Advertisement for Pompeiian beauty products, 1924: “… unless you are one woman in a thousand, you must use powder and rouge. Modern living has robbed women of much of their natural color… taken away the conditions that once gave natural roses in the cheeks.”[1]

This advertisement was cited in Stuart Ewen’s book Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture . About such novel types of advertising focused on selling remedies to modern living he wrote:

… “modern living” was an ahistorical epithet, devoid of the notion “Modern Industrial Society,” and teeming with visions of the benefits of civilization which had emerged, one would think, quite apart from the social conditions and relations to which these “benefits” therapeutically addressed themselves. On the printed page, modern living was defined as heated houses, easy transportation, and the conveniences of the household. To the reader it may have meant something considerably different: light-starved housing, industrial pollution, poor nutrition, boredom. In either sense, modern life offered the same sallow skin and called for a solution through consumption. Within such advertisements, business called for a transformation of the critique of bourgeois society to an implicit commitment to that society. The advertising which attempted to create the dependable mass of consumers required by modern industry often did so by playing upon the fears and frustrations evoked by mass society—offering mass produced visions of individualism by which people could extricate themselves from the mass. The rationale was simple. If a person was unhappy within mass industrial society, advertising was attempting to put that unhappiness to work in the name of that society.

What a difference a century makes. It now seems rather quaint and enviable that in the 1920s advertising and consumer culture were focused on helping women recover the natural complexion that “modern living” was taking from them. Since then modern living has given us stress and drug addiction, DDT, PCBs, dioxin, genetic engineering, glyphosate, endocrine disruptors, a food industry that by design creates addiction to fat, sugar and salt, and radiological contamination from mining and atomic bomb production and “testing.”

A century later, the medical and pharmaceutical industries are continually expanding, representing an ever larger share of the gross national product. Industrialization was the first blow to public health, and de-industrialization was the second. It rendered people physically idle, which compounded the toxic effects of industrialization. Since the 1990s, the pharmaceutical industry has had a growing share of the advertising market. The drugs don’t fix underlying problems or offer any solution to systemic social problems. They offer relief, or the hope of relief, but also bring a host of side-effects that create opportunities to sell further cures. The drug merchants now have an abundance of remedies to offer for “modern life.”

One of the nice things about the early phase of consumerism was that at least it gave people a few thrills—a holiday, a sports car, fine dining, entertainment. But for decades now the old idea of Fordism (pay workers more so that they can buy what they make) has been off the menu. De-industrialization and financialization of the economy led to a consumer culture that is much less about buying a bit of the good life and more about just finding relief from all the ills inflicted by modern life.

The final phase of this trend is the present obsession to have everyone vaccinated against a corona virus. The vaccine is the simple blunt instrument, a cheap shortcut to having a real immune system functioning as it should. It is a bandage over the systemic failure of modern life. In a certain sense, the vaccine is not even the product being sold. The consumer is being sold to the vaccine and all the booster shots that are to follow.

The virus took a heavy toll on the US population not so much because of its own deadly properties but because so many Americans had poor health care and chronic health conditions that left them vulnerable. We should have known a virus like this would come along to tip the scales toward a disaster. During the pandemic there was no official effort made to promote healthy food, dietary supplements, or healthy activities. Many of the countermeasures were in fact so detrimental to overall health and immunity that one might wonder if the goal was actually to worsen the crisis and make the public perceive vaccination as the only solution. People have been tweeting that they went to McDonalds to celebrate getting vaccinated. Krispy Kreme have been giving coupons for free glazed donuts to the newly vaccinated. Since so little public policy effort was made to focus on improving diets, this corporation and the lucky recipients of their coupons remained oblivious to the irony: The worst cases of SARS-Cov-2 infection were linked to obesity and diabetes.

Very quickly the vaccine has become a badge of virtue to promote both oneself and the vaccine. As the old advertising gurus would note, in this situation, the bonus value is in the “marginal utility” of the product being sold. This is the term that the advertising industry coined when ad men first noticed they were selling something much more than the utility of the goods being sold. The consumer was gaining a sense of belonging, social enhancement and emotional satisfaction. Much of the value was completely non-tangible. Today this is also called badge value, as it is no longer just a marginal thing. It is quite often the principal thing that is being sold. Thus getting vaccinated has now become a baptism ritual infused with meaning. It is meant for public display of one’s worth, serving also as a coercion of others to join the believers inside the revival tent.

