A recent opinion piece by Tina Sacks for CNN left me riveted to my desk chair.
Sacks, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, almost lost her 2-year-old son last year to what was ultimately diagnosed as multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MSI-C), even though he tested negative for COVID-19. Somehow the boy, who was on heavy doses of opioids and barbiturates, intubated twice, suffered heart failure, placed on a liver transplant list, and hospitalized for 4 weeks, survived.
Sack’s opinion piece is entitled, “What antivaxxers sound like to me.” She does not use these words, but others have: Antivaxxers sound selfish and self-centered, all about themselves and their individual rights with little regard for the health and well being of their fellow human beings. They see themselves as very, very special.
Since the founding of the United States, we have wrestled with the tension inherent between the freedoms guaranteed to us as individual Americans and the collective good of all Americans. This tension manifests itself in countless ways — states’ rights versus federal control, my right to play hard metal rock or use my leaf blower when my entire neighborhood wants to sleep, and on and on. Elections and wars have been fought over these tensions and friendships fractured.
Vaccination during a worldwide pandemic is neither an academic, legal or political argument nor a mere annoyance. It is literally a matter of health or illness, even life or death. Yes, there are people who cannot take certain vaccines, but most of us can. And, yes, there are people in our nation who are rightly suspicious of the medical establishment that has treated them unfairly, even cruelly, in the past.
Nearly 190-million Americans are at least partially vaccinated with minimal side effects. Look to your left and look to your right and you will likely see a successfully vaccinated American. The bottom line is that vaccinations, including those for COVID-19, work. People in other nations are literally dying to have what is freely and conveniently available to us.
The question then becomes why some choose to remain unvaccinated, even though they are clearly putting themselves and others at risk as the highly transmissible Delta variant is spiking COVID cases in all 50 states with attendant hospitalizations and deaths.
Sacks addresses the question this way.
“Getting vaccinated against preventable diseases is one way to ensure that all people, especially, BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color], avoid health care encounters in which implicit and explicit bias lead to worse health outcomes.
“It doesn’t help that many Republicans have been stoking vaccine skepticism and outright hostility. The Delta variant is already spreading rapidly across the country. Many who choose to forgo the shot may claim they are making a personal decision. But the continued spread of COVID-19 affects us all. And the truth is, the virus doesn’t care about so-called individual liberties. It simply infects whatever host it can find, Republican or Democrat, young or old, disabled, immuno-compromised, and anti-vaxxers alike.
“If anything, remaining unvaccinated by choice — and not because of lack of access or contraindicated health condition — sounds more to me like shirking an individual responsibility than exercising an individual right.”
None among us can see the future — where and how long COVID will ultimately exact its toll of human suffering and on how many. We cannot know how history will record the COVID pandemic, but my guess it will involve the usual dichotomy of nations who had access to vaccines and those who did not, those who availed themselves of the medical miracles before them and those who did not.
The words grief, remorse and shame will also be included.