Despite Evidence to the Contrary: Why Not a Single One of My College-Educated Friends Plans to Take the Covid-19 Vaccine

Despite Evidence to the Contrary: Why Not a Single One of My College-Educated Friends Plans to Take the Covid-19 Vaccine by F.J. Sharp

SUMMARY: Noticeably absent from many Covid-19 pandemic vaccine conversations are people like my friends– a lawyer, pilot, nurse, veteran and entrepreneur–who, for reasons you’ll discover, won’t be lining up any time soon to take it. These mostly college-educated individuals are not so-called conspiracy theorists, science deniers, prayer-healing evangelicals, QAnon adherents or Trumpists, and don’t fall neatly into the “anti-vaxxer” category. Their reasons, however, are based on some overlooked realities.

“I’m no ‘anti-vaxxer.’

I simply won’t be taking the vaccine.”

December, 2020. With several Covid vaccines1 already available, talk of the challenges of effective distribution are filling the public discourse. There is an assumption that queues will be long as demand for the vaccine exceeds supply. Pundits talk of hundreds of millions being vaccinated by June of 2021. Those same pundits would have you believe that anyone reluctant to be vaccinated simply needs to be “convinced” of the efficacy and/or effectiveness (Efficacy–performance under ideal and controlled circumstances; effectiveness–performance under ‘real-world’ conditions) of the vaccine so they can update their belief systems and join the mainstream in the 21st century. After all, everyone knows vaccines are safe and based on unassailable science, right? Well, if the views of my circle of friends is any indication, that overwhelming demand will likely be a bit less than anticipated. Here’s why.

Meet My Friends

Back in November, 2020, as news of the first Covid-19 vaccine roll-out made the headlines, I started a group email conversation with fourteen of my close friends. I included a link to AstraZeneca’s recent research mistakes2, plus a link to how the US Thanksgiving holiday was spent in 1918 that included the medical errors in the development of the Spanish Flu vaccine3. As a postscript, I mentioned the news that Qantas Airlines reportedly will require proof of vaccination in order to fly4. I asked their thoughts.

Roger, a pilot for a major airline in Asia, and Desmond, a two-time combat veteran and former drill sergeant, and Nikki, a lawyer and podcast host in Atlanta, all expressed their reluctance to based on a combination of reasons from lack of trust in government based on historical precedent, the speed of the development of the vaccine, potential side-effects, the role of profit in the pharmaceutical business model.

For example, Stacey, a former colleague and mother of two in the Bronx, wrote:I hadn’t really been reading anything about it since I have no plans to take it. All I can think of is Tuskegee5, and I am not interested…But my kids may be asked to take it in order to finish school on campus… ugh!”

Lido, a Pacific Islander, is concerned that remote islands like his will be used to test the vaccine similar to when, between 1946 and 1958, the US’ testing of biological weapons in the Marshall Islands left many of the islands uninhabitable and hundreds of residents suffering the effects of radiation poisoning6.

Diane, a Certified Sterile Processing Technician (CSP) in New York, is a pandemic front line healthcare worker who is contemplating quitting her job if her employer makes taking the vaccine mandatory. “It’s a possibility,” she says, “but, as head of my household, I have to think about my son.”

Liza, a hemo-dialysis front line worker in North Dakota, says she too is not going to take it.

So, what’s going on? Why are these otherwise level-headed, college-educated, science-aware individuals shying away from what we’re all being told is a life-saving, virus-effect-mitigating drug? Actually, it turns out they’ve had their reasons for a long time–even decades–before my conversation. To understand some of those reasons, let’s start with a few brief U.S. history lessons.

