It is a narrative arc almost as old as storytelling itself. Sensei teaches student everything he knows. Years later, Sensei joins the forces of evil. The former student is called to action. He resists it at first. Nobody wants to fight his erstwhile teacher. But this thing is too important. So, student answers the call and squares up to the Sensei in a great battle. An epic clash ensues. Eventually, student defeats teacher with a final, perfect execution of the ageing master’s own signature move.
My Master’s degree at GIBS (2016-2017) involved many senseis. Economists and finance hotshots, captains of industry and lifetime academics. One commonality was the integrity of the underlying process. Formulate propositions, evaluate them with the strongest evidence you can find, and then craft answers and solutions. Defend those, but test yourself. Hunt for chinks in your model. Be brave enough to concede when you’re wrong.
They taught me well. I’m now in the not-cool position of so many blockbuster and straight-to-television karate kids. I believe my teacher has faltered. That my sensei has followed a bad path. I resisted the call to action for a while. Now I’m answering it. By formulating a proposition, evaluating it with quality data, and defending a conclusion.
The Gordon Institute of Business Science, GIBS, recently announced a vaccine passport regime. They demand one of two things to gain access to the Illovo, Johannesburg campus. First, proof you’ve been vaccinated against Covid. Alternatively, a negative Covid test, repeated weekly, at one’s own cost.
The latter strikes me as a non-option. Cynical, even. Dozens of tests a year is financially unmanageable for many GIBS employees, students and contractors. The logistics alone will get arduous. That said, it is at least logically connected to the goal. If you test negative, you likely don’t have the virus. So, you can’t spread it.
Here I focus on proof of vaccination. Vaccine passports don’t meet that basic standard of a cogent connection to a goal. And they are costly in many ways. Here goes.
Dear GIBS leadership
Having pressed you for answers on your vaccine policy for several months, I’m grudgingly making my questions public.
I contend that demanding proof of vaccination is not only ineffective, but violates human rights. That these policies ought to be scrapped and never revived.
Let me be clear on what I am not opposed to. I have no problem with vaccines. I do contest whether the diversion of vast resources to their production and distribution has been sensible – what has been the opportunity cost? I have no problem with anyone choosing to take any vaccine. Really, I have zero interest in knowing. Just like I have no interest in any other part of anyone’s medical history. It is never on my mind.
I also make no comment on my own vaccination status. Nobody should care, as I’ll demonstrate below.
My opposition is to forced disclosure of vaccination status (with an unacceptable alternative “option”). More pithily, to coercion to take a drug. That only.
I have previously made the argument against vaccine passports as imposed by governments and corporates. Those objections all apply to GIBS. But there’s an additional gorilla when a university does this.
GIBS is inhibiting academic freedom. With the stroke of a pen, they are excluding groups of people who have reached a particular conclusion, regardless of how they got there. This makes mandates in educational institutions especially dangerous. It lights an extra fire in my opposition to mandates. It hits close to home.
One argument is sufficient to exclude vaccine passports from the realm of valid responses to Covid. Here’s the framing:
Part 1: Covid vaccines do not reliably limit spread;
Part 2: If vaccines do not reliably limit the spread of the virus, taking one must be exclusively a personal choice.
Add 1 and 2, and I suggest there is only one legitimate response: Drop all measures that pressurise anyone to take a vaccine.
Part 1: Covid vaccines do not reliably limit spread
Vaccinated or not, we have similar viral loads in the back of the snoot when infected. In an interview regarding the Delta variant, Anthony Fauci says, “when you look at the level of virus in the nasopharynx of people who are vaccinated who get breakthrough infections, it’s quite high and equivalent to the level of virus in the nasopharynx of unvaccinated people who get infected”. He concludes, “So we know now that vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections can spread the virus to other people”.
I’d suggest even “breakthrough infection” is a misleading term in this light. It suggests that vaccinated people who get the virus are outliers.
I’d also not rely on The Fauci. He is imprecise in his wording during interviews. His claims change without any change in the data. So here’s some better evidence.
An American study from 2021 found that “individuals with vaccine breakthrough infections frequently test positive with viral loads consistent with the ability to shed infectious viruses.”
For months, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA, formerly Public Health England) has found a higher case rate among vaccinated than unvaccinated people in England among many age groups. Here is the report for the last couple of weeks in 2021. During this spell, every age group above 18 contracted Covid at a higher rate if vaccinated.
Here is the visual. Note how the ages covering the majority of people who use GIBS are getting Covid at much higher rates if vaccinated.
Here’s the tabulated data from the most recent report. For ages 18 upwards, boosted people are getting the virus at a higher rate than those who have had zero jabs. That is staggering.
This is a large sample, taken from an official government body for public health in the UK, and has been fairly consistent for months on end, only varying at the margins. Here is the full set of historical reports over time.
*For now I’ll ignore the reason for this. Be it behavioural or biological, that is for another time. And fascinating.
Canada too, ey
Canadian data also demonstrates the lack of reliable effectiveness of vaccines at preventing spread. Fully vaccinated people are getting Covid at a higher rate than anyone else. Partially vaccinated people are getting the virus at a higher rate than the unvaccinated.
