Vaccinating healthy people for a disease in which the risk of serious illness for them is very small and which has not yet undergone long-term clinical analysis is, in my opinion, fundamentally different from vaccinations from the National Programme and travel vaccinations that have had proven results and known side effects for years. Therefore, during the summer holidays, I immersed myself in the academic literature (on both COVID-19 and the vaccines) that I could find in our library databases and also kept up to date with new insights.
My decision not to vaccinate is a thorough risk analysis of the risk to someone of my age, my health, and my vitality of ending up in an ICU, the possibility of negative long-term effects of the vaccine on the overall immune system, and the social risk to someone else.
My provisional conclusion is that, based on current scientific knowledge and virus variants, I would rather get natural immunity than get the vaccine. And that I pose no more risk to others than vaccinated people do, as long as I take care to do preventive self-tests, am careful when socialising with people in poorer health and get tested at the GGD in case of health problems.
I try not to blame anyone for anything. Except the kind of people who shoot at GPs' front doors; try to start fires; accuse him of genocide in letters; people who permanently threaten others like Hugo de Jonge and Marion Koopmans. Fortunately, I do not know these people, but I do know people who, by weighing things up with integrity, have come to different conclusions than I have. I add you to that list and feel extra strengthened and motivated to counter the threat of generalisation.
We all find ourselves in the same boat, and we must indeed work together to make sure that the storm at sea dies down and that we can get out of the boat safely and get back on track. That is a complicated process, and no one knows exactly what will provide the solution. That is what we have learned from recent times. As Chairman of the Executive Board, I do think that vaccination can be an important part of working towards a solution. This is not a private view, but I follow the prevailing view of science, with its current values of validity and reliability. But the issue is more complex than whether or not we are in favour of vaccination. In the Netherlands we have constitutional protection against forced vaccination. That, to me, is a given.
But there is even more to it than that. There is also such a thing as the right to education and it is my job to shape that education as well as possible. In another context, I have sometimes called this right to education 'constitutional'. We have arrived at a situation where values are conflicting: one person's right conflicts with another's right. One person's freedom restricts another's freedom. Freedom of choice comes with consequences. In your letter I read of a responsible choice not to vaccinate because you are aware of those conflicts in values thus you take the responsibility to protect yourself and your fellow man in a different way: keeping your distance, for example. Bravo! But that is not the social reality across the board. By claiming a fundamental right - however justified - people cannot claim to have the same rights or degrees of freedom. If we were to claim that, then schools would soon be closed. And we would be violating that other fundamental right, with all its consequences.
It is simple really. A higher number of vaccinated people, with a diminishing effect on the rate of infections, makes it easier for us to keep our doors open to people who study and work in our buildings. If the rate of infection rises even further, there is a good chance that we must soon keep a distance of 1.5 metres within our buildings. This means that we will have less space and will only be able to stay open for practical education and one-to-one consultations, for example. This would mean that a certain cohort of students would soon have to establish that they have had online lessons for the most part. Vaccinating can help prevent that from happening. So can inviting people to do so. By the way, something like compulsory testing might also help, something that I think we too easily place in the same principled sphere as vaccination.
Your letter helps. Your letter helps me. Your letter helps in realising that inclusiveness is a value that we must do justice to even in difficult, tense circumstances. The courage you show in writing this letter, the reasonableness of your argument, are additional reasons for us to be alert that an institution that wants to be there for everyone must also be there for people who have good reasons not to be vaccinated. I cannot guarantee that Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences will never be forced to ask for proof of vaccination or proof of testing. I was the one who insisted that we think carefully about that. Please know that in doing so, I am also insisting on thinking about what this means for people who have valid reasons for not wanting the above: they too have a right to education, they too have a right to be treated with respect, they too have an equal right to be part of the village that is Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.
I would like to invite you to continue the dialogue with me. We can then also discuss how we can talk about this topic with more staff and students.