Cypriot anti-vaxxers not born of the pandemic

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Several variants later, and currently in its Delta manifestation, Covid-19 is still alive and well in Cyprus, infecting over 121,000 people and claiming more than 550 lives.

Yet, the recent protests against the safety measures outside of the Presidential Palace, the strong reactions to the use of the infamous Safe Pass, and the glaringly low percentages of vaccination in certain age groups turn the attention away from the virus itself and call for a better understanding of the Cypriot variant of the anti-vaxxer movement.

Although a minority, the anti-vaxxers have been difficult to pin down, exhibiting behaviour as erratic and mutable as the virus itself, and tirelessly developing new explanations and justifications for their actions.

The majority list fear and suspicion as the primary reasons for not receiving the vaccine.

Out of fear and suspicion, some have labelled this decision as a personal survival mechanism without understanding the global emergences of deadlier and deadlier variants, if not economic exasperation.

For others, this is primarily a question of liberty.

Besides those who have backed up their decision with vague attempts at explaining Socratic freedoms of speech, a group of anti-vaxxers has invoked the right to choose, muddling, and in the process sallying, powerful feminist mantras like “my body, my choice”, as a few posters during the anti-vaccine protests show.

Others are thinking of the body-temple, happily revelling in the paradox of “I respect my body too much to vaccinate it, but I would gladly pound three gyros wraps.”

However, the more disciplined and rhetorically apt anti-vaxxers of the island—faux supporters of vaccination—have composed more niche, albeit as ridiculous arguments:

“I am not against vaccines; I am against this specific vaccine” or “I am in favour of its delayed acceptance”.

And others have chosen to remain without even these nonsensical rationales instead of portraying themselves as martyrs of an almost evangelical movement against state-sanctioned surveillance.

The primary problem with these various positions is they all invoke a sense of privateness when so much—maybe even everything—about the current situation makes it a public, always-already shared struggle.

But when you strip the thin content of the anti-vaxxers various arguments, it becomes clear that any argument, even the very fact of argumentation, spells out PRIVILEGE in bold, shiny letters in a situation this volatile.

Of course, the many faces of this privilege come from a developed, predominantly white, heteronormative society.

The privilege of having a healthcare system to rely on.

The privilege of saying “thank you, next” when many developing countries are diplomatically begging for vaccines.

The dangerous privilege of waiting, being suspicious. The privilege of having a healthcare-related job and not being vaccinated. This list can go on.

In Cyprus, this sense of privilege is most strongly evident in the population of healthy and strong adults in their 20s and 30s.

The high percentage of unvaccinated people in these age groups may not be immediately striking, especially since this percentage is comparably high in many other countries.

The discrepancy between the vaccination percentages of this younger generation and the two previous ones is culturally interesting.

Here, what separates people aged 20-35 and the preceding generations are war, dislocation, trauma, and a lifetime of relative luxury and overcompensated protection.

The generation that will be very soon responsible for solving the Cypriot issue is, unfortunately, the same generation with one of the highest percentages of unvaccinated people.

The same population has crowded the clubs and bars that were fined during the summer months.

This privileged attitude towards the pandemic is not surprising.

It is directly related to the other privileges enjoyed by this age group (economic dependency, housing privileges).

Medical and political attempts at promoting vaccination are currently being labelled as partisan, divisive, drawing a line in the sand and disallowing productive dialogue between the two sides. But, as each side develops increasingly stronger feelings about their viewpoints, it is becoming clearer this line has been drawn in the sand retroactively.

That is, those who decided not to get vaccinated decided—or at least planted the seeds of that decision—long before these vaccines, long before there was even a pandemic to talk about.

This phenomenon is full of complications, hinging on some of contemporary society’s most difficult and unresolved issues (about the body, medicine, freedom).

The conversation, however, can be productively reduced to a simple understanding of the Cypriot variant of anti-vaxxers: we can either choose to believe they are people who do not understand the public ramifications of their actions or, more sinisterly, people who do understand the public ramifications of their actions but choose to ignore them.

Even if it is currently unsubstantiated, one thing should be entirely clear: whether Cypriot anti-vaxxers understand and believe the public ramifications of their actions or not, their lack of general consideration did not start, and will not end, with the pandemic.

Christos Kalli is a University of Cambridge alumnus and a doctoral student at the University of Texas, Austin www.christoskalli.com  the views expressed are his own