Category Archives: Later, on health

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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I don’t know what makes me feel worse: the rampant coronavirus that could kill me if somebody sneezes or the fact that Donald Trump is still the president of the United States. I can protect myself from the virus by staying at home a lot, wearing a mask, and keeping away from other people, but there is no social distancing from this president and from our national nightmare.

Both things—the virus and the president—make me feel a sickness in the pit of my stomach. It is not a stretch to conflate the two. They are both nightmares.

Most of the time, I keep my mind busy with an assortment of activities and distractions because I try not to dwell on things that make me feel bad, and I suppose that’s good for my mental health. But my mind likes to wander, and my thoughts seem often to gravitate toward what’s wrong in my world.

I am getting used to a vaguely queasy sensation that something is not right, that my life is somehow out of balance. It is not just a fear of becoming infected. The coronavirus and the coronapresident are parts of the same pattern. The virus and what the president is doing about it, or failing to do, are not two different things but they are one unresolved story that has been playing over and over in my mind since early March.

The coronavirus does its deadly work by spreading from person to person and by replicating, a process that chokes off our oxygen supply and attacks our vital organs in ways that are not yet well-understood by science. Some of the damage may be permanent. It is both microscopic and bigger than any one of us. Stopping its global trail of death—over 283,000 deaths worldwide as of this writing—demands a national and global response.

An effective national response calls for a kind of leadership that that the coronapresident does not have. Instead, he denies the risk, complains about a hoax, ignores the science, blames the Chinese and Obama, hides or distorts the facts and now has begun to doubt the death toll.

Yet, as John Adams is credited with saying: “facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” As of this writing, the death toll in the United States is approaching 80,000 people.

The medical experts who advise the president speak to the public through a White House filter, careful not to contradict him. He can barely hide his boredom with them but they are useful props, standing by him on the same platform as if he were their equal.  

While there seems to be universal agreement in the medical community that a greatly accelerated testing and contact tracing effort is the only way to begin to stop the coronavirus, the coronapresident is not enthusiastic about testing because he believes that more testing will reveal more cases of COVID-19 and more cases will make him look bad and undermine his reelection campaign. The idea that more testing could prevent infections, reduce suffering and save lives is of little importance to him.

All he wants to talk about now is “reopening” the country because “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” Let me fill in the blanks.

The “problem itself” is a deadly and uncontrolled virus that is super-contagious and for which the world has no treatment or vaccine.

The “cure” is the whole range of measures to reduce the spread of the virus: social distancing, wearing masks, and finding out, by a lot of testing, how widespread the virus has become. The cure, at present, means that some types of social and commercial interaction must be curtailed because those interactions enable the virus to spread and make the problem worse. Such interactions will be unsafe until human ingenuity finds new ways to block viral spread from person to person in workplaces, shops, restaurants, theaters, public transportation, and other places where people come in close contact.

The coronapresident rejects the cure and by implication prefers to do nothing about the problem, even if doing nothing about the problem means more disease and more death. The problem, he says, will go away on its own, without a vaccine and without all that much testing, like a miracle, it will disappear.

The coronapresident is not a real president. He is an accomplice. He is the virus made visible.

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