The COVID pandemic death toll thus far: Approximately 700,000 Americans. One in every 500. More than during the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago.
A significant difference, however, is that today scientifically approved vaccines exist that could end the carnage fairly soon. That is, if we had sufficient social cooperation – which we do not.
Why not? The stated reasons are many. “I don’t trust the scientific process” is offered. Rather than a true vaccine, “It’s just another medical treatment….Why take treatment for an illness I do not have?”
Others argue, “I’m still doing my research,” or “I’ve seldom been sick, so my immune system is naturally strong against viruses.”
Millions of religiously committed believe that “God will take care of me.” As pandemic deaths mounted last year, so did demands for religious exemptions, even among people who are cold to God.
Then there is crazy stuff: “The vaccine will alter your DNA,” or “Embedded tracers can monitor your coming and going.”
Perhaps the most commonly cited reason against vaccination is mistrust of government and opposition to mandates. Yet mandates in the form of laws and regulations surround us. We may not murder, or falsely shout fire in a crowded theater, or drive while drunk, or run red lights, or drive in the left lane. On the other hand there are hundreds of local, state, and federal requirements we ignore at our peril. Masking in crowded spaces is an important practice in countering the pandemic, but it ranks as trivial among other must-do commands.
Whatever the merits offered by vaccine-resisters, the fundamental underlying problem is the state of our fractured politics. We know that to be true because – 10 months after the 2020 presidential election – 78 percent of Republicans still refuse to believe that Biden won. This, despite dozens of failed court cases on their behalf. We know it because Republican governors head 14 of the 15 least-vaccinated states, and six with the highest per capita COVID-19 deaths. Leading examples of reality avoidance are the governors of Florida (Ron DeSantis) and Texas (Greg Abbott), whose political ambitions were laid bare when their top aides acknowledged the “open secret” that their bosses want to corral Trump supporters into their corner.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace recently confronted Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts for coming out against mandating COVID-19 vaccination. In order to attend school in your state, he reminded the governor, children must be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox. Why not against COVID-19? Well, Ricketts responded, it’s not clear who we can trust, and in any case, it’s a personal choice.
The 700,000 deaths stare at us. If we cannot act cooperatively against the deadly COVID enemy – even when we have the solution – what other serious problems might be beyond our capacities? Climate change? Nuclear proliferation? A weakening democracy? Another pandemic?
Hospitals are turning away patients because of the burden unvaxxed COVID patients are placing on them. Lima hospitals are not exempt. Mackenzie Klemann of The Lima News has written of the “dire” and “precarious” situation that the delta variant of coronavirus has created for Lima hospitals. “Few intensive-care unit beds (are) available,” and it is difficult to accommodate transfer requests from other community hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients.
We are faced with a moral issue. How long are the vaccine-resistant willing to deny the “common good”? Americans pride themselves as belonging to a Christian nation. “Under God” is included in the Pledge of Allegiance. Frequently quoted Biblical passages include the Golden Rule, a principle of reciprocity found in most religions. But today we seem not to see ourselves as neighbors.
Difficult as it may be, now is the time to remember the 700,000 COVID dead and reclaim our religious and secular responsibilities to each other – and vaccinate.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at [email protected]