Pretty Vaccined! Trust, Dignity and Revolutionary Medicine

You know what’s great about Capitalism? Choices! Lot’s of fucking choices. As the workers of the west are mostly dependent on wage slavery, this international workers day is dedicated to our most powerful illusion – choice. Everyday I am faced with an avalanche of choices and I don’t even have a wage.

Do I take the risk of infecting myself, do I take the risk of infecting others? Am I going to live or am I going to die? Should I get healthy or should I earn money? As capitalist society restructures itself towards testing, prioritisation and vaccination for economic concerns, I ask myself what choices I have.

Tickets please!” A passenger says as she gets out of her seat, pulling a large ticket machine from out of her jacket like a gun. Everyone immediately panics, some fumbling for their ticket, others pretending and waiting for the inevitable. But not me. I was on a dangerous assignment and had taken all the necessary precautions.

A worker had given me his ticket to use and I flashed this to the undercover controller with eyes of hate. Not this time, kotzescheisse. I was on the way to a free government hand out and was in no mood to pay for my transportation. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, they say but they forget that dogs cannot explain their position.

I am illegally here, that is, not officially registered in the housing-healthcare-wage system that forms the conditionality of staying in Germany longer than three months. This sadistic system allows basically anyone past the borders and then ruthlessly cuts them from support while they are inside the country, the secret to Germany’s reputation for efficiency.

It is 2021 and Covid19 has spread across the populations of the world for over a year, as a corrupt and inept political elite fail at taking preventative strategies in protecting its citizens, opting instead for reactionary measures to protect their economies.

We are saved by the Pharmaceutical Industry; a network of multinational corporations that dominate the production of drugs. You see? Choices!

How would you like to be saved? Maybe through ribonucleic acid vaccines such as the Pfizer-BioNtech Comirnaty, developed in the United States and Germany. Or are you more of a adenovirus vector vaccine kind of person, such as Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield, developed in the United Kingdom and Sweden.

Fortunately, no-one gets to choose. I would be getting the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine distributed by the Bundeswehr (Federal Defence), outside of a homeless shelter close to the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin.

Sure there are safety concerns, a few women died of blood clotting. But you see, I trust the corporation of Johnson & Johnson. They have embarked on the biblical task of saving the human race from Covid19. Are they the right multinational for the job? Trust is deeply embedded in experience.

In a cover-up dating back to the 1970s, it was revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew that asbestos in its baby powder could cause ovarian cancer and yet the product was only pulled from the market in 2020, following a lawsuit from over 11,000 women. By market I mean the United States and Canada, it is still on sale everywhere else.

A vaginal mesh implant was also pulled, following a cover-up, because women “suffered irreparable, debilitating pain after the devices began to erode into surrounding tissue and organs, causing infections and complications,” in the words of their testimony to a court.

So, not a great record unless you are Doctor Strangelove. None of these companies have a clean record because their priority is profit, and yet they supply us with one of the foundations of our modern civilisation – medicine. How can we trust self-serving organisations with the task of the survival of the human race?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not just asking questions about the concept of vaccination. The priority of saving as many lives as possible is constantly delayed and interrupted by the priorities of the economy. In other words, the efficiency of the production of the vaccine is not necessarily in the interest of healthcare.

Pfizer, the competition, was caught using aggressive tactics such as “bullying” to the extent of blackmail in Latin America to push its brand of the vaccine, leading to a break down of negotiations in Argentina and Brazil, two heavily affected areas of the Covid19 pandemic.

How many lives are lost because of decisions such as these?

Self-interest is the difference between charity and mutual aid. Nobody wants a government ‘handout’, nobody wants to go through the process of conditionality to prove their right to exist. We are compelled to by one of the greatest bondages of capitalism, that of need.

Here we stand, in the line for the vaccine. We want to be saved but we know the cards are stacked against us. We are aware of our systematic mortality and we wait for redemption.

We sign the forms, we sign away our rights. We are aware of the risks, we accept our fate. I look around, eyes peer out over masks at each other, trying not to catch each other’s eyes. We move forward slowly.

Next to me, a homeless man sings under his breath…

“…Then tomorrow was another day… the morning found me miles away… with still a million things to say… now twilight dims the sky above”

Next! The German soldier barks at me. I walk towards him, my papers in my hand. Another soldier takes my passport and walks off, as my papers are thrown back at me and the solder points at a section I had forgotten to put my signature. His boots click on the floor.