A History Of Inhumane And Unethical Racist Treatment On Black Populations

As Stacey mentioned, whenever she thinks about experimental, government-sanctioned medical treatments, her mind reflexively turns to The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Her perspective and distrust–brought about by belonging to the target group of this sort of conscious, deliberate human experimentation–is understandable. It is not based on unsubstantiated conjecture. This is not wild conspiracy theorizing. This is not hearsay. This incident is a fact of real life in the United States of America. Any of those men could have been a friend or family member. One could argue that Stacey’s fears are unjustified since the vaccine will be given to all groups in many communities. However, her suspicion is also based on her awareness people’s inherent and ingrained biases can lead to disparities in batch quality, distribution and after-care.

A History Of Testing On “remote” Populations and Non-Citizens

Lido’s mention of the Marshall Islands hearkens to Vieques, an island 5 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico and the environmental and human cost exacted7 on the island’s population by the US Naval Range8.

In 2020, the US government is separating children from their parents9 and detaining them in cages. As many as 600 families that we know of have been torn apart by U.S. government policy.

In September, 2020, a whistleblower’s allegation revealed that an Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center was performing forced sterilizations on the women in their custody. A practice that “drew comparisons to Nazi sterilization campaigns,” according to the report on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website10.

A Clear and Present Danger

What’s the relevance? What does any of this have to do with the vaccine? If you are (or choose or wish to consider yourself) part of mainstream society, you may not have the same holistic appreciation of the interconnectedness of these incidents nor how they inform Stacey’s and Lido’s resistance.

In other words, if you’re not Black American, or a member of a South American refugee family, a Marshall Islander or Puerto Rican, or simply a person sympathetic to these realities, then the aforementioned historical and contemporary references may simply not register as real enough for you to take into account as you make your decision when it comes to taking a Covid-19 vaccine. In fact, you may not even recognize the connection between those references–the judicial system, law enforcement, the medical establishment and capitalism in general. In fact, if you engage in a conversation with one of these individuals, you may find yourself asking, “What on earth does Vieques or, Tuskegee, or even George Floyd have to do with taking the Covid-19 vaccine??”

So-called minorities and/or non-citizens on the receiving end of US foreign as well as domestic policy have endured many experiences confirming that their basic humanity, rights and recourse are often disregarded. The utter disdain for human life, the outright, unapologetic, unremorseful, in-plain-sight, on-camera, celebrated experimentation, beatings, shootings and killings of human beings based on their skin color, ethnicity and religion engenders a deep distrust in those individuals towards other individuals in society who have been installed as “authorities.” They effectively ask, “When the danger has shown itself to be a systemic cultural phenomenon, why on earth would I trust one part of the system over another?”

The same people who make and enforce the laws are the same people who make and distribute the vaccine. Why on earth would I trust one group over the other? These people represent a clear and present danger to me.

“Carelessness in my decision-making in this situation could be tantamount to suicide. If I wish to make good survival decisions living in such a society, I must ask a unique set of questions before every decision big or small. Do the doctors at my hospital, the police officers tasked with keeping order in my neighborhood, the scientists and researchers who developed the vaccine, the health workers tasked with dispensing it fairly, ethically, hygienically and compassionately have my best interests in mind? If not, how will their culturally-ingrained biases affect my outcome?

Haste makes….dead guinea pigs

“My main concern is really just the speed that this was developed,” Diane, the CSP, explains. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig. A lot of my coworkers are volunteering to take it. I’ll let them go first, so if it becomes mandatory, at least we’ll have a bit more knowledge of any side effects.”

Liza, the hemodialysis nurse in North Dakota says, “For me, it’s just too experimental. It’s ironic, I know. My coworkers and I, front line workers who have the chance to be first in line, simply don’t want to be the guinea pigs for the vaccine.”

These health-informed people know that people make mistakes–particularly when performing under pressure or in haste as they appear to be now. They simply don’t wish to be the experimental guinea pigs for a hastily-produced chemical of unknown origin. They know that even “science” is fallible.

