Debating about vaccinating

The news reaches us that a vaccine is developed. Li is worried that this will not be effective – it is too soon, she says, even if they have a sealed laboratory of a thousand experts working since the first confirmed case, it is a miracle if they can develop an effective vaccine in this time. It is not yet tested. We have a communication from WHO asking if we will volunteer to try the vaccine. We are a perfect control group – we are mostly young, the group with highest risk, and we have a successful quarantine so they know we do not have the virus already. But to test it, we will need to be exposed to the virus, and if it fails, then we will need to begin quarantine again and lose more people.
There is also another danger. If we have the vaccine, the remaining government will say there is now no need for us to keep out the army, and we must give up the occupation, lose all our hard work and have the same emergency rules as the rest of Beijing. Still, the idea of a vaccine makes us want to hope that it will work, that the Blood Flu will finally be over. If this is true, the army will not need to stay in the campus for long. They will be rebuilding, not keeping control. This is what our Party members say.
In the meeting today, I do not sit with Li and the committee on the platform as usual, but with Jian and some other first year students. At first they do not talk much to me, but I tell them I do not know how I will vote on the vaccine, and they begin to discuss what they believe. They mostly do not believe a vaccine can work yet, but some feel a duty to try it. We watch the two factions, the Party and the Quarantine Movement, each waiting for the other to make a proposal so they can oppose it. I can see that Zhen fears to call for a vote, because the party will say he is too weak to decide himself. He thinks he must make a decision and defend it, though he believes in us voting for ourselves, and I know he will give in because he is tired, very tired from not sleeping and from carrying the weight of all our hopes, and being called weak by any whose hopes he cannot carry. We debate and debate and know our decision will be irrelevant, he will decide. Why do Jian and I sit here and listen? We could go away and enjoy our time together. We have worked so hard.
The vaccine is already given to the army – but they take the anti-virals, so nobody knows if they already have the virus or if the vaccine will work for them. I believe we should wait, find out if the army have a bad effect from the vaccine before we break a safe quarantine, and I put up my hand to say so. Li tries to call me to speak, but there are too many hands, and a party member behind me answers when Li points to me. She speaks for more than five minutes, repeating many things to keep the floor, uses the applause of the Party to silence a challenge, speaking loudly so that nobody can interrupt, and by the time she allows a challenge I cannot remember what I want to say and everybody is cheering because we are heroes of the quarantine and we will have the new vaccine.
After the meeting, I ask Jian and his friends to come with me to the Democracy Building to speak with Zhen and Li and the rest of the committee, but they want to go to the lake. They ask me to go with them, and I want to. The meeting rooms are hot with people, and make my eyes close; I wish I can sit by the lake in the sun with them and talk about music and art and ourselves, and not go to talk more about a bad decision that is already made and how to make sure we do not look bad to the Quarantine Movement because Zhen gave in to the Party again. But I must go and support Li as she explains, again, why this is so dangerous, why this vaccine will not work.
After the meeting, the Committee decides we will ask for volunteers for a group of 200 to have the vaccine. They will stay in a separated area near the entrance to campus for two weeks, go outside the campus every day, and see if they have the virus. Li asks what if nobody will volunteer, they say they will find volunteers easily. She asks if any of them will volunteer. Nobody from the committee raises their hand, not the party who pushed for this, not Zhen who made the final decision. I stand up and I tell them it is wrong to ask other students to take risks we will not take ourselves, that if nobody from the committee wants to volunteer, we should refuse to test the vaccine in the campus. The party members then begin to shout, say I try to turn over a decision made in a general assembly, I do not understand how the process works, I am just an assistant, not a party member or elected to the committee, I should not be in this meeting. So I leave. I don’t know if I will go back.


12 thoughts on “Debating about vaccinating

  1. Oh god, it’s all too familiar, though the stakes weren’t quite so high when I was involved in student politics. When the politics of resistance becomes the politics of “the movement”, it’s about to all fall apart. You’re wise to get out while you can, Mei.

      • Of course it isn’t. Any movement that can’t stand up for the lack of one individual isn’t worth saving. Isn’t that why you haven’t put yourself forward for elections?

        • I don’t know. I want to believe you are right, because this means I am free to do as I want. But this is the wrong reason to believe it.

          • It’s the perfect reason. What’s the point in any of this if you can’t ever do what you want? My advice: go sit with your new mates by the lake, and screw the Party and the Quarantine Movement.

            • I don’t know. I mean, I always said you should’ve got out months ago, and I guess this shows I was right, but since you’re stuck there, you may as well stick with it and do what you stayed to do. Or what’s the point in any of it?

              • I probably will go back, even if it is just for Li. But I will take a break from the meetings, and spend time with my new friends.

  2. Huh, I wonder what they do really have with this vaccine. A wish and a prayer, maybe. And yes, my first thoughts are it doesn’t seem right to test it on people who are not at immediate risk of infection.

    • The trouble is, if you test it on people who are already at risk of infection, how do you know whether they were infected before they were inoculated? I’m sure those at risk will be clamouring to try it, but given the variability of the incubation period, putting people at risk who weren’t before is the only way to find out for certain whether or not it actually works.

      • Human experimentation? Mei, I think the point you made probably made an impact, even though you were shouted down. If individuals want to volunteer, that’s one thing. Hey, I even might. But I’d have trouble advising someone else to.

        Nevertheless, I sure hope the vaccine does really work. It’s from the WHO? that actually does sound legitimate. Maybe they were able to build on previous work from other flu vaccines? but this isn’t really like other flus, is it?

        • I think the decision to test this vaccine is as much from wanting to save reputation and keep control as it is about hope. To WHO and the government, our quarantine is a useful example, but also a danger. Many people watch us. If we turn against the party here, the whole country may follow, perhaps the whole world will say there is no way to go back to how it was and we should begin a new way to live.
          I think to test the vaccine now is about more than just the danger to us, it is using us to tell everybody the old world is still there, we may still go back. And this means we stop going forward. Really, I do not know what I should do next.

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