Jab Your Ethics

I am a fully vaccinated pragmatic anarchist agroecologist and I want to explain how I got here to help those who, like me, have a healthy skepticism for authority and a strong ethic of care and responsibility for others, as you make important decisions around vaccination against COVID-19.

I had my first baby in 1999, and like many new mothers, I struggled with the often conflicting array of information around everything from co-sleeping and breastfeeding to whether and when to vaccinate. The internet was still pretty new, but there was already a lot of information available in a horizontal peer-to-peer manner unheard of until the World Wide Web democratized information sharing. For a curious well-educated Earth mama type, the internet seemed like a gold mine of ‘alternative’ information that suited my anti-establishment ways, but also fed my confirmation bias when I let my guard down.

In my pre-natal research, I learned the importance of vaccination for public health—that we protect everyone, but especially our most vulnerable, by creating herd immunity with vaccines. I also started reading about adverse vaccine reactions, and as I grew Oscar inside my very own body I struggled with what seemed like an unacceptable trade off to protect public health—other people that is—by knowingly injecting something into my healthy baby that carries a small but frightening risk of injuring or even killing him. I read scientific papers and natural parenting websites, hung out in online chat rooms, and talked with all the mothers I knew about what felt like the most overwhelming and important first decision as a parent.

The vaccination schedule called for the first shot to be given for Hepatitis B before we would even leave the birthing centre, a disease primarily transmitted through unprotected sex or sharing needles. At two months, another raft of vaccines were on the schedule for DTP (diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis/whooping cough), polio, and Hib. At four months, three more jabs. At six, three more. At 12 months, the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and a Hib booster. At 18 months, two more shots. By the time Oscar was 18 months old, he would have had 14 separate injections to vaccinate him against eight diseases. To a new mother, that can sound pretty alarming.

The situation was made worse because in 1998 a report was released by Wakefield, et al claiming that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. I went well down the rabbit hole reading everything I could to find out how serious this risk would be for my baby. A disproportionate amount of self-selected material from the natural parenting genre told me vaccines are dangerous. The scientific literature mostly said they carry very low risk of adverse reactions, but the risk exists. Scientific reports also demonstrate repeatedly that vaccines save thousands of lives every year, and that when vaccination rates go down due to the spread of scary misinformation, illness and death rates go up.

The Wakefield report was found to be fraudulent in 2010 (stripping Wakefield himself of his license to practice). In spite of its fraudulent influence on my and thousands of others’ thinking, I managed to read enough diverse and credible sources on vaccination to come to the decision to vaccinate our children, albeit at a slightly delayed and more spread out schedule. This was informed by the privileged fact that I stayed at home with our children in their first years, and they were not put into child care or any other crowded environment where illness spreads readily. The vaccination schedule is written to ensure all children have access to vaccines to account for a diversity of living situations, including child care attendance or a low-income parent’s capacity to readily access maternal and child health services in the early years.

It is also designed to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities—First Nations Peoples, immuno-compromised, pregnant women and babies, the elderly, and low-income communities who disproportionately suffer from underlying health conditions—are protected by broad herd immunity achieved by vaccinating those of us able to be vaccinated.

My decision to vaccinate our children was both well and poorly informed by the ‘research’ I did. My research was really just a survey of the literature—the scientists had conducted the medical research and reported their findings. Anti or pro-vaccination literature written by people without scientific training is rhetorical at best, fraudulent at worst. Even this piece I’m writing for you now is not trying to make a scientific argument, I’m sharing my story to offer the moral, emotional, and pragmatic steps I took to decide to vaccinate that led me to my second Pfizer jab today to protect myself and others in and beyond our community against COVID-19.

Back in 1999, as I weighed up the risks to my first baby against the risks to many more people in an unvaccinated population, I came down on the side of the public good. I rejected the individualist concern that would put my or my baby’s interests ahead of the collective. I did that for everyone, but especially for the vulnerable, because I also knew that although my children were privileged to have a healthy stay-at-home mother obsessed with organic produce and cooking three times a day, that is not many other peoples’ reality.