The Pharma-skeptics

Others of my non-vaccine-taking non-antivaxxer friends fall into a slightly different category. I call them the pharma-skeptics. Long before talk of vaccines became such a mainstream topic, there have been people who have been skeptical of the effectiveness and advisability of taking this or any other pharmaceutical. One reason is suspicion of the profit-motives behind Big Pharma’s rollouts. Of concern to the pharma-skeptics are the under-reported cases and instances of of medical malpractice, deaths from prescriptions, harmful side effects, manufacturer-financed research studies that masquerade as unbiased studies as well as profit-motivated tragedies like the over-prescription of opioids.

This Is Not Fear. This Is Fact.

The bottom line is this: one cannot simply dismiss those who do not want to take the vaccine as “ill-informed, uneducated or anti-vaxxers.” who are expressing baseless concerns. Justification for their concerns are in the public record, in newspapers, in history books and even on video. They are real. Some anti-vaccine concerns are based on a reality about which you have no experience and, thus, no authority to critique or dismiss as simply “conspiratorial.”

Those who have been victims of or witness to unethical experimentation, biased healthcare, etc, will tell you, “No amount of ‘convincing’ will undo the poisoning of my child by biological weapons testing. No amount of modern ‘science’ will change history and the suffering the CDC inflicted on my grandfather. No amount of anti-vaxxer shaming will undo the trauma of the forced sterilization the US government performed on me and my daughter. I must make my survival decisions based on all the available evidence as I see it.”

I will spare you the overused and trite definition of insanity and simply ask, who would you classify as more insane, the person who rushes headlong and unquestioningly into a situation despite evidence of a clear and present danger, or the person who says “There is no danger.”?

A Thought Experiment

Here is a thought experiment for you. If you are among those who put your trust in the ethics, moral standing, good intentions and good behavior of those in the political and pharmaceutical systems and wish to convince others that the vaccine will be administered fairly across all communities, and that we all need to take it in order to be safe, then imagine yourself holding a press conference with that goal in mind. Imaging also that in the audience are (a) a mother whose child has been poisoned by biological weapons, (b) a child whose father was murdered by police officers at a routine traffic stop, (c) a mother whose infant child is still missing after being separated at the border, and (d) the grandchild of a victim of the Tuskegee experiment.

Standing beside you at the front of the room as you make your plea is a cadre of politicians, police officers and medical professionals. Can you, in good conscience and with absolute confidence tell the mother seeking asylum, “Don’t worry, let the nice nurse have your child, you’ll get her back in a few hours after the injection.” Can you, tell the grandson of a Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment victim, “the vaccine in your neighborhood is safe. It won’t harm you, and you’ll receive the best follow-up care if anything goes wrong or if there are new developments about which you need to be informed.”?

This Thing Called Empathy

If thinking about doing that gave you pause, congratulations! You’ve proven you have a conscience! However, the flaw of such a thought experiment is that it only works on people who do have a bit of empathy, and who realize there are concurrent realities such as those laid out in this article about which they cannot offer another person any assurances or guarantees. Conversely, there will be other people who will easily tell others to take the vaccine simply because the historical and possible consequences laid out in this article simply do not apply to the person making the recommendation. In other words, if you have no empathy or make no acknowledgment of these issues, it’s easy to tell someone to do something despite their perceived risk (based on their evidence-based reality) when your perceived risk (based on your equally evidence-based reality) is lower than theirs.

Some people seem incapable of accepting the reality of a situation or circumstance until they themselves or someone they know are personally confronted with it. We’ve heard the story of the politician who opposes gay rights until his son announces he, in fact, is gay. Did you hear the one about the first lady who opposed stem cell research until she discovered that her husband, the president, could benefit from it? Or the one about the society that suddenly acknowledges and reacts to the brutality of white police officers towards black residents only when confronted with an on-camera execution.