In the line there were people of different nationalities. I heard Polish, German, Brazilian, Spanish… what united us was our lack of papers and the circumstances we had found ourselves in during the pandemic. For those from Afghanistan, Yemen, Mali or Syria, possibly in refugee status, there presented a problem in vaccination.

Fatama Musa speaks in solidarity for Syrian refugees on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, 2015.

To get to the vaccine, they had to pass through this German army border control. The Bundeswehr were currently stationed and militarily active in these countries and despite fulfilling a civilian duty back at home, they were still dressed in combat fatigues. Was the vaccine for the communal good or the public relations of the army? Shown visibly to be doing anything but killing people.

Maybe they were in full uniform because the atmosphere was similar to the film Soylent Green. What would happen when they run out of Johnson & Johnson?

I walk to my booth and see the doctor. “Sit down,” she tells me and prepares the injection.

I could hear my homeless friend singing softly in the next booth. As I roll up my sleeve and wait, she sits across from me and looks at my clothes. “What is your profession,” she asks me.

“We stood beneath the amber moon… and softly murmured ‘someday soon’…” the singing echoes in the clinic.

“Journalist” I reply. “How do you live?” She asks.

“I don’t,” I tell her, “I survive.”

“Where do you live!?” she repeats in frustration. “I don’t,” I say and she pushes the needle in.

With dignity comes respect. Dignity is not begging for assistance, it is not being reduced or judged by your circumstances or health. Charity can be as self-serving as a corporation and mirrors the power dynamics of philanthropy; capitalism’s attempt to create the concept of association in an economic philosophy that is built on inequality.

Medicine needs a revolution if we are to survive. We have a choice. Mutual aid or charity? Free Association or Competition? Survival or Greed? We have a choice because others do not. There is a terrible apartheid across the world based on the circumstances of health and wealth.

In the west, if our revolutionary politics asserts the right to say no, it follows the choice must be available to all. Anarchism’s greatest challenge is in healthcare because it is an international struggle for the dignity to survive. Preventative solutions are the praxis of healthcare, not reactionary ones, but it is powerful reactionaries that lead our societies.

From the cover-up by the Chinese government of concerns made by doctors about an infectious disease, to the combined de-funding and privatisation of healthcare systems in the United Kingdom – we are struggling against a condition shared; The condition of survival.

My argument is not against the vaccine as it now runs in my veins. It is against power. The most symbolic act Johnson & Johnson have done in their disregard for the ethics of “saving lives” was suing the American Red Cross for its use of the red cross.

The internationally recognised symbol of the humanitarian organisation is actually a U.S. trademark by Johnson & Johnson for selling plasters in 1905. The Red Cross has used the symbol for longer but they didn’t trademark it, considering the symbol is within the name.

The Red Cross had begun humanitarian efforts after flooding in the United States decades before Johnson & Johnson started selling baby powder. The only power the organisation has is an acquisition, it bought an 18% stake in the Dutch biotech firm Crucell following the economic crash in 2009, to collaborate on the development of a flu vaccine.

After the discovery of CR6261, a monoclonal antibody linked to the 1918 Influenza virus, Johnson & Johnson took over the entire company in 2012. They claim their Covid vaccine is ‘not for profit’ and receive billions in government funding for contracts.

Only time will tell how charitable the corporation will be in vaccinating those countries without billions. When choosing reactionary measures we become trapped in a loop.

The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, recently announced that she opposes waving the patenting of the vaccine as proposed by the World Trade Organisation.

Germany’s opposition to the sharing of vaccine technology could derail the already fragile token community suggestion made by an infamously secretive and non-democratic organisation and ultimately will lead to more unnecessary deaths in countries such as India and Brazil that are experiencing record numbers of fatalities.

This is not new, we had this conversation exactly 8 years ago, in reaction to the Ncov (Novel Coronavirus) outbreak. The Saudi deputy health minister raised concerns that Intellectual Property and ill-defined rules on sharing information was actively preventing vital diagnostics, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Breaking the cycle means coming up with preventative strategies, a truly international revolution that should not be stopped by the same rules surrounding the trademark of a cross.

The doctor puts a plaster on my arm and sings slowly under her mask;

“There’s one thing I am certain of… return I will to old Brazil… that old Brazil”

Joe Reynolds


Pictures not captioned are from the Mayday Demonstrations in 2019 in Berlin, Germany. The march went from the heavily gentrified area of Grunewald to the embattled Rigaer Strasse calling for housing rights and resistance to eviction.