Though I’m vaccinated, I freely admit to vaccine hesitance. I’m not very interested in the conflicting Covid vaccine theories. But I am concerned about the trafficking of primates, mice, and other nonhuman animals to be used in vaccine testing.
Seems we’re using dogs to detect Covid now, too. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Durham University worked with a business called Medical Detection Dogs to learn whether dogs can sniff out Covid-19 infections. According to media sources, the preliminary results of “using dogs as a tool” for diagnosis are encouraging. Labrador, Golden Retriever and Cocker Spaniel breeds have been selected to detect Covid and might be used to dissuade infected people from going into in high-traffic spaces.
Unless new vaccines are approved and marketed for dogs, the virus endangers the sniffing dogs, too.
Remember what Tom Regan said? Other animals are not our tasters; we are not their kings.
We use dogs to perform a lot of work; I object to all of it. So the dog issue isn’t really a vaccine-specific thing. But canine Covid-sniffing is an example of exploitation of animals to address a disease we got from… exploiting animals. Our interference with other animals created the virus. This is so, whether Covid developed in lab bats, bat soup, or animals confined at food markets.
Do we really think vaccines will free us from the infections that perennially plague us? I’m not saying the vaccine doesn’t work; it does. But it only deals with one group of viruses: Covid-19 and some variants. There will be others.
Infections change with the climate. Zoonotic diseases arise as we invade and exploit untamed areas of the Earth. Knowing the habits of human apes, the next catastrophe awaits us any day now. Fights over where the virus emerged or who is using it for political gain are not as important as the root cause: our incessant refusal to live as respectful Homo sapiens within an interconnected biological community.
Let me be clear. We need to stop invading nature. We need to let the oceans and forests be. We need to end the “habituation” of nonhuman animals to attract eco-tourists. We need to stop nosing into the lives and spaces of other living communities. We as vegans need to be communicating from this principle.
I had a two-way conversation with my doctor about vaccination ethics.
I explained that I oppose animal experimentation; this is part of my vegan ethic. The doctor pointed out that vaccination, as a public health matter, cannot be understood as strictly individual. Vaccinated people can protect others who might be more vulnerable to the worst ravages of the illness.
The decision, for me, was hard. I told the doctor that as vegans we must abstain from animal use as far as possible and practicable. This public health crisis would be one of the rare instances when I’d need to accept my failure to apply the principle.
I felt a little better because my first jab was a leftover dose. (A nurse who had extra vaccines at the end of a Saturday came out of a medical building and pulled me off a running trail.) But I’d have taken the vaccine ultimately, in any case.
I carried out a duty to other human beings. On another level I ignored the mice and monkeys. Knowingly, I acted for self-protection and the protection of my tribe. After my second jab, I felt relieved and disoriented. Lucky and privileged. Ambivalent. I was glad my friends and I could be safe. A part of me was lonelier than usual.
My conviction is high that pharmaceutical interventions would be less central to our lives if we’d just let other animals be.
Given the way we act now, I suppose we’ll keep needing vaccines until diseases learn to beat us. And one day they might, if our unhinged climate doesn’t beat us first. And to be deep-down honest maybe they ought to, because we can’t seem to get our act together and treat our Earth and its living beings with r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
I’ll keep striving, asking: Can we ever transcend our sense of human superiority and entitlement? Do we want to learn how?
Because lasting resilience in the face of health and environmental crises must involve asking deep questions, ethical questions among them, about why these crises emerge.
Love and liberation,
Photo by Corinne Sleeking on Unsplash. This piece is dedicated to Chris Kelly, Lois Baum and Deb Thompson.