which certain news outlets such as CNN spun a story to serve a specific agenda. Yet since this topic has been raised in Schäffer’s response, I feel compelled to expand on this subject.

To tie FPO leader Herbert Kickl’s stance on the drug with its efficacy to treat COVID-19 is an attempt to politicize the narrative around ivermectin. For if I oppose Kickl, and if Kickl supports using the drug as a plan B, does this automatically mean I oppose ivermectin?

What is conveniently disregarded by Schäffer is a lengthy case study in Uttar Pradesh, the most populated state in India. The state, which is home to around 241 million people, has averaged fewer than 20 infections and zero deaths a day in recent months, ranking it last in cases per capita amongst India’s 28 states and eight union territories. Ivermectin has been widely distributed across the population for use during early infection with COVID-19. Further studies from Chicago in 2020, based on data pulled from a pool of 1,200 hospitals, showed that patients who received ivermectin had a “65% reduction in the need for mechanical ventilation and an 83% reduction in overall death rate.” These studies probably bear greater weight in shedding light on the efficacy of the drug than a lone hospitalization case in Austria. That, in my opinion, is false balancing.

This leads to my next question: Why are certain studies promoted and others banished from seeing the light of day? Could the fact that ivermectin, a generic drug that holds no patents, be a threat to the pharmaceutical establishment that is producing COVID-19 vaccines en masse? Also, what leverage do these pharmaceutical companies exert on political parties via lobbying and on global media through donations? 

I find these to be suitable questions, with significant relevance to the discourse and in need of further exploration. Let us not forget that the majority of people vaccinated are from the Western world, with many developing countries unable to get their hands on jabs. If that isn’t indicative of a greater two-tier system or “medical apartheid,” then I don’t know what is.

Other Metrics to Measure the Toll COVID-19 Has Taken on Us

The over-burdening of our health-care system is often mentioned and many believe a heightened vaccination rate would alleviate some of that pressure. I would be doing the readers of Fair Observer and myself a disservice if I chose not to address this point. Indeed, vaccines have been shown to reduce hospitalization rates and the severity of infection from COVID-19. It is also true that many of our health-care professionals are being pushed to their limits.

Schäffer ends his article by saying that the well-being of society is more important than one’s personal health. I would therefore like to discuss other metrics in assessing COVID-19‘s toll on society, irrespective of fatalities and hospitalizations. We are witnessing a staggering number of suicides, drug overdoses, cases of depression and anxiety, and alarming accounts of domestic violence as a result of the pandemic and the ongoing lockdowns. In Austria, this year has been a record for the number of husbands murdering their wives. I ask our readers to assess this phenomenon and question whether this too is deserving of our attention and alarm.

With the emergence of the new highly contagious Omicron strain, which is purported to have 30 mutations in the virus’ spike protein, will current vaccines be effective in quelling this variant? As mentioned in my previous article, COVID-19 vaccines have shown significantly less efficacy with the Delta variant — a far less contagious strain than Omicron — than natural immunity from infection, as per a study in Israel.

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Regarding the history of mandatory vaccinations of smallpox that many pro-vaxxers are referencing today, this comparison lacks credibility. Smallpox vaccines are 95% effective in preventing infection, whereas those vaccinated with COVID-19 jab are just as likely to spread the virus as those without, as stated in my previous article. Additionally, the smallpox vaccine was first developed in 1796, and its compulsory implementation in England and Wales was between 1840 and 1890, which allowed over half a century to elapse for sufficient data to be gathered before the vaccine was mandatorily inoculated.

COVID-19 vaccines are barely a year old, with insufficient data regarding their long-term side effects. They are also being deployed through emergency use, which means neither governments nor pharmaceutical companies bear culpability in their adverse effects. So, what justification will a person have when someone who is opposed to getting vaccinated is coerced by legal means to get the jab and then develops life-altering conditions such as myocarditis, which has led some countries to limit the use of mRNA vaccines in teenagers? What other side-effects could potentially arise if vaccinating our children also becomes subsequently mandatory? Considering the data on vaccines and their efficacy has changed considerably this past year, would it not be safe to assume that it will continue to change? These are some of the material questions many people are seeking answers to.

To ensure this is not a back-and-forth exchange, this will be my final statement. I urge all of us to remove the political prism through which we view this topic. We should be receptive and fair to studies that may go against our convictions and remain inclusive in appreciating concerns from those with whom we may not agree. Only then will we be better off as individuals and society as a whole. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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