Anti-Vac movement is furthering the American divide

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The numbers of COVID-19 transmissions appear to be coming down. At the same time the number of those receiving the vaccine are going up. And, that’s good news. Also, Ballad Health reports that the number of hospitalizations due to COVID are slowly declining.
While the Tennessee Department of Health is still encouraging COVID vaccinations, department personnel are also encouraging the public to get flu shots. Compared to COVID vaccinations, there is little resistance to flu vaccines.
People get flu. They die from flu complications. But, the numbers are not as horrific as the COVID data. We still have people dying every day and every week from COVID. It is deeply troubling. The Tenn. Department of Health reported 14 new deaths in Northeast Tennessee between Friday and Sunday. In that three-day period, 50 new cases of COVID were reported in Carter County — down from days past. At the same time, the vaccination numbers are going up. Carter County’s vaccination rate is now at almost 35 percent.
The vehemence of the resistance to the COVID vaccine goes beyond the vaccine hesitancy or the simple lack of access to information which prevailed earlier in the pandemic.
Some companies, school systems, and health care systems are mandating the vaccines. Hospitals and nursing homes, already beleaguered by the ravages of COVID, are haunted by the prospect that by mandating vaccines they may lose workers they desperately need.
Early proponents of smallpox inoculation in colonial America were met with resistance as they tried to enforce widespread prevention of this horrible disease. In the early twentieth century there were still pockets of resistance to smallpox vaccines. There has been a cadre of anti-vaxers to childhood immunizations for years clinging to their debunked theories.
In times when access to information was limited, it is understandable that some people would fall back on fear or superstition, or make decisions based on principles like personal freedom. That seemed wise when the freedom of the individual didn’t collide with the freedom of others, as it does now. Likewise, when pharmaceutical manufacturing wasn’t tightly regulated, a certain skepticism that companies were out to make money at their expense, or that the treatment was worse than the cure, made sense.
But the sheer obstinacy of those on board with the anti-vaccine movement today, when the science is clear, and the evidence of efficacy and safety of the vaccines is overwhelming, is astonishing.
What is emerging from the shadows is that our disagreements on these issues are along a number of fault lines. Income and education play a small role, at least, but religious beliefs and geography play more. Political affiliation may play the biggest role of all, to a degree not seen in earlier debates about public health measures.
Vaccines should not be forced on anyone. But, we need to look at the facts. But, just because you’re a Baptist, Methodist, or Catholic is not reason enough to get the vaccine nor because you’re a Democrat or Republican is not reason enough. Look at the science. Look at your neighbor, who may be vulnerable to the virus. Look at the residents of local nursing homes, many of whom are still locked down because of COVID. Do it for them, if you don’t want to do it for yourself.
The solution is simple but incredibly hard. We need to keep reaching out across this divide. We need to fall back on personal connection, which we seem to have lost. If we don’t, the pandemic will have its own way of doing this for us.