A woman who was interviewed on the news explained why she refuses to accept a vaccine for COVID-19: “I don’t know what’s in it.”
At first glance, that sounds like a very reasonable stance. Surely it is foolish to ingest or inject something when you don’t know what you’re getting. If everyone followed that policy, there would be far fewer poisonings and far fewer overdoses of street drugs among addicts who found a new supplier and unwittingly got a much higher dose than they were used to. But it’s not as simple as knowing “what’s in it.” The devil is in the details.
Information about vaccines is readily available, especially how they were developed and what’s in them. That woman was being willfully ignorant; she could know “what’s in it,” but she doesn’t really want to know. Saying that is nothing but a rationale to support her irrational decision not to get vaccinated.
And even if she read the available information, would she understand it? We can’t all be perfectly knowledgeable about every possible subject. Most of us have to accept the word of experts and are quite willing to do so. Perhaps she distrusts vaccine experts or distrusts all scientists. Is that rational? Who would she trust? Someone who wrote something on the internet? A friend who has strong opinions but no scientific training? Her gut? How would knowing “what’s in it” help her decide whether to accept the vaccine?
The irony is that she can’t possibly have the same objections to everything. When she eats dinner at a friend’s house, does she demand to know what’s in the food before she tastes it? If she eats at a restaurant, does she ask about ingredients she is allergic to, or does she want to know everything that’s in the food? Does she take a dietary supplement? Does she realize that when supplements have been tested, they have frequently been found to be contaminated with everything from insect parts to prescription drugs? Does she take a multivitamin? How can she trust it contains what the label says? (It often has more or less than the label says.) How can she determine whether taking it will benefit her health? Does she take a homeopathic remedy? Does she understand what the dilutions mean? Does she take drugs prescribed by her doctor? Does she know what’s in them? Has she accepted other vaccinations? Has she had a tetanus shot? Did she ask what was in it?
Conclusion: She’s just making up an excuse.
Should we believe her? I don’t. People are all too often unaware of the real reasons they do things or believe things. They make up their minds first and later try to find reasons for their opinions that will sound plausible to others. I don’t believe that not knowing what’s in the vaccine is the real reason she’s refusing vaccination. I think it’s just an excuse, and not a very good one.
This article was originally published in Skeptical Inquirer.