Kombu-merri woman and philosopher Mary Graham talks about the difference between the survivalist ethic of settler society and the relational ethic of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. While I think the survivalist ethic is fairly self-explanatory, the relational ethic embraces complex kinships with other humans and also the non-human world, beginning with the Land from which we all come. A custodial ethic is born of this complex understanding of relationality—how we are all related to everything—and it leaves no room to look after oneself at the expense of others. The collective of human and non-human actors and Land is more important than individual concerns.

The burden of colonial disease started with smallpox and currently manifests as COVID and a plethora of non-communicable diseases preventable by ensuring access to secure and safe housing, nutritious and culturally-appropriate food, right livelihoods, and no history of inter-generational trauma. Colonisers brought the smallpox and in some cases intentionally spread it to eradicate Indigenous Peoples here in Australia and other colonized countries—genocide via disease transmission amongst other violent means.

Voluntary refusal to vaccinate is to my mind a continuation of the colonial legacy of lack of care for the First Peoples of this Land. It signals a level of privilege that you have a choice whether to protect yourself from the dangers of COVID by staying safe at home or otherwise in low-risk environments, unlike the essential workers in health care, meat processing facilities, and supermarkets.

Here at Jonai Farms, we’re in a very safe and secure environment with limited exposure to areas likely to host infection, and we are all double vaccinated. Our values and decision making that prioritise justice, equity, and health for all made the choice to vaccinate inevitable. We talked about our early nervousness about a new vaccine for a novel coronavirus and accepted that it was a normal emotional response to a global pandemic, and that we should all be vaccinated.

For some people, mistrust of authority is a driving motivation against vaccination. I have spent a lifetime fighting against government overreach, and engaging in ‘anarchist calisthenics’—I cross the road against the light when there is no traffic in long sight, and I may choose to ignore rules when there is no material impact potentially inflicted on others. I have devoted my life to lobbying governments at all levels from local to global to bring about reforms so that everyone can live in an ecologically-sound and socially-just world.

At the same time, I conform with laws that protect the public good such as speed limits and preventing foodborne illnesses by following a stringent food safety regime in our on-farm butcher’s shop. We do things the government tells us to all the time, but the government shouldn’t even have to tell us to protect our fellow travelers on this earth with the tried and true practice of getting vaccinated against deadly diseases if you can.

And while I’m not here to dump data on this discussion, the rates of illness and death amongst the unvaccinated as compared with the vaccinated speak for themselves. The risk of adverse reactions to the vaccines are far lower than the risk of contracting COVID or suffering serious complications, and to suggest otherwise is wilfully misleading in the face of the overwhelming global evidence since March 2020. If the risk to you personally is low, think about your grandparents, and think about Aboriginal People in remote communities. Think about the man having a heart attack or the child who was in a car accident on their way to a hospital overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID patients. Nobody is expendable.

I am a fully vaccinated pragmatic anarchist agroecologist, and I hope this helps more people to get over fears or mistrust of authority, and to put others in and beyond your community first.

Published by

Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community…

4 thoughts on “Jab Your Ethics”

  1. Thanks for sharing that thoughtful account of your decision making. I had my first child around the same time as you, but in the Northern Rivers, many of my friends had decided not to vaccinate. There was a limit to how much we could discuss it and I remember parents pulling their children out of the pool one day when Luca arrived with a small bandaid on his arm. An aspect of my own privilege was a long term relationship with a doctor, something I think many people don’t have. Certainly Luca now can’t just go and talk to *his* GP – like a lot of young people he doesn’t have ‘one’. Like you, he made the decision to vaccinate for community reasons, but I wonder about the assumptions sometimes about trusted relationships with doctors and the impact of our distrust of big pharma that’s fed into rejecting vaccination. Whatever the underlying causes though, putting others in and beyond your community first is a primary concern.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful essay from a fellow fully vaccinated but wanna-be pragmatic anarchist.

  3. Hi Tammi,
    I haven’t been to your site since I first read your Jab Your Ethics piece last year. I was so relieved to read your wise words that matched my own intuition so deeply. I came back here today to see whether you had written an update, now that we all can see clearly how we have been lied to. I would love to hear your thoughts now that the truth is out there.

