One of the most confusing and troubling aspects of the coronavirus pandemic for most Americans is the refusal of a substantial minority to be vaccinated because of religion, politics or desire for personal freedom
Why would a reasonable person without a specific medical issue refuse a safe and free vaccine that could prevent death and protect their immediate family?
It’s like refusing to fasten a seat belt, disabling a smoke detector, strolling on railroad tracks wearing earphones, or leaving loaded guns around the family home.
Adding to the confusion is a new advertising campaign by Irvine-based TRAFFIK to not just oppose vaccine mandates but celebrate frontline workers who refuse them.
“These frontline workers are sacrificing everything by standing for freedom, and we must take steps to ensure discrimination has no place in any industry.” said Anthony Trimino, CEO of TRAFFIK.
Religion, politics and freedom are important to most Americans. But none of these is a good reason to take a stand against personal safety.
Take religion. It’s hard to see how a caring God would want humanity not to protect itself from a new virus, and the mainstream religions all support vaccination. There are individual religious leaders who oppose vaccination, just as there are fringe religions that support everything from witchcraft to LSD. Not all religious belief is of equal seriousness.
Political opposition to vaccination is a strange mutation of Republican thought during the pandemic. President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed succeeded in rapidly developing effective vaccines. Now he hints that taking those vaccines is disloyal. Republican governors in Texas and Florida have seized on this and are working to end vaccine mandates. It’s as if Republicans want their voters to die.
Freedom is the most problematic reason, and for the anti-vaxxers it’s a middle-school conception of freedom — freedom from any constraints. This may have worked in a thinly populated early America, where your actions had little impact on your neighbors. But it’s a recipe for calamity in the 21st century America of 330 million people.
An unvaccinated individual’s stand for freedom puts many at risk and imposes costs on others. When you catch the virus, you put others around you at risk, especially children. And if you’re hospitalized, you — or society if you’ve decided that health insurance is an infringement on freedom — face hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to save your life. And then there are the exhausted, overworked healthcare workers who have to try to save you when you wouldn’t make the effort to save yourself. They will not be very understanding.
Going unvaccinated isn’t freedom; it’s dangerous self-centered selfishness.
Most Americans, especially in California, would agree with this. Just look at how easily Gov. Gavin Newsom beat the recall despite some of the strictest lockdowns and one of the most aggressive vaccination programs.
So if the three main reasons for refusing to vaccinate make no sense, and most Americans want to protect themselves, why are some people doing this? It all comes down to resistance to change.
For these Americans, 2020 began with everything OK. The economy was booming, Trump was President and life seemed good. Why did a pandemic have to take it all away? It wasn’t “fair,” and some would even deny there is a pandemic.
But like it or not, a virus evolved into something deadly, just as happened a century ago in the aftermath of a disastrous world war that left many disoriented. Science didn’t understand viruses in 1918, but at least recommended masks, and some Americans rebelled.
When we look back on the pandemic a decade or two from now, history won’t be kind to the anti-vaxxers. They won’t be remembered as heroes, but as sad, misguided figures at odds with reality.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego. He is fully vaccinated and received his Moderna booster on Friday.