My frustration is mounting. Perhaps yours is as well.

Why do so many people still resist getting Covid vaccinations when the evidence against such a decision is so overwhelming? There have been theories that attribute Covid hesitancy to those who are less educated or to communities of color who have been previously burned by duplicitous governmental practices. But these factors are diminishing while one societal divide remains constant or even increasing: the partisan divide.

As David Leonhardt points out in The New York Times, “The political divide over vaccinations is so large that almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state.”

Using a series of revealing charts (only one of which is featured here), Leonhardt tracks the relationship between pro-Trump, Republican states, vaccination rates and Covid infections. Almost one-third of the American electorate contends that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump, despite any evidence and a rash of losses in the courts. Similarly, there are those who refuse to get vaccinated, despite compelling evidence that vaccinations keep both the individual and the surrounding community safe.

I hear the argument about wanting control over one’s own body; but anyone who has attended public schools or enrolls in the armed services (or who enjoys energy drinks) has given up this principle (and ask women in Texas who seek an abortion if their right to choose has been threatened by the very same legislators who support vaccine hesitancy). Where is the consistency?

But the real frustration for me is when the vaccine hesitant say, “I am—fill in the blank—young, healthy, have antibodies, etc. and so I’m safe. I don’t need to be vaccinated.” We do not yet know the level of contagion this virus propels. This singularly selfish attitude limits the possibility for herd immunity, keeping the rest of us from knowing with confidence that neither I, nor my children, nor my aging parents, nor my immunocompromised loved ones will not become infected.

I have tried to be tolerant and patient. But my tolerance has worn thin and my patience has run out. So, how do we change hearts and minds in this debate? This becomes intensely personal when we apply the question to those who are closest to us—and I would be willing to wager that we all are close to someone who fits this category.

We must have the courage to confront (lovingly and sensitively, yes—but also firmly) those in our circles of family and friends whom we know are unvaccinated and remind them how their decision impacts others. We must have these conversations even when they are uncomfortable. We can stake out our intent by refusing to join them in family, business or social gatherings where they, as non-vaccinated persons, are present.

This is not easy—especially among loved ones or close business associates. Such actions risk further polarizing our already divided society. But how else do we end this relentless pandemic? Those who have made decisions with a clear disregard for public health and the safety of their loved ones must be held accountable for their continued selfish behavior. And we, who have been enablers of such decisions out of fear of being disagreeable need to respond to the moment with courage and conviction and proclaim that is time—long past time—to let the evidence rule and call out this behavior for the self-centeredness that it implies.

7 thoughts on “Vaccine Politics

  1. The only way you will get most people vaccinated is by having the Insurance companies not cover hospitalizations for COVID unless you have been vaccinated. The financial burden on those that are hospitalized and not vaccinated would be so crushing that the unvaxxers will have no choice but to become vaccinated or face financial ruin. As always money talks.

  2. Michael Chase makes an earnest point is his comment; however his sentiment misses the larger issue: most unvaccinated individuals that end up needing hospital care never believed they would come in contact with or contract the virus in the first place. Their denials on that count are the stuff of legend.

    Meanwhile, Robert Chase notes: “The real frustration for me is when the vaccine hesitant say, ‘I am—fill in the blank—young, healthy, have antibodies, etc. and so I’m safe. I don’t need to be vaccinated.'” One needs to gently remind these same individuals that they may have been, are now, or may very well be asymptotic carriers of the virus and therefore perfectly capable of spreading Covid to family, friends and associates.

    Americans have come to conflate “freedom” with “liberty.” Neither is a guarantee against illness. Or death.

  3. !’we owe it to our children, our friends, our neighbors–and to our country–to be vaccinated!

  4. We’re getting there, slowly. Pretty soon healthcare workers, teachers and Mass State Troopers will either be vaccinated, or at least not be breathing through your window on a traffic stop. As for the rest, pretty much all we can do is protect ourselves and family members by avoiding places with low vax / high infection rates. I’m not planning a trip to Wyoming, Texas, Florida or Alabama anytime soon, even though I promised my cousin in Mobile a visit (she and her husband are vaxed and are welcome in NJ). Little by little we’re closing the circle around the stubbornly unvaxed, and I won’t be encountering them on my next plane flight to most places. So the question is whether we’ll get to herd immunity in enough places before the next variant has time to take hold. I’m holding my breath on that one.