    My awakenings include: not being able to see my mother for the weeks before she died – or even on the day the doctors told us she was going to die – why couldn’t I see her on the day we knew she would die?? My wife and I are vaxxed and boosted and have had covid twice. My last bout saw me in ICU twice. Now I understand the term ‘negative efficacy’ in terms of vaccines. My two oldest sons got myocarditis from their first shots and were told they had to get the second as strictly no exemptions were possible. They are both in their mid twenties and injured for life. Their cardiologist suggested they need to take medication for their depression (as their lives are ruined), and would they like a booster shot now they are at the clinic?? My daughter lost her baby at 26 weeks and was told by the hospital staff that they have never seen so many stillborns and miscarriages in all their careers combined since the vax mandates started but they are unable to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Everyone I know who has been injected has had covid at least once. The unvaxxed are not taking up hospital beds. They were right not to trust big pharma. I am ashamed of how I have excluded my unvaxxed friends and family. I am working on healing these relationships. I will be following their lead and not be getting another shot. And now I see the relationship between bodily sovereignty and food sovereignty more clearly than ever.
    Yours respectfully,
    Declan Oliver

  4. Hello Tammy,

    I introduce myself as Charles Davison, a proud Gadigal man. I’m an almost sixty seven year old father, grandfather, partner, brother, and uncle. I acknowledge that I have lived on many Aboriginal lands and today communicate from the lands of the Darkinjung. I honour my ancestors, the relational entities of today and those of tomorrow.

    I share my cultural location and connection so that “belongings” can be made and relationships commenced.

    To my knowledge we have not met, but from your written introduction I’m informed that you write from the lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung, you acknowledge that you farm on unceded land, and that you listen and learn from those lands, the Djaara, and other First Peoples to enact custodial ethic in all that you do on those unceded lands.

    I make assumption that your observance of protocol is inclusive of a public declaration of your non-Aboriginality and indication of understanding that the basis for connection is respect for Aboriginal Sovereignty on all unceded lands.

    I am informed that you are the current President of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) that advocates “we aim to put First Peoples knowledge first in best practice of healing Country and sustaining life” Further; I note that the AFSA has devised a “First Peoples Strategy” that acknowledges that Aboriginal People (that is myself and family) occupy a unique position as the First Peoples of the land”, agents of the land, caretakers and custodians of Country for millennium.

    I note the AFSA’s stance on “Custodial Ethic”. I acknowledge in agreement the significance of the reciprocal relationship with nature, an ethic of looking after, caring for – the obligation to look after land, and that people were and continue to be nurtured and sustained by the land.

    Further; “Articulated Colonialism” and its impact upon Country dictates the need to heal. Healing is a reciprocity concept. In consideration of the defined priority of the AFSA to “listen to First Peoples at every opportunity for guidance on our way” I thought it pertinent to offer to you for deep listening, not implied response my story of “Jab The Ethics”.

    I am Gadigal. I am from the Land, Mother has given me agency to enact my culture. I sit with the brutality of dispossession through settler colonialism; a structure, not an actual event or set there of. The impact of invasion and colonisation on me and my people forms the continuum, as these lands remain unceded.

    I was born on the lands of my people, my mother segregated from others experiencing the same beauty and joy of birth. I was deemed “unworthy” of the modern medical advancement of the mid 1950’s, for which I give thanks and gratitude; allowing my cultural traditions to remain out of the shadows of the colonistic lense and imposed dictatorship ways of being.

    I remain “fully unvaccinated” by the “colonial vaccination scheduling” which was not written to accommodate any cultural implication of my diverse living conditions as a child. I note that my childhood was spent living under the stars of the Land, in shacks, tents, decommissioned interment camps and public housing.

    Contrary to sterotyping I never thought of myself as “vunerable”, even though I was orphaned before my twelfth birthday. I was a “lucky fulla” of the Land. I was not alone. I had been bequithed my culture and its traditions.

    Each day bought resilience, that which had sustained my ancestors for millennium. Survival came easily. I had all that was required; as I had my relational “Connection to Country” and extended kin. Adherence to the traditions and cultural practices gave protection, I lived in reciprocity, the Land and I were interdependent.

    Land as the source of my lores allowed extension of my relationships. The intrinsic relational nature of my human existence, obligations, and systemic connection and care beyond myself ensured no sovereign authority over any other.

    As a twelve year old I lived day to day. I sold early morning papers to people of greater privilege than myself as they commuted along the streets of Botany, Redfern, Darlington, and Waterloo. I put myself into school, although initially turned away as I required “a guardian” for enrolment purposes. I had no “home” of four walls, roof, or running water.

