by Frank Schnittger
Sat Aug 21st, 2021 at 01:08:10 PM EST
Professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin
Anyone perusing the internet will find it littered with anti-vaxers and conspiracy theorists many of them from the extreme far right of the libertarian fringe. Fragments of scientific research become hoisted to gospel truth without reference to what may be an overwhelming mountain of countervailing evidence. All sorts of conspiracy theories involving George Soros or Bill Gates are re-purposed to support the anti-vaxer cause. One such theorist is professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin who has just had a warrant issued for her arrest in London for organising a protest gathering during lockdown.
Her UCD Bio states that "she is is a world-wide renowned expert in high-throughput proteomics technology development and automation, high content protein arrays and their biomedical applications, including in biomarker discovery and diagnostics. Prof. Cahill pioneered this research area at the Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany, and holds several international patents in this field with research, biomedicine and diagnostic applications."
She was asked to resign from a leading European Union scientific committee after claiming that "lockdown and social distancing are not needed to stop the spread of the virus, and that people who recover are then immune for life after 10 days and deaths and illnesses could have been prevented by extra vitamins".
She was forced to resign as Chairman of the tiny far right Irish Freedom Party after giving a speech claiming that children who wore face masks were being "starved" of oxygen and would have lower IQ. "The reason that the globalists are pulling down the masks is that oxygen-deprived people are easier to manipulate". This also belatedly led to her removal from a lecturing role in UCD.
Professor Cahill stood for election to the Dail in Tipperary in 2020 and in the recent Dublin Bay south bye-election where she received 179 votes. She tried to barge her way into the post election count centre without wearing a mask and accused Gardai of assaulting her when they blocked her way.
But there are also many people who are hesitant about receiving a covid vaccine for all sorts of personal, medical, or ideological concerns, some of which may have been amplified by the amount of misinformation available on-line. They deserve to be treated respectfully and any engagement with qualified medical practitioners is to be encouraged. Hence my letter to the editor published today
Vaccine hesitancy and public trust
A chara, - You have done the State and the Irish people some service by publishing the reasons given by many people for refusing vaccination and by including some expert medical commentary in response (Sylvia Thompson, "Why we're not getting the Covid-19 vaccine: Irish Times readers share their reasons", Health & Family, August 19th).
It is difficult to summarise the contributions of over 250 Irish Times readers, and the reasons given are many and varied, but a number of general observations can be made.
First, many consider themselves to be at less risk due to their age, medical history, lifestyle, and general state of health.
Second, many trust their opinions of the science behind the vaccination programme more than they trust the collective views of the overwhelming majority of specialist epidemiologists, virologists, infectious diseases experts, and those actually treating Covid patients in our hospitals or living with the consequences of severe disease.
Third, they often express political opposition to what they view as the overweening influence of the political, medical, and pharmaceutical establishments, and the resultant intrusion into their personal choices and freedom.
Some just base their decision on anecdotal evidence of how the disease has or hasn't affected people in their immediate circle. Others are particularly resentful of what they see as officially endorsed discrimination between those who hold Covid vaccination certs and those who don't.
It would be easy to dismiss many of these objections on the basis that they represent an attitude of prioritising personal liberty or convenience over societal responsibilities, or an intellectual snobbery that they know better than the so-called experts.
But we must be beware of allowing the discussion to fall into the simplistic left/right divide of the narrative in the US, where much of the opposition to the vaccination programme is associated with far-right libertarian activists who see the vaccination programme as part of a socialist and or an elite-driven plot to subvert their freedoms.
One of the most important assets of our democratic political system is the relatively high level of social cohesion and trust between the governed and those who are charged with the responsibility of governing. We allow that to diminish at our peril. The dialogue between those who refuse the vaccine and our medical and political systems is one that should be encouraged, and you have made an excellent contribution with your article. - Yours, etc,
The vaccination programme in Ireland is proceeding apace with 72% of the total population vaccinated, and with vaccinations now available to anyone aged over 12. This is one of the highest rates in the world - above early starters like Israel, the US and UK and is significantly higher than the EU average of 63%. Nevertheless the rate of infections is still unacceptably high, averaging about 1,800 cases per day or about 2,500 cases per week per million of population. This means we are in 30th. place in the list of world countries and territories ranked by current infection rate.
Fortunately the death rate is now down to about 3 per week per million population, which places us in 105th. place in the list of World countries and territories. The vaccination programme may not yet have eliminated the disease entirely, but it has significantly reduced the rate of severe disease leading to hospitalisation and death. Let's hope this rate of progress continues, and that anti-vaxers like Dolores Cahill can be persuaded to retire to her castle.
In 2019 UCD Prof Dolores Cahill bought White's Castle, a 3,500 sq. ft, 15th-century property in Athy, Co Kildare. Photograph: Laura Hutton