  5. I actually think the best way forward is to talk to people about why they are vaccine hesitant. Listen to their fears and concerns, and help them think through and talk through this matter which may be incredibly stressful for them. Sometimes just hearing someone’s concerns will allow them the space to work through it, and ultimately get the shot. Whereas writing them off as uninformed or overly political will just make them dig in further. There is a thing called The Backfire Effect. The Backfire Effect says “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

    I have multiple friends who are either unvaxxed or have only recently gotten the vaccine. None of them voted for Trump. None of them are even Republican. And all of them have different reasons why they didn’t jump at the vaccine. While my family and I did get the shots as soon as we were able, I respect my friends who wanted to do additional research, I provide a listening ear, and offer information and opinions when I think they’re valuable. That’s my approach, because it’s the approach I appreciate when I feel I am swimming upstream with my own concerns about things these days.

  6. My personal life is seemingly filled with Trump-voters/anti-vaxxers. Maybe strange for a political and religious Liberal. I thought it was due to pure ignorance (friends, relatives included) until I began a job, Saturday afternoons for a a retired schoolteacher with a stunningly beautiful, four-story condo home. This sent me “back to the drawing board”.. I now think that the key, the common denominator here is, simply, Fox news and all (so-called) Conservative media. These people consume, daily, a Jim Jones, apocalyptic, nightmare reality that leaves their Liberal counterparts clueless.

  7. Dear Bob,

    I am deeply disappointed in this blog post.

    Many years ago, an organization I worked for taught me that if you want to learn more about “the other,” you invite them to your table. No matter the differences in lifestyle, belief systems, or background, you approach the dialogue from a place of curiosity and openness. It’s hard to believe that the same person who preached that, also writes “We can stake out our intent by refusing to join them in family, business or social gatherings where they, as non-vaccinated persons, are present.” Why stop there? Why not force the unvaccinated to wear a large, red, letter U pinned to their clothing so that they can be easily identified (and avoided) in public? 

Have you personally spoken to anyone who is vaccine hesitant? Have you invited discourse between those who are pro-vaccine, vaccine hesitant, and anti-vax? Have you made any attempt to find out WHY they are hesitant, before you judge them as “selfish,” and “self-centered?”

    Your “real frustration” with the vaccine hesitant has to do with herd immunity, but don’t forget that the vaccine’s efficacy is not as high as big pharma initially promised, with breakthrough infections becoming more and more common. Natural immunity, not vaccines, is the best way to obtain herd immunity, but instead of allowing the less vulnerable populations (especially children and young adults) to contract the disease naturally and develop their own immunity, the government is pushing the vaccine, shoving the mandates down our throats until we have no choice but to comply.

    You bring up the right to choose for women in Texas and the support for vaccine hesitancy, by asking “Where is the consistency?” But how consistent are you if you support the right to choose, while also advocating for vaccine mandates?

    And let’s not forget that getting the vaccine does not preclude you from being a carrier and giving COVID to others. In fact, it may mean that if you have the disease, you will be asymptomatic, which makes you more dangerous around your children, aging parents, and immunocompromised friends.

    You say, “I have tried to be tolerant and patient. But my tolerance has worn thin and my patience has run out.” Mine too, Bob, mine too.

    Personally, I have only recently become open to the possibility of being vaccinated. Funny, but I don’t fit your “profile,” having a college degree, pale skin, and being left-leaning in my beliefs. Why did I not jump on the vaccine bandwagon months ago? The simple answer is a combination of a deep distrust of the pharmaceutical industry, little confidence in western medicine, and a history of being lied to by the government. The perfect storm for “vaccine hesitancy.”

    And yet, as of this writing, I am leaning towards getting the vaccine. This change of heart comes on the heels of a lot of personal research, and evidence that the vaccine helps tamp down the stronger, more serious effects of the disease. That is the direction I am leaning, but if and when I choose to be vaccinated, it will be because I have decided it’s the best course of action, not because I’ve been shamed into it by blogs like this one.

    If we want this country to heal, if we want to close the divide, we need to practice tolerance and open-mindedness, and have some compassion for those who think differently from us and our cronies. And so, I leave you with the most ironic sentence in your blog, “So, how do we change hearts and minds in this debate?” Indeed, that is the question.

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