America’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show that higher vaccination rates by state do not result in lower case rates.
The chart below is constructed from CDC data. Mapping the proportion of population double vaccinated against case rates produces a shotgun scatter. On an eyeball test, a line of best fit might even slant upwards.
Harvard is Mecca for business schools. One study out of those hallowed halls reflects the above. This was across a sample of 68 countries and nearly 2,947 US counties. Higher population vaccination rates do not correspond with lower case rates. In their words, “There also appears to be no significant signalling of COVID-19 cases decreasing with higher percentages of population fully vaccinated”.
Here the trend line does slope upwards. The authors don’t say this is statistically significant. The eyeball test says it might just be. I have just emailed the lead author to ask.
The “smartest guys in the room”
McKinsey and Co. (another revered thing at b-schools) find something similar. This time vaccination rates are on the Y-axis and cases on the X-axis. It doesn’t make much difference to the chart – it still resembles the accuracy of my sniping the last time I played paintball war games.
“Tae think again…”
In Scotland, the nation’s public health body has announced that a higher proportion of fully vaccinated people (two jabs) in age group 40 to 49 are getting Covid than are unvaccinated. That finding also applies comparing those with one jab to those with zero jabs in the age group 30 to 49.
I argue these sources defeat the argument that vaccines can reliably be deemed to limit spread of Covid at all. In fact, they beg the proposition that they increase case rates (however that may work).
GIBS leaders, do you agree on part 1?
Part 2: If vaccines don’t reliably limit spread, taking one must be exclusively a personal choice
To start, the relationship between GIBS and students, staff, and anyone else who wants to visit campus is not one that encompasses any right to advise or enforce any medical treatment. It is not familial. Not doctor-patient. Just contractual. It implies no superiority on either party. It is a willing exchange of money for work.
If vaccines only limit symptoms and likelihood of death (which the Covid ones do briefly), but not spread, it is my risk to take. And yours. Individually.
To reduce it to absurdity, imagine the following. Karen in accounting races motorcycles to skydiving lessons every weekend, smokes a pack a day (Marlboro), eats McDonald’s, volunteers at a TB clinic, tweaks the nose hairs of Hell’s Angels at every opportunity, and tries WWE wrestling moves at home, against the express warnings of Hulk Hogan.
What is your right or obligation to limit this lifestyle? I’d suggest zero.
I’d also suggest you could do more to limit this unlikely accountant’s risk of death and injury by addressing this hair-raising lifestyle than you could do using vaccine mandates to limit Covid risks. You could enforce a healthier diet, ban wrestling moves in Karen’s lounge and suspend her until she quits smoking and loses weight. [In fact, forcing her to lose weight might have a stronger protective impact against Covid than vaccines.] You could force feed her salad. Having crashed a motorcycle in my youth, I guarantee from personal experience that banning that terrible thrill removes a serious chance of getting mangled.
Why don’t you? I submit it is entirely outside of your contractual relationship. Sure, if your adventurous bean counter’s parachute fails to open or a People’s Elbow goes wrong, it may impact you. You’ll miss her exhilarating tales at the water cooler and have to rehire. But that is immaterial to the present issue. These are her choices.
Same goes for Covid. If Karen gets sick, it is a cost to you. A vaccine may well limit the time and degree of illness, and the likelihood of death. But we might be talking a 70% reduction of a likelihood of death in the region of 0.09% in the case of many staff. And only briefly. The vaccines only limit symptoms for a matter of months (see Qatar study below). Most of us feel fluey for two to three days with Omicron. And surviving it gives us fantastic natural immunity (see Israel study below).
The evidence currently cannot support a claim that vaccines limit spread of Covid. Unlike testing, they are therefore a nonsensical thing to mandate for the purpose of limiting spread.
Given that forced vaccination limits (I’d say infringes) rights to bodily integrity, privacy, free movement and more, mandates are impermissible. Bad. Wrong. History will rightly take a dim view of those who impose them.
Do you agree with part 2 and my use of it alongside part 1?
I also wonder, who will be in the room when you have to get rid of a member of staff who refuses to take the vaccine and can’t afford to take a test every week?
My request is that you rescind the vaccine mandate. You’ll reap the rewards of leadership.
In the alternative, I request an explanation of why my argument outlined above does not move you. That is, I invite your hypothesis, evaluation of evidence, and considered conclusion. Like you taught me to do.
As for me, I can mostly carry out my contractual obligations remotely. “Mostly” is not enough. Part of my challenge is for staff who don’t want the vaccine, but may not be in a position to oppose the mandate. They deserve answers, too.
GIBS MBA (2017), GIBS independent contractor, concerned member of the school’s wider community, and accidental activist.
For reference and completeness, here are links to each of my pieces challenging mandates at a corporate level: I, Fool – but not a Fauci, Grave assertions demand grave justifications – an open letter to Ivo Vegter, Mr. Ramaphosa, let’s tear down this lockdown, Flawed Fiat Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.