It’s Not Possible To Ask For Guarantees In A COVID World

August 18, 2021


Two years ago the concept of Australia being involved in a pandemic was as unimaginable as affording a seat on Richard Branson’s space rocket. Yet here we are faced with unpredictable challenges in a modernistic, educated world. It has awakened us to our vulnerability and naivety, particularly for post-baby boomers who have been relatively protected. Today pandemic and vaccination is on top of everyone’s conversation list. 

As I monitor the various media platforms and listen to comments by family and friends, the message is clear, there is an underlying doubt about what to do about vaccinating. 

Initially this dilemma threw me because to be vaccinated was a gift for most Baby Boomers. We learned the hard way with viruses, eternally grateful when vaccines were finally introduced, albeit too late for many when the damage had already been done. It was common to mix with kids who had been inflicted by a virus and vaccination was viewed as a blessing not a question.   

Looking for guarantees

So when the Covid virus and an eventual vaccine hit our shores, I didn’t need a guarantee of safety from the risks. My own experience had taught me it was better than the alternative of suffering from dangerous consequences caused by viruses. Yet today thousands of people are in a quandary, seeking definitive confirmation there will be no risks associated with vaccination. 

It has caused me to reflect on one of my unforgettable uni topics, Realism, part of my philosophy major. We investigated the concept of what is real and absolute and found that to seek absolute guarantees in life is unfeasible. This line of thought can be applied to everyday living. It has been a valuable contribution to my decision making processes and coping mechanisms by calculating the real risks and potential outcomes while understanding nothing was absolute. I used the same methodology when I elected to be vaccinated.  

 I also remember a tutorial on the drug thalidomide, a you-beaut drug introduced in the 1950-60’s to treat morning sickness women suffered during pregnancy. Sadly, it was found to cause severe birth defects in thousands of babies born to those taking the drug. An example of where science gets it wrong. 

Subsequently, some good manifested from something bad. Thalidomide has proved to be effective in treating skin conditions and slows some cancers as it helps to regulate the body’s immune system and control inflammation. It has low probability side effects such as nerve damage, blood clots, drowsiness, rash and dizziness but for most the results far outweigh the risks. There was no absolute promise of a perfect outcome.

Perception and Expectations

It opened my mind even further and combined with extensive overseas travel I realised most Australians had taken things for granted living in a protected bubble. Our daily living, perceptions and expectations of being safe, different to countries beyond our shores. 

But things have changed, we are no longer sheltered from the rest of the world.  International travel has opened a can of worms where we are embroiled in a global pandemic. Many Australians are coming to terms with the potential threat of Covid taking over our lives as it has with the majority of countries.    

For our younger Australians it will be the first time they are exposed to the threat of a new virus although for the older generation it can still be daunting. With this comes the need to make potential life threatening decisions, albeit extremely low risk, whether to vaccinate or not. Divided by choices and options but all the while seeking reassurance, people want a vaccine that is absolute and look to the scientific experts to guarantee this. 

In the scientific world

Traditional science is about prediction and control of nature. In this century we have come to realise how complex processes truly are and nature in itself has its own intricate complex world that can lead us into new challenges like the Coronavirus has. 

Besides, science and absolutism is a relished topic for debate. Evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson proposes in his paper that science is a religion that worships Truth as its God

Even so, let’s not fall victim to this concept particularly when Stephen Hawking wrote in his A Brief History of Time that physics will arrive at a unifying Theory of Everything

Carlo Rovelli in his article Science Is Not About Certainty says science is about hypothetico-deductive methods: we have observations, data organised into theories eventually replaced. Science is about empirical content that is solid, until we then find another theory that’s better, and so it goes on. 

Scientific research and development is ongoing and is not absolute like most things in life. But it is the relentless scientific process of review, investigation, statistical analysis and improvement that far outweighs the negativity from the uneducated and unqualified, to make informed decisions as best we can with what we have. So how can we be absolutely certain in an uncertain world other than lower the risks when we can.

I speak the obvious, we take calculated risks in everyday life whether it be taking medication, giving birth, relationships, transportation, wearing seat belts, eating out, the list is endless. We constantly deal with unforeseen circumstances coping with risk and consequences and managing Covid is part of this, as are our thought processes.  

How to develop a philosophical approach to Covid

  • question things you don’t understand
  • challenge monotheistic mindsets
  • do not take things on face value
  • social media is not the absolute truth
  • science is better than hearsay 
  • calculate your options and level of risk 
  • quiz family and friends’ opinions 
  • query conspiracy theories
  • accept nothing is absolute apart from death

Thankful for scientific research   

As Carlo Rovelli says, science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge, science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. So as a Baby Boomer, I understand there are no guarantees I won’t catch Covid nor have some reaction to a vaccine. My memories of sickness as a kid are strong and in 2021 I am thankful that scientists have provided me the option to substantially lower my risks of a long term illness or dying from Covid. Why wouldn’t you want to protect yourself and your family? 

Acknowledgment/References: : Carlo Rovelli in his article, July 2014 ; Science Is Not About Certainty: 

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