    Learning the craft of boxing at the local PCYC enabled the “homeless” boy that I was a daily shower before setting off to Harold Park Paceway to run bets for the punters and a free feed of leftovers from the observant yet unquestioning food truck women. Sleep, not a bed was taken after eleven and I was up again before the sunrise to do it all again.

    Many an experience and job was held after early school leaving, until I found a “permanent vocation as a public servant”. For the next forty four years it is the view of most that I was heavily sought for my connection to my culture, people, and ways. I was renowned for my ability to facilitate people, to bring those of diverse background into space where the advancement of Aboriginal People was desperately necessary to amend many an unjust outcome of educational, health, housing, justice, and other disparity.

    Sixteen years ago I was appointed State Manager, for the Ministry of Health, NSW Health, Aboriginal Health Workforce. I note I was appointed in great part for my knowledge, wisdom and practice of culture and tradition. I was by recognition an Elder. Eldership, wisdom and a practised cultured man of my traditions I remained “un-vaccinated by colonial definition”.

    I held repute for learning by doing, my ethical expectations were at the forefront, looking after our people in the health sector, patients and workforce was in relationship with healing the Land and its people. Principled habit, practice, and accountability was under custodianship and gaining momentum, significance, and recognition.

    Outside of “work” my partner and I had extended our beautiful family, all of our children being born into the welcoming arms of Country; at home surrounded by those that would journey with them into our traditions and cultural practices.

    In our way we had availed ourselves and our children of Country’s strength to protect, nurture, and grow its own. Our traditions and adherence to practised ways of being and doing were given right of passage to grow self and in relationship with others. We all grew into caring for Country and all that she gives, reciprocity of care and life giving.

    Similar to many stories; a moment of complete unexpectedness prevailed. After more than sixty five years of living in relationship with my lores and traditions I was “mandated” by a very present, colonialism power.

    The spear of this colonialism power came from behind without warning, void of any narrative or discourse that acknowledged and respected the continuum of my traditions, culture or lore. In a moment, not a long one, but a small flint of time I was “ordered” to have administered by due date a foreign substance into my veins, where only thousands of years of ancestral blood had ran, to ensure I could “continue to work for the colonialist agency”.

    To compound this imposed cultural violation I was ordered to “enhance ways” – by coercion, to ensure that others of culture, traditions, and ways of being actually performed the role of the oppressor, becoming the administrative agent of the mandated foreign substance into the veins of their own on the pretence of “protecting the mob”.

    Many cultured, traditionally practising people were left like beached whales, grasping for air, that air denied from a source that had proclaimed just the day before “that the law of the Land, the relationship with land and Aboriginal People we recognise as relational”.

    You write that “Voluntary refusal to vaccinate is to my mind a continuation of the colonial legacy of lack of care for the First Peoples of this Land”. Although I am grasping for air, the Land gives me strength and resilience to speak to this. I respond to this by motioning; give listening the opportunity to be heard, seek to listen deeply and put those voices of wisdom, culture and tradition at the forefront of Healing Country. We are the First Peoples of this Land, its agents, caretakers and custodians of Country. We are not the problem, but the solution as we seek to discontinue colonial legacies and respectfully ask that all listen deeply to follow pathways to decolonisation.

    A year after the imposed order I remain untouched by the foreign substance that I refuse. I am unheard and my cultured lore and traditions continue to be dismissed. I’ve recently separated from the colonial agent that devalued me for my cultured lore and tradition, being deemed “unable to continue to work” because I place such cultured lore and traditions at the forefront of my relational place with Country.

    One might say that I am unwilling to be colonised. I remain a Gadigal man. I have my integrity to Country, my lore, culture and traditions. I have my health and well-being but mourn the exponential growth of “sudden and unexpected death” in our communities. My people are again “vanishing in silence” at the hands that continue to practice devastation and dispossession.

    The continuation to operate within colonialist paradigms and thus the perpetuation of colonial powers gives rise to the denial of Aboriginal or First Peoples rights and severs the simplicity of what has been in place since the beginning; looking after the Land ensures that the Land looks after all, that is the way.

    Charles, Jen, and Family

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