If you’re white, can you assure a black person what her experience with law enforcement at a routine traffic stop will be just like yours? If you live in Beverly Hills, can you assure a Flint, Michigan resident that the authorities have his best interests in mind when it comes to his water supply? If you’re a man, can you assure a woman what her experience will be at the doctor’s office for her pregnancy? Can you assure a refugee that border patrol agents follow the rule of law and…well, you get the idea. You may hope that my experience will be the same, but the truth is, you have absolutely no idea, cannot assure me of such, and must, therefore, respect and give value to the perspectives of those, like me, who live realities with which you are unfamiliar. That is called empathy.

And still….

What I’ve outlined are just some of the reasons people like my friends choose to pass on being first in line to have a vaccine administered to themselves or their children. However, despite all the evidence to the contrary cited above, there will still be those who maintain that these concerns, fears and outright rejection of the vaccine are unwarranted. They’ll say:

“Yes, but that was a long time ago.”; “Yes, but everyone, even former presidents, will be taking it.”; “Yes, but they’re taking it in other countries, too.”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago”

According to that article I referenced about Thanksgiving in 1918, there was a problem with the 1918 vaccine:

The problem [in 1918]? Researchers didn’t know influenza was a virus.

“The vaccine that was made was a vaccine against (a bacteria), which they thought was the cause of influenza,” [Dr.]Markel11 said. “So not only were vaccines of this era crude and not all that effective, the vaccine that they did produce was for the wrong organism.”

Vaccine science was nowhere near the scientifically advanced level of 2020, said Markel… The study of virology was in its infancy, and researchers didn’t have the tools to see viruses. Though bacteria are much larger and can be viewed under a light microscope, viruses require an electron microscope, which had not been invented in 1918, Markel said.

The vaccines that researchers developed did not stop an impending third wave of the flu.

Could such errors happen today? There is evidence it already is. We’re already reading reports of allergic reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine12 that are “puzzling” the scientists, as well as reports of research mistakes referenced earlier.

This is to be expected, and I predict there will be more. Doctors may be “puzzled” (according to the article), but sensible people who exercise common sense won’t be surprised. One unchanging truth you can always rely on is that ANYTHING unnatural that is put in the body is toxic to some degree and the body will respond accordingly. For some people, that response will be immediate, for others it will take some time to manifest, and, of course some people may be asymptomatic.

Remember, the doctors and scientists of 1918 were just as convinced of their correctness as today’s doctors. The assumptions upon which modern science are based are always the most advanced, until they’re not.

“It is the height of hubris and the pinnacle of naivete to think that the same species of human–those who brought you the 1918 vaccine; the unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiment on humans without their knowledge or consent; pharmaceutical drugs that are recalled, toxic and contaminated, rife with side effects; those who sell substandard medicine and products to “developing” nations; those who accept bribes to look the other way as they approve pharmaceutical drugs known to be poisonous; those who caused and profited from the opioid crisis; those who sell tainted formula to infants–[it is folly to think that they] know more, care more, are more ethical, more humane, more empathetic, less motivated by money or less prone to making mistakes just as they did in 1918.”

“Yes, but even former presidents will be taking it. Shouldn’t that make you feel safer?

The fact that former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama say they are willing to take the vaccine on television does not prove conclusively it is safe. It merely proves they are willing to take a vaccine on television.

When President Trump and his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani contracted the virus, the disparity between the quality of treatment given celebrities and that available to average folk became glaring. Once the cameras are off, can you say that the shipments to each neighborhood will be coordinated fairly? Can you be certain the same rigorous attention to detail for storage, distribution and administration, or that pre- and post-vaccination care or follow-up treatment in the event of allergic reactions will be available equally to all to the same level as that afforded former presidents?

Who Are The Real Absurdity Theorists?

So, when the numbers of those clamoring for the vaccine fall short of pundit projections and educated expectations, just know that not all those who decline can be lumped into a single category of non-believers. Their reality-based reasons for refusing to take the vaccine may be more nuanced than what you’ve been led to believe. There are those who simply won’t trust any experimental drug that’s rushed to market, that has already been cited with an error and a series of other irregularities and omissions, already cause allergic reactions and that is administered by a medical establishment within a social and political paradigm that historically mistreats, experiments on people in certain target groups.