It is incredible how as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say, on beholding such a situation, that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement. – Étienne de La Boétie Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1548)

Once-respectable media platforms are now running editorials in favor of shaming and punishing people who refuse to take the coronavirus vaccines, and a large segment of the public seems ready to go along with such views—oblivious to how such a policy would violate constitutional rights in their own countries and rights guaranteed in the United Nations charter. What could possibly go wrong with separating the population into groups of clean and unclean, the pure and the contaminated?

In a recent interview, the esteemed French virologist Didier Raoult stressed that people may be expecting too much from the coronavirus vaccines. He is not an “antivax” doctor, but he co-authored a book on vaccines in 2018 calling for a complete rethinking of vaccination policies and moving beyond the sterile, polarized dichotomy of “pro-vax and anti-vax.” In the preface of that book he stated:

An effective vaccine strategy also requires that the merits of a particular vaccine be constantly reviewed according to the person whom it is intended for and that person’s circumstances. This reliable and up-to-date information must be disseminated by physicians, who are the main prescribers. The state should only take charge in the case of contagious epidemics that endanger the community. [emphasis added].[2]

I added emphasis to that last clause because it is the key consideration in the case of the coronavirus vaccinations. This epidemic does not endanger the community. The virus has an infection fatality rate of 0.3%, and the fatalities occur at much higher rates among people over seventy years old. The young face an extremely small risk, so the risk-benefit calculation for them leads to a conclusion that these vaccines are not worth the risk. There is no need for a vaccine mandate.

The reasons to be vaccine hesitant in this case are many. The mRNA technology is still very new and there is no long-term data on the effects. Another reason is that this technology has the disadvantage of being based on provoking a defense against only one protein of the virus. The immune system does not have the opportunity to react to an attenuated version of the entire virus. Furthermore, the vaccine is injected into the blood. The immune system gets a much better workout if a pathogen enters the body otherwise and defenses can be activated through the mucus membranes and intestinal lining. Research in Africa in recent decades has pointed to the long-term harms of certain non-live vaccines and the long-term benefits of certain live vaccines administered orally. These nuances are off the radar of the ignorant hordes who are rushing to get vaccinated and rushing to shame and punish their fellow citizens who remain, for good reason, vaccine hesitant. They simply make a false equivalence of all vaccines. Pointing to a list of diseases previously eradicated with the help of vaccines, they make the premature assumption that the first-ever vaccines targeting a cold virus will be able to successfully eradicate it with no significant unintended adverse consequences.

Many “pro-vaccine” doctors have pointed out that this witch hunt is harmful and absolutely unnecessary. Legal challenges in various countries have begun. Doctors for Covid Ethics have come out strongly against any sort of “vaccine passport.” Among the vulnerable groups, eagerness to take the vaccine is so high that no one needs to worry about the vaccine hesitant. Transmission of the virus will stop if all who want the vaccine take it. Let others make their own decisions about what goes into their bodies. It is their right to do so. As for the non-vulnerable groups, they don’t need the vaccine at all. There is already significant natural herd immunity among them, and much more will soon exist. If the vaccines are as effective as their proponents claim they are, very soon no one will be dying or getting seriously ill because of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, and it will fade into being an endemic background disease—exactly like many others we have learned to live with without being in an endless state of widespread panic and emergency measures.

Related to the premature assumption mentioned above, in Dr. Raoult’s interview he pointed out the inconvenient truth that corona viruses and rhinoviruses easily “escape immunity,” whether it is immunity gained naturally or through a vaccine. Antibodies fade and the virus evolves into something else that makes one sick the next season. There is strong cross-over immunity, and the healthier you are, the more likely you are to recover quickly, but the vaccine is not a magic wand that will make the problem vanish. And why should this be surprising to hear? It is the basic common sense assumption we used to have about catching colds year after year. We knew there was no vaccine against the common cold, and there must have been a reason for it.

