Category Archives: Later, in commentary

The Refusers

Our failure to meet the July 4th goal that 70 percent of all adults would have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine is frequently put down to “vaccine hesitancy” or “vaccine skepticism.” But for too many, the refusal to use the vaccine is not about being hesitant or skeptical. They have made up their minds. They actively oppose Covid vaccination as though it were a devilish plot of the deep state.

But the effectiveness and safety of the Covid-19 vaccines should by now be obvious to all. In the US, 337,000,000 doses have been administered, and serious side-effects such as an allergic reaction are extremely rare. More than 99 percent of Covid deaths these days are among people who have not been vaccinated. The message here is: if you don’t want this virus to kill you or anyone you know, get the vaccine.

It is impossible to know for certain why the refusers refuse an injection that effectively prevents hospitalization and death from Covid-19. Still, a large number of people refuse to be vaccinated, mindless of their own health and of the continuing spread and mutation of the virus, which could very well be stopped in its tracks if more of us were vaccinated. Even Mitch McConnell is “totally perplexed” by the refusal of some people to be vaccinated.

Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) divides the unvaccinated into two groups: people who say that they want to “wait and see” and people who say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated. Twelve percent of adults are in the “wait and see” group; more, thirteen percent, are in the “definitely not” group. Most people in the “definitely not” group are White (70% of the group) Republicans (67% identify as Republican or Republican-leaning).

As bizarre as it sounds, the refusers don’t believe that Covid-19 is much of a health threat. KFF has found that 88% of adults in the “definitely not” group say they aren’t worried about getting sick from the virus. They believe this, despite the current covid death count of 606,190 in the US.

One explanation for the refusers’ belief that Covid is no big deal may be a dangerous reliance on the “natural ability” of Lord Butternuts, who assured them a year ago of his medical expertise: “I like this stuff. I really get it.” He repeatedly compared Covid-19 to a seasonal flu that would simply go away when the weather got warmer. He proclaimed: “This is a flu. This is like a flu. It’s a little like a regular flu that we have flu shots for.” The refusers must have missed that last part.

More than a third of unvaccinated adults believe, or at least suspect, that the vaccine causes Covid. Republicans in general seem to have an unhealthy interest in human reproduction, and 31 percent of them believe that the vaccine could make them infertile. A similar proportion of unvaccinated adults believe that the vaccines change your DNA.

Perhaps what is driving the refusers is as simple as fear of needles, otherwise known as trypanophobia. Some 25% of adults experience trypanophobia to a degree and avoid vaccination because of it. The good news is that there are easy coping techniques to help you overcome the fear and get vaccinated. The other good news is that refusers who have an aversion to needles probably won’t be injecting disinfectant to treat their Covid-19.

There are more than 209 million adults (age 18 and over) in the US. More than 27 million adults are refusers (based on the KFF survey) who say that they definitely will not get vaccinated. Another 25 million are resisting vaccination while they “wait and see” (how long and for what?). All these refusers and resisters handicap the race against Covid-19 and our prospects for achieving anything close to “herd immunity.”

Some have suggested that the refusers could be persuaded if only Lord Butternuts would claim credit for creating the vaccines and urge his followers to get vaccinated. It’s not going to happen, of course. Besides, Butternuts does not deserve such credit. The credit is owed, rather, to the vaccine researchers at Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and other labs—you know, people who actually believe in science—who developed the Covid vaccines now in use.

LB himself has been vaccinated, and he has, in fact, urged followers to get the shot. This has made no difference. Having set an example that there is empowerment in denial of the factual, he caters to his base more than he leads it. Born of a stream of outrageous lies and fantasies, the revelation that refusal can be an expression of power and freedom is especially compelling for those whose life experience has made them feel disrespected and threatened.

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Obvious Truth

When I was in high school and even before, well over fifty years ago now, I understood that Black people (we innocently used the term “Negroes” back then) had—or should have—equal rights in America. I don’t remember being taught to believe that, but somehow during my childhood it had become for me an obvious truth.

Race was not a topic of conversation around our dinner table. Teachers didn’t talk much about racial equality that I remember, but the racially derogatory “n” word was in circulation in the hallways and on the playgrounds.

I remember stumbling over the meaning of the terms of the civil rights era: “integration” and “desegregation.” I didn’t comprehend the concepts around issues that were abstractions in my small world of White privilege. I believed I had no “problem” with Black people but likely that was because I saw so few Black people in my world. Of course, I was aware that Black people lived in another part of town, but I didn’t think to question why they weren’t next door.

The number of Blacks who were classmates of mine could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I suppose I believed it was their choice. If parents wanted to send their kids to my school, they were perfectly free to do so. I didn’t wonder why they didn’t—or couldn’t—make that choice.

I did not know then that my paternal and maternal grandparents had at one time entertained themselves with membership in the Ku Klux Klan. In the rural Midwest heartland where they lived, it was the thing to do in the mid-1920s, now a full century ago. My parents didn’t talk about that part of their past, and yet their transition to adulthood must have included rejection of their parents’ racial and anti-immigrant fears and prejudices.

In 1960, my parents took me and my brother to a sermon by Martin Luther King. I didn’t understand the sermon, but I knew this was an important occasion in my life, and I knew that King was a man whom I should respect. When, eight years later, he was assassinated, I experienced his murder as an American tragedy, as a terrible wrong committed by bad people motivated by racial hatred.

I also remember television images of white police in Birmingham using dogs and water cannons to terrorize civil rights demonstrators. That was in 1963. The March on Washington was that summer. I remember that my parents talked about the March, but they ultimately chose not to go. Were they afraid we might get injured? Arrested? Maybe making the arrangements to go was simply too much trouble. But maybe the thought of a gathering of so many Black people made them a little uncomfortable.

I don’t know what I believed about race in those days. I knew our nation had suffered a Civil War over slavery. I knew that Abe Lincoln was a great president because he freed the slaves and paid with his life, but “slaves” and “slavery” were terms of America’s past. The present I didn’t understand.

I believed that the cause of civil rights was a just cause and that those who carried the banner of civil rights were on the right side of history and would ultimately prevail. It was only a matter of time.

I was too naïve and too ignorant to focus on the issue of race. Besides, I became distracted by the Vietnam War, the 1967 Summer of Love and dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and the seductive wonders of marijuana and sex. I was hung up on myself, occupied with the process of separation from my parents, a process which I managed to make more difficult than it needed to be. It was difficult for me to work out what there was for me rebel against.

These fifty years have been a long time, but the years failed to erase the scars of the 60s. All the promise of that era remains unfulfilled—its “golden living dreams of visions” unreal.

The ideology of White supremacy remains with us in a multitude of forms, enabled by today’s so-called “social” media and fertilized by the doublespeak that America needs to be made “great again.” Democracy itself is under attack by people who fear racial justice while denying the truth of their own White privilege. It has come to this: that we should need a growing list of law enforcement Black homicides—that is, killings of unarmed Black people by police officers—to “awaken” us to the idea that Black lives matter.

It more than saddens me that my generation has not solved the problem of race prejudice. Why haven’t we done better in these fifty years? I think about the legacy we will leave and wonder if we might have one last chance to make a difference. Will racial injustices, revealed in a new light, be recognized and rejected so that our democracy can begin to repair the damage? Let racial equality become a more widespread obvious truth, and my generation can leave a more hopeful legacy.

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