I’m not particularly happy to be writing my third column in five months bearing the title ‘Vaccination Frustration.’ But y’all, the hits just keep on coming.
I wrote the first iteration of Vaccination Frustration (we’ll call it ‘VF Classic’) in early March, when I had finally scored Covid vaccination appointments after an irksome week that I described as follows:
Remember that time you spent six hours chained to your computer, refreshing the screen over and over again, desperately seeking tickets to see your favorite band in concert, only to learn they’d sold out two minutes after going on sale? Then you heard there would be more tickets available at some later time, but nobody could say when? Then a friend of a friend told you about another website where tickets might also become available? And there were rumors about ways to “hack” yet another website? Now, expand that six-hour experience to five days, several “friends of friends,” and copious different screens that need constant refreshing …
Just two months later, I was compelled to pen Vaccination Frustration: The Sequel, because the tables had turned dramatically, and I was newly irritated. “We’ve now got plenty of vaccines on hand,” I wrote then, “but hardly anybody wants them. After an initial stampede to get the shots, a decided nonchalance – even reluctance – has set in.”
That was back in May, and at the time, lots of people on social media were asking: Why is this a problem? To vax or not to vax should be a personal decision. It’s a free country, right?
I’m as freedom-loving as the next guy – maybe more, since I’m naturally ornery – but I figure freedom’s not worth much when you’re sick, and even less when you’re dead, and this freedom-loving ornery cuss was fed-up with masking and social distancing and feeling anything but free. So I responded with a passage from a CNN article I’d just read:
“The longer a virus circulates among unvaccinated people, the more opportunities it has to mutate,” wrote Holly Yon. “And if the mutations are significant, they can lead to more problematic variants – including some that could partially or fully escape vaccine protection. So the key to ending this pandemic isn’t just getting vaccinated. It’s getting vaccinated as soon as possible, before the virus mutates into variants that we can’t control with our current vaccines.”
Again, that was back in May. Now here we are in August, Delta has dawned, and I hear Lambda’s just around the corner. As of now, the vaccines seem to be hanging in there – though Delta’s far more contagious, those who’ve been vaccinated are still well protected from serious illness – but who knows what might be coming down the pike? This virus is one wily, insidious son of a bat.
And now the CDC is urging us to wear masks again. All of us. We vaccinated folk have always been able to contract the virus – this we knew – but now we know that we’re also able to spread it. Though, if I’m understanding the science, we may not be spreading it quite as easily as those who aren’t vaccinated. And, again, most of us aren’t getting very sick.
(I should have prefaced this entire column with the phrase “for now.” Things are changing very quickly. By the time you read this, it may be obsolete.)
Apparently, thanks to widespread vaccine hesitancy, we have missed our chance to drive Covid to extinction – failed to “nip it in the bud” – so now we need to think in terms of the virus being endemic… something we just learn to live with, like the flu.
Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University epidemiologist, told the Washington Post last week, “In some sense, vaccination is now about personal protection — protecting oneself against severe disease. Herd immunity is not relevant as we are seeing plenty of evidence of repeat and breakthrough infections.”
It didn’t have to be this way. And all over social media, vaccinated people are venting. “We did the right thing,” they say. “And now we’re back where we started, thanks to those who didn’t.” I understand their anger. I share it.
But my own anger is directed mainly at the pundits and politicians who have brazenly exploited the pandemic from the get-go to serve their respective narratives. Thanks to them, we now live in a country even more divided than it was before, where trust in our public institutions – including our health organizations – is at an all-time low.
Back in September, when Donald Trump enthusiastically announced there might be a vaccine ready very soon – hint, hint, before the election – Democrats got busy sowing distrust in any vaccine “rushed out” under a Trump presidency. Then they won the election, the vaccines were immediately approved, they began vigorously promoting them, and Donald Trump was suddenly nonchalant about them. Or maybe he just seemed nonchalant, since he’d been banned from Twitter and Facebook.
Speaking of which… Big Tech, with its selective censorship and algorithmic alchemy, is another major force fueling our divisions, driving Americans further into information (and disinformation) silos and separate realties.
My anger is directed at all those powerful forces which, to my mind, are responsible for the fact that so many Americans are still on the fence about vaccines.
And for the record, the vaccine-hesitant are not just white, rural Trump devotees, as you might have been led to believe. Though it’s true that far more Democrats have been vaccinated than Republicans, there are other fault lines, as well. White people have been vaccinated in much greater numbers than people of color; older people more than younger people; wealthy people more than the working class and poor. Interestingly, there’s also a strong anti-vax sentiment in the yoga community, and among other alternative wellness practitioners.
And then there are people like me, the natural skeptics – okay, ornery cusses – who see the corruption in our public institutions, and especially our corporate media, and tend to put our trust (what little we have left) in independent voices outside those systems. For better or worse.
Some of those independent voices have been very cautious about the vaccines – promoting alternative treatments, like Ivermectin – and have been censored or demonetized by Big Tech for their failure to toe anybody’s line. I’m thinking specifically of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, a married couple of evolutionary biologists who host the popular Dark Horse podcast. They’ve been challenging conventional Covid wisdom for over a year now, and while mainstream outlets would love to characterize them as cranks, they’re anything but.
In fact, the Weinsteins have often been ahead of the game. They were wearing masks before masking was cool – even back when Dr. Fauci said we didn’t need them – and were seriously considering the Lab Leak Theory (“It’s a hypothesis, not a theory,” they insisted) long before it was possible to do so in polite company.
The Weinsteins take Covid very seriously, but they still haven’t been vaccinated. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t give me pause. So, I sympathize with the vaccine-hesitant, whatever their reasons. But I made my choice back in early March, and it still feels right.
Another podcaster I like, a guy who lives in Florida, says he’s been hearing stories from hospitals there about vaccinated people in their 60s and 70s sitting at the bedsides of their unvaccinated 30 and 40-something children, gravely ill with the Delta variant. A chilling reversal of the stories that were breaking our hearts last year.
How soon can I get my booster?