Dr. Raoult described how he believed the vaccines show some promise in protecting the vulnerable and will be one important element in reducing the virus to the status of a background problem rather than a major threat that pre-occupies health agencies in every country. But he stressed that other factors are just as important or even more important. Delivering timely, effective and personalized care in every serious case is the key factor in reducing mortality and the paralyzing fear that has shattered society.

When the interviewer asked him, “How about you? Have you been vaccinated?” the doctor responded bluntly, “That’s none of your concern. My health is none of your business.” That response was a welcome reminder that the ugly prying into others’ vaccination status, the coercion, the boasting, and social credit being invested in the act of vaccination is completely uncalled for. In the absence of a real pandemic that is killing all segments of society at very high rates, vaccination is a choice one makes for oneself. One should not be compelled into taking this risk for the greater good because doing so opens the door to other medical interventions and lifestyle changes that can be conceived as benefiting the collective: contraception, sterilization, abortion, refusal of healthcare for people who engage in dangerous sports or have dangerous lifestyles, forced hospitalization and treatment of  asymptomatic carriers of diseases or persons with chronic diseases and addictions. There are good reasons why free societies have not gone down this road before, but the heat of the present crisis has caused many to lose perspective.

Preface from Didier Raoult et Olivia Recasens, La vérité sur les vaccins: Tout ce que vous devez savoire pour faire le bon choix. (The Truth about Vaccines: All You Need to Know to Make a Good Choice) (Michel Lafon, 2018)

France has become the country that is most wary of vaccination. Currently our policy response is the authoritarian route because starting on January 1st [2018] eleven vaccines became compulsory. It is a strategy that demands obedience but does not allow us to understand, and therefore it does not encourage adherence.

The French cannot make sense of the situation because the ministers of health themselves have not all said the same thing. Among those who have succeeded each other over forty years, some were hostile to an active vaccine policy, others were indifferent, while others were deeply convinced that public health required greater support of vaccination, which led to a false health scandal with regard to hepatitis B. All this has led to delays in the adoption of vaccine strategies that have been unanimously recognized and have already been implemented elsewhere. Our vaccine policy has become inconsistent, outdated and counterproductive. Never before have the messages of health authorities on the subject been so blurred. The French people do not receive reliable scientific information, so they do not know which vaccines are useful and which are not.

There is presently a sterile debate between anti-vaccines on the one hand—who imagine the vaccine industry as a major puppeteer—and pro-vaccines, on the other hand, convinced that the vaccine is the answer to everything.

The very question “Are you for or against vaccines?” makes no sense and it is wrong to frame the discussion this way. In reality, in the face of a serious and threatening epidemic, everyone should be in favor of vaccination. If a disease has been eradicated, everyone should be opposed to vaccination against it. But such logic has not been applied. One episode illustrates this problem. In the 1970s, France was one of the last developed countries to continue to vaccinate against smallpox, which had been eradicated, for the sake of the principle of “retrospective fear” that would now be called the “precautionary principle”.

The goal is not to know whether vaccines, in general, are good or bad, but to assess the potential risks of each and the benefits they present for our health. We also need to know which vaccine can benefit each of us, depending on our gender, age, country, lifestyle, and the historical period… The answer depends on the expected benefit to the individual of protecting himself or herself from a serious illness or on the benefit to society in the event of an epidemic. Let’s consider polio. One of the three vectors of infection is considered to be completely eradicated. The second has not generated cases for several years, and the third remains in only three countries whose level of hygiene is nothing like ours. This vaccine has therefore become useless in France, but it continues to be mandatory. On the other hand, vaccination against papillomavirus, the sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer in both men and women, is only recommended for women! An effective vaccine strategy also requires that the merits of a particular vaccine be constantly reviewed according to the person whom it is intended for and that person’s circumstances. This reliable and up-to-date information must be disseminated by physicians, who are the main prescribers. The state should only take charge in the case of contagious epidemics that endanger the community.

In health, even more so than in other fields, information and education are essential. Only a pragmatic discourse, free of ideological positions, is tolerable.

