What’s Wrong With Us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond arguing, beyond reasoning, beyond begging and pleading, beyond mystified, beyond perplexed, beyond aggravated and even beyond angry.  Well, maybe not quite beyond angry.  What do you call it when exasperation finally gives way to utter defeat?  Whatever you call it, I’m there.  I am at that point where you simply give up and say, “what will be will be, if you get sick and die, you chose it.” 


Unfortunately, those who are choosing to go unvaccinated don’t, as they seem to think, just hurt themselves. In spite of all their self-righteous and often loud appeals to freedom, liberty, the Constitution, personal responsibility and accountability, you and I know that these same people will be heading straight to the hospital as soon as they become sick, and many of them have no health insurance and no money.  They expect to be taken care of, regardless of cost, even though they knowingly choose not to take care of themselves.  This is particularly true in Texas which has the highest percentage of uninsureds in the country.  In actual fact, they do enormous collateral damage to families, friends, employers, coworkers, hospitals, doctors, nurses, the cost of healthcare to the public, the economy in general, their creditors, taxpayers and the general public they expose to a potentially fatal disease. Those who say their decision not to be vaccinated is personal and not hurting anyone but themselves are fools and selfish fools at that.  No man is an island. 


More than 4 million people have died worldwide.  The U.S. has now lost more than 600,000 people and millions more have been seriously ill.  This is roughly equivalent to WW II deaths and, depending upon which estimate you rely upon, the Civil War.  It is inconceivable that anyone in the U.S. doesn’t have a direct connection to someone who died or someone who became seriously ill.  Could it be true that Americans need to see pictures of the dead like those of famous battlefields in order to understand what has happened to us?  I recall that battlefield pictures and film of the true horror of the Viet Nam War changed public opinion.  Maybe the public needs to visually experience Covid deaths?


How can Governor Abbott in good conscience impose an order forbidding mask mandates in the midst of a resurgence of the epidemic?  I understand he is running scared of his own party, but his order is inhumane.  It is a clear choice of his personal political ambition over the health and well-being of Texans.  There has never been a greater abrogation of public office.  It is as if he was saying:  “Not only am I not willing to protect Texans, I am also stopping every public official in Texas from protecting them.” It is no accident that Florida and Texas, states that have imposed a ban on mask mandates, now account for 1 in 3 new Covid cases and, of course, the deaths will follow soon.


Abbott has given permission for unvaccinated people to remain camouflaged among us even though their very presence is a danger to themselves and others.  They will be present among us while we are asked to pretend that life is back to normal.  What an absurd state of affairs!  A government mandate to ignore reality!  Who would ever guess that a governor could sink so low?


In the midst of my exasperation, I came across an article in the New York Times which led me to an article by Professor Sean B. Carroll which appeared in the November 8, 2020 issue of  Scientific American entitled The Denialist Playbook.  The author is distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland and Vice President for Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Prof. Carroll analyzes what he calls the “denialist playbook;” which has been used by various forms of science deniers over the course of history.  This group includes deniers of evolution; deniers of climate science; deniers of the harmful effects of tobacco; deniers of the efficacy and safety of vaccines, including the polio vaccine; and, now, the Covid 19 vaccine deniers.


Examining the arguments of all these groups which in one way or another denied scientific consensus, Prof. Carroll identified what he calls “six principal plays in the denialist playbook”.  Those plays or strategies identified by Prof. Carroll are:


1)    Doubt the science;

 2)    Question scientists motives and integrity;

 3)    Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies as authorities;

 4)    Exaggerate potential harm;

 5)    Appeal to personal freedom; and

 6)    Reject whatever would repudiate a key philosophy.


Professor Carroll then examines each one of these “plays” and demonstrates by example how each works.


You should read the article.  It will allow you to immediately identify what you are hearing or reading from Covid vaccine deniers as part of the playbook. We are now clearly in the midst of Play #5, the appeal to personal freedom, as shown by the call and response style Trump rallies where Trump, playing to the crowd, and begging for their adulation, commends them for their anti-vaccine attitude (their love of freedom) even though he and his family are vaccinated.  Prof. Carroll’s article was an eye-opener to me, but I am still perplexed by the motives of those who are using the playbook to convince others not to get the Covid vaccine.


It is obvious why those who profit from our consumption of fossil fuels deny climate science.  It is obvious why the tobacco companies denied their products were harmful.  Thanks to the history provided by Prof. Carroll, I am now aware of the financial incentive chiropractors had to argue against the polio vaccine.  But, for the life of me, I don’t understand the motives of those who have nothing to gain financially who are encouraging others not to get the Covid vaccination.  It just makes no sense.  Why would anyone encourage another human being to unnecessarily risk death or serious illness?    It is the same as encouraging someone to play Russian roulette with a loaded gun. Is tribal identity and politics worth it?  Is a fleeting moment of fame worth it?  Is personal standing among like-minded friends worth it?  Is an Internet following worth it?  As the son of a man who barely survived polio in the early 1950s, I guarantee you that our family was as close to first in line as we could get when the polio vaccine was administered at our local school house. Back in the era of the polio epidemic, the horror of polio paralysis produced enough public fear of the disease to overcome any hesitancy or laziness.  The same is true for the smallpox vaccine.  Everyone was just thrilled there was a vaccine.  What has happened to us?


We are now beyond debating the hypothetical benefits and risks of vaccinations.  We are seeing the reality that those who are dying and those who are gravely ill (97%) are not vaccinated while those who are vaccinated almost never die or become gravely ill.  This, of course, is not a surprise to scientists.  This is exactly what they predicted.  But, strangely, reality is still not motivating enough for the unvaccinated to do what is right for themselves and all those who are adversely affected by their highly risky choice to remain defiant.


This situation has shaken my faith in humanity.  I always knew that human beings are quirky, often selfish creatures, but I never would have believed that so many Americans would be capable of willfully ignoring science, totally ignoring their lived experience, i.e., the observable actual facts, and be willing to deceive themselves and others into disaster.  It is new proof that the most believable lies are the ones you tell yourself.


What is to be done about it?  My gut reaction is harsh.  I am weary of futile gentle persuasion. I am weary of Covid restrictions.  I am weary of the financial and nonmonetary costs of Covid.  I am weary of arguments with the non-vaccinated.  I am weary from worrying about myself, my family, my employees and my country.  Maybe it’s time for a new approach.  I am now tempted to say that you should have to show a vaccination card to get admitted to a hospital and that we should send all of our unused vaccine to countries that want it after a use it or lose it “drop dead” date.  It is time for all those folks who have piously called for personal accountability, personal liberty and freedom of choice to accept the full consequences of their professed belief system.  But, as I said before, it is probably best to resign myself to the idea that what will be will be.  Covid 19 and science will decide who was right and who was wrong.  “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 


For more about the anger and frustration of dealing with unvaccinated patients, read the article written by Dr. Thanh Neville, an ICU physician, entitled “I’m An ICU Doctor and I Cannot Believe The Things Unvaccinated Patients Are Telling Me.”  This article appeared in the Huffington Post August 1, 2021.