For illustration, let’s assume there’s a pandemic of a new contagious disease, called Superflu.
Death (by peanut butter)
I love the peanut butter analogy from Sam Harris’ podcast episode “What we have learned from the pandemic?” It helps me to take out the emotions I have towards needles and drugs.
Let’s assume this:
A big portion of peanut butter decreases my risk of dying after a Superflu infection by a factor of ten. This lasts for three month, then I need to renew my medication.
I never ate peanut butter before, and I know there is a 1 out of a million chance, that I will die from an allergic reaction to it.
Would I eat peanut butter every 3 months?
Of course I would! Given that I trust the numbers. I need high quality sources to verify that. And ideally people I trust confirm them too.
Still, I may be a bit anxious the moment I swallow that spoon of peanut butter. Will I still be alive in one hour? But then I know, if I don’t want to be the 1 out of 100 to die from Superflu, I have to take the risk of being the 1 out of a million to die from peanut butter.
The prospect of longer lasting health issues from a disease is frightening too. Let’s assume for the case of Superflu that there's a 5 out of 100 chance to obtain some sort of long-term syndrome - Long Superflu. With the help of peanut butter it would go down to 1 out of 200. On the contrary, there’s no risk of a permanent condition with peanut butter medication. So I’m still facing the 1 out of a million risk of having a sudden death.
Okay, fuck it, give me that peanut butter shot!
But wait…! I realise my risk for death or Long Superflu highly depends on my age. So actually I need to find the probabilities for my age, to make an informed decision. Turns out people my age have a chance of 1 out of 1,000 to die from a Superflu infection and 5 out of 1,000 to suffer from Long Superflu. When vaccinated, the chance is 1 out of 10,000 to die and 5 out of 10,000 to suffer from Long Superflu.
Still, I’d rather be on the safe side here. Scary that if these numbers turned out to be true, every 1,000th person of my age is supposed to die, when unprotected.
Speaking of age, now I wonder what I would do if I had a kid, say at the age of 5. Now it gets quite tricky. Let’s assume 1 out of a million kids of that young age would die and 10 out of a million would be sick for a longer time. In this case I’d be hesitant to give peanut butter to my kid. I mean who knows…?
Except… there is proof that vaccination is significantly slowing down transmission from kids to other human beings. In my hypothetical scenario transmission is not reduced significantly. Ahh, this doesn’t make it easier. What should I do?
Making a decision
Okay, in order to decide whether to take a vaccine or not, I’ll make an effort to create a table like the one below. Then I can see clearly and decide.
Superflu without protection (=unvaccinated):
Superflu with peanut butter shield (=vaccinated):
Peanut butter risks (=damage of peanut butter in a healthy person):
I conclude for this hypothetical case that regular intake of peanut butter decreases the risk of death and Long Superflu by a factor of 10 if you are 35+ and a factor of 5 if you are between 15-34. For children, the risks are not significantly reduced. For them it’s as likely to die from Superflu as from peanut butter.
I further conclude that peanut butter and vaccines are not contagious.
I wish that such a table would always be made available and kept up to date, whenever a disease hits us.
There’s been a lot of controversy on this topic. Personally, I understand both sides. Everyone has their personal history and approach to life. To me, really the danger is believing that I’m right and the others are all wrong.
To break out of this thinking, a powerful tool for me was asking myself:
What information would I need to change my mind?
Because if I can’t answer that question, then I’m just being a dogmatic dick and irrational.