Wisdom is needed. And that’s what we hope to bring with this book.

Français

La France est devenue le pays au monde qui se méfie le plus de la vaccination. Actuellement la réponse adoptée par nos politiques est la voie autoritaire, puisque onze vaccins sont désormais obligatoires depuis le 1er janvier [2018]. Une stratégie qui implique l’obéissance mais ne permet pas de comprendre et donc n’incite pas à adhérer.

Les Français ne peuvent pas s’y retrouver car les ministres de la Santé eux-mêmes n’ont pas tous dit la même chose. Parmi ceux qui se sont succédé depuis quarante ans, certains se sont montrés hostiles à une politique vaccinale active, d’autre encore indifférents, tandis que d’autres encore étaient profondément convaincus de la nécessité pour la santé publique d’un remboursement élargi des vaccins, ce qui a conduit pour l’hépatite B à un faux scandale sanitaire. Tout cela a provoqué des retards dans l’adoption de stratégies vaccinales pourtant unanimement reconnues et déjà appliquées ailleurs. Notre politique vaccinale est devenue incohérente, obsolète et contre-productive. Jamais les messages des autorités sanitaires sur le sujet n’ont été aussi brouillés. On ne donne pas aux Français d’informations scientifiques fiables, de sorte qu’ils ignorent quel vaccin est utile et quel autre ne l’est pas.

Le débat actuel entre les antivaccins d’un côté—qui imaginent l’industrie du vaccin en grande marionnettiste—et les pro-vaccination persuadés que le vaccin est la réponse à tout est stérile.

La question même « Êtes-vous pour ou contre les vaccins? » n’a pas de sens et elle a le tort de caricaturer la discussion. En réalité, face à une épidémie grave et menaçante, tout le monde devrait être pour le vaccin. Face à une maladie disparue, tout le monde devrait être contre. Or ce n’est pas le cas. Un épisode illustre bien ce problème. Dans les années 1970, la France a été l’un des derniers pays développés à continuer à vacciner contre la variole qui était éradiquée, et ce au nom d’un principe de « peur rétrospective » qu’on appellerait maintenant le « principe de précaution ».

L’objectif n’est pas de savoir si les vaccins, en général, sont bons ou mauvais, mais d’évaluer les risques éventuels de chacun et les bénéfices qu’ils présentent pour notre santé. Il faut également savoir quel vaccin peut rendre service à chacun d’entre nous, selon son sexe, son âge, son pays, son mode de vie, l’époque… La réponse dépend du bénéfice espéré, pour l’individu, de se protéger contre une maladie grave ou du bénéfice, pour la société, en cas d’épidémie. Prenez la poliomyélite : l’un des trois vecteurs d’infection est considéré comme totalement éradiqué, le deuxième n’a plus généré de cas depuis plusieurs années et le troisième ne subsiste que dans trois pays dont le niveau d’hygiène n’a rien à voir avec le nôtre. Ce vaccin est donc devenu inutile en France. Il continue à être obligatoire. En revanche, la vaccination contre le papillomavirus, cette maladie sexuellement transmissible qui provoque des cancers à la fois chez l’homme et la femme, est seulement recommandée aux femmes ! Une stratégie vaccinale efficace exige aussi que l’on revoie en permanence l’intérêt de tel ou tel vaccin en fonction de la personne à laquelle il est destiné et de son environnement. Cette information fiable et actualisée doit être diffusée par les médecins, qui sont les principaux prescripteurs. L’État ne doit reprendre la main que dans le cas d’épidémies contagieuses qui mettent en péril la collectivité.

En santé, plus encore que dans d’autres domaines, l’information et l’éducation sont des éléments essentiels. Seul un discours pragmatique, préservé des prises de positions idéologiques, est tolérable.

La sagesse s’impose. Et c’est ce que nous espérons apporter avec ce livre.

Notes


[1] Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1924,161. In Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (Basic Books, 2001), 44-45.

[2] Didier Raoult et Olivia Recasens, La vérité sur les vaccins: Tout ce que vous devez savoir pour faire le bon choix. (The Truth about Vaccines: All You Need to Know to Make a Good Choice) (Michel Lafon, 2018).