Alan Zendell, May 18, 2021
When we consider what life will look like after COVID, the biggest unknown is how many of us will have been vaccinated. The anti-vax movement has been around for two hundred years, even when small pox ravaged the country in the early 1800s. The basic reasons for mistrust of vaccines have remained the same in all that time, but there’s a different twist this time. People cite religious convictions, dislike of science, fear of government control, and suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry. Those generalities haven’t changed, but the details have.
A number of religious sects consider vaccinations an affront to God. We may disagree with that point of view, but the courts have consistently excepted religious orthodoxy from complying with social and health regulations that violated their dogma. Religious objection to the COVID vaccines is a lot more complicated, however.
Particularly in red states, many churches have been caught up in local politics. Ministers who cannot cite religious objections, and who are not remotely qualified to assess the safety and efficacy of vaccines have been politicized by the populist movement of Donald Trump. Trump’s entirely disingenuous opposition to a woman’s right to control her own body, his constant disrespect for science, and his nonstop war with the CDC and the public health experts on his COVID task force made it easy for politically corrupt churches to sow mistrust of the vaccine.
Another aspect of the Trump movement was spreading distrust of the government. There has always been a segment of the population that hated the authority of the federal government, but Trump cultivated it as an art form. Trump’s characterization of the “government swamp,” echoed and amplified by thousands of sycophants, fed that hatred and exacerbated it. The fact that the Trump administration corrupted values and had no respect for truth or facts didn’t prevent it from widening and capitalizing on anti-government sentiment, no matter that Trump’s version of government trampled all over democracy.
The last administration and the Republican Party in the deeply red states made it crystal clear in 2020 that protecting the lives of Americans from COVID ranked far behind craven self-interest, lust for power, and pressure from financial interests that stood to profit from preventing a locked down economy. That has continued into the Biden administration, as the Republican establishment would rather frustrate President Biden’s efforts to save lives than eradicate the pandemic.
With respect to the COVID vaccines, the unfortunate truth is that there are a lot of unscrupulous politicians who lack the courage to take on the Trumpers and dispel their lies. Even worse is the enormous number of Americans who are either too ignorant, too stupid, or simply too lazy to take the trouble to understand. And that raises some critical questions about how we will proceed when the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
It’s important to keep in mind that if a vaccine is 95% effective, even in a crowd of vaccinated people one in twenty are likely to be infected if they are exposed to the virus, and that number could be higher with the more deadly strains. If a sizable number of people eschew the vaccines and refuse to wear masks, those individuals will remain a threat to everyone else.
Let’s talk about mass transportation – buses, planes, and all variety of rail travel, from crowded commuter lines to overnight long-distance trains. Should people who have refused to be vaccinated be allowed to jeopardize the health of millions of others, or should we require proof of vaccination before they can purchase tickets? Should employers have the right to refuse to allow workers back into cleansed facilities without proof of vaccination? And what about indoor sports venues and high-density retailers like box stores and super markets? Should people who frequent dating websites have to reveal their vaccination status?
Consider one example. A quarter of a million passengers, mostly seniors, ride the auto train between Virginia and Florida every year. The trip averages 18-20 hours each way, and AMTRAK currently requires passengers to wear masks for the entire trip including an additional several hours prior to departure and waiting for their cars to be debarked when they arrive. Call it twenty-two hours in a mask, which most people would consider intolerable. If a fourth of the population refused to be vaccinated, AMTRAK would only have two options: continue the mask requirement indefinitely, or restrict ticket sales only to people who can prove they received one.
We shouldn’t be arguing about vaccines. And we shouldn’t allow a bunch of irresponsible morons to dictate how the rest of us live in the future. If it were up to me, proof of vaccination would be required to register to vote. I bet the Trumpers would love that.