Today marks yet another sad milestone in the COVID-19 fight, where the US government has decided to “pause” allowing willing adults to receive the J&J/Janssen vaccine “out of an abundance of caution”.
So I want to talk about out of an abundance of caution. This phrase has become popular with politicians during COVID-19. This time, it’s coming down from the top:
That phrase has bugged me for months, so today I was once again considering its extraordinary weasel-phrase-ness.
It doesn’t actually assess or declare risk.
The goal is to invoke enough uncertainty to justify an action without having to prove something is actually “unsafe”. There is just an action being taken because of some ill-defined vague cautionary principle.
The problem is, anything can be justified with this, at any time, with any risk level. If no one demands that politicians make difficult risk/reward tradeoffs, all we’ll ever get in return is FUD/CYA decisionmaking like this.
By not declaring actual risk assessment, it makes suspicious people more suspicious.
Here in 2021, the toughest fight against COVID-19 is convincing antivaxxers or even reluctant-vaxxers1 to get the vaccine. After all, a fuzzy “abundance of caution” reason might indicate authorities suspect it’s way more dangerous than the data we have, right? So after J&J comes back on the market, conspiracy theory communities will spin up more conspiracies about this. Vagueness and a lack of transparency is what opens the door wide to that kind of thing.
It takes away individual choice about risk.
The “pause” was supposedly optional, but as we’ve now seen, distribution of the J&J vaccine has stopped cold. Private parties like Walgreens have declared they won’t do it. So, despite 7M vaccinations with it, 6 with clots, we have 550,000 people dead of COVID and a new spike in cases in e.g. Michigan. Yet no adult is allowed to weigh this tradeoff of risk for themselves.
And this is not like any other COVID-19 freedoms/rights topic, since the only person who is at risk is the person getting the vaccine.
So, we should no longer accept our leaders using this justification. Everyone should demand to see the data before action is taken. And if we can’t see the data, or the data doesn’t exist yet, we should demand a much better justification than “abundance of caution”.
In the meantime, I’m going with “due to the risk of tax return fraud and identity theft, out of an abundance of caution, I won’t be filing my taxes this year.”
Maybe people wouldn’t be reluctant to get the vaccine if every news story didn’t show people getting jabbed with a needle?
I mean show people at the beach and the movies who got the vaccine. That’s what people want. ↩︎