Our society mocks those who claim the earth is flat despite evidence to the contrary. We ridicule those who claim the moon landing didn’t happen despite evidence to the contrary. We lump those people as players in a theater of the absurd. What would you call those who insist to Tuskegee descendants, to residents of Flint, to refugee families at the US/Mexico border, to those in the Marshall Islands, to female detainees whose reproductive organs were removed without their consent, all at the hands of the government or its appointees–that the same system that offers health care, police protection and justice has everybody’s best interests in mind equally, will treat them humanely, won’t be biased in the research, development, distribution and administration of an experimental drug….despite evidence to the contrary?


F.J. Sharp is an observer who simply wishes to expand the conversation.

p.s. Outtakes and “Behind the Scenes”

“What’s your goal here? Is it to be inflammatory, or is it to expand the conversation?”

My goal–as I had to admit to my friend, Cassandra, who edited the first (much more inflammatory) version of my article–is actually to expand the conversation about those who refuse to take the vaccine. From the very beginning of the pandemic, it bothered me that every news report and pundit latched on to a premise that the only solution available was and is some miracle pharmaceutical that would save the day and that “taking the vaccine” became the foregone conclusion for everyone. I noticed that anyone who pushed back against this premise was lumped into a category of an ignorant anti-vaxxer problem that had to be dealt with. The only questions being asked are, “How do convince these people to take it? How do we show them that it’s safe? How do we get these problematic people to believe in science?”

The group-think, group-speak and group-condemnation around the vaccine troubled me on several different levels. In essence, the conversation starts with a basic assumption based on a “limiting absolute” that blocks any discussion or acknowledgment of any equally-valid realities. It assumes that everyone must be on board with the assumption. If you’re among those who accepted the underlying assumption, then I already sound like those whom you’ve ostracized.

As tempting as it may be to believe that a belief in “science” and the adoption of whatever the scientists say we should use as the sole arbiters of sanity and safety, always remember that there are countries that have banned fluoride in drinking water, outlawed mercury in dental fillings, stopped the sale of genetically-modified produce and prohibited Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) from being sold to the public–all things that are allowed in the US because, well, science. These countries are on a different path because they, too, well, “science.”

That’s the basis of how I started my article. Then, because I live in a diverse community and hail from a non-mainstream cultural background, I was reminded of other reasons behind people’s reluctance to rush headlong to join the vaccine line. This article is my humble attempt to share some of those reasons with you. I hope you find it helpful for respectfully expanding your conversations.–F.J. Sharp

p.s. I hope you enjoy this “Flame Resistant” version of the article. If you’d like to read the, longer “Highly Flammable” version with additional historical references (Norplant, Flint Michigan water supply) and an exploration of “the color of authority,” click here.

Syringe image:





5The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted by the US Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1932. 600 African American men participated in what they were told would be a 6-month study in exchange for free health care. 399 had latent syphilis but were never told, and 201 were a control group. The PHS gave the men placebos and ineffective protocols disguised as treatment, and continued the study–even after funding ran out– never revealing the men’s diagnoses nor providing them with penicillin. A whistle blower’s leak 40 years later (1972) brought it to an end.



8In a 2001 federal lawsuit, Vieques’ environmental groups and residents accused the Navy of causing “more damage than any other single actor in the history of Puerto Rico.” [The Navy] contaminated much of the eastern portion of the island. Between 1941 and 2001 about 5 million pounds (2,000 t) of ordnance was dropped on Vieques every year– including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, depleted uranium and napalm, and tons of a fiberglass-like substance. Most of these toxins are persistent and may bioaccumulate.

9Human Rights Watch


11 Howard Markel is a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan and co-editor-in chief of The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919


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