It is 6 AM, January 1st, 2022. I sit in my comfy leather chair, Macbook on my lap. There is darkness outside the mullioned window that is direct to my right. In me, I feel darkness too. That darkness is from two years of the COVID pandemic and the consequences of its most recent Omicron explosion. I also have to admit that I have anger, but an anger that is clouded by sadness and pity.
It appeared that we were turning a corner. People were meeting again; offices were opening up, some mask restrictions were being lifted. However, as I write this, someone who I have known for over 50 years is on a ventilator; several close relatives are sick with COVID, everyone that I have talked to knows someone who has recently been exposed. I was supposed to visit my daughter Anne today. However, multiple people in her apartment building are sick with COVID, and the county where she lives is raging with it. My best friend, Tom, is in a crisis and needs my help. Tom has helped me countless times, but I can’t help him in his hour of need. Why? Because Tom, his wife, and his son all have COVID. Most, if not all of the people I know, have been vaccinated. They have breakthrough infections. Many of them will recovery because of their immunizations. However, they are still sick, and they are still contagious. I have been immunized and boosted, but I am a person approaching 70, and that one fact places me at a higher risk of having significant consequences. It is imperative that I protect myself in all reasonable ways.
It sounds patriotic for some to talk about personal freedom and personal rights, but during a worldwide emergency, such talk is selfish bullshit. I know that this statement may offend some, but it is the truth. We don’t live in isolated remote settings where we are self-sufficient pioneers. I just found out that two people close to me are now sick with COVID because someone close to them refused to follow any COVID guidelines, citing personal rights. Even those who live far away from their neighbors still have contact with them when they go to the store, gas station, church, or 100 other places.
Many people in highly populated urban settings seem to comply with mask guidelines, but this appears to be the opposite in more rural places. A number of months ago, my family entered a restaurant in a small town in Indiana. Naturally, we were wearing masks. We were met with glares not only from the patrons but also the staff. The place allowed self-seating, and so we sat down. After a long wait, a maskless employee came by to tell us that it would take at least 45 minutes or longer before we could be waited on. I can’t say what her reasons were, but my gut feeling was that she wanted us out of her restaurant. We left.
I am dumbfounded why people are putting their lives at risk by not getting vaccinated. Vaccinations provided almost 100% protection from the original COVID virus. That level of protection is less as new variants appear, but it is still instrumental in preventing the worst consequences of an infection.
Many reasons are given, but it amazes me that large groups of individuals are so willing to discount facts for fantasy. However, it sickens me that a few influential individuals have promoted these lies with a total disregard to their followers. Why is this?
The rise of the pseudo-expert.
I am a science guy. I spent years doing basic research in microbiology, immunology, and cancer. To gain a better understanding of disease, I became a medical doctor, and to gain a better understanding of behavior, I became a psychiatrist. I have three board certifications, and I have received national honors for my medical work. I went to one of the best medical schools in the country. I have the ability to read, interpret, and critique medical literature, and I understand the basics of immunology, vaccination, and the treatment of disease. I can analyze and evaluate expert opinion concerning COVID, but I would never consider myself an expert in COVID. The topic is too vast. Yet, some guy on a news channel with absolutely no science background or some pseudo-scientist on YouTube can make bold, irresponsible, and dangerous comments about COVID and its treatment. Why do people flock to their opinions? People, you are being played. The more you watch, the more they make. The bigger the crisis, the more you watch. Anyone on YouTube can claim they are an expert by bedazzling their audience with pseudo-jargon or the use of crappy/irrelevant studies. The majority of news on cable channels isn’t news at all; it is editorial opinion made to look like news. Hosts live and die by ratings. No consumer is willing to watch hours of boring information, so there is always a crisis created or an enemy group to vilify. Showbiz is not reality. That lovely HSN lady who is trying to sell you overpriced makeup is not really your friend, and commenters on cable channels are likely looking out for their best interest. Both parties need to make a living, and more viewers mean more bucks.
There have been and continue to be governmental missteps. I’m not here to stir a political caldron, but these are the facts. Government officials are not trained as scientists or medical professionals; they are political; they are motivated by power and politics. Our former president was an expert in making money, and economics seemed to be his main focus when he was president. It was clear that he understood the magnitude of the impending COVID crisis in early 2019 (that is an absolute fact), but he downplayed it as he knew it would potentially damage the economy. That was a foolish thing to do. Likewise, our current president doesn’t seem to have the ability to move the country out of this misconception and unify us. Lesser politicians seem more interested in maintaining their voter base despite clear evidence that their actions are hurting their constituents. Politicians are supposed to protect the people, and the government is supposed to provide a structure that supports the overall well-being of society. The government is failing.
I don’t even know where to start here. Indeed, many deals happen behind closed doors, and people in power use that power and influence to gain an unfair advantage over those who do not possess such options. It is true that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer in almost any situation. However, this does not mean that you can take some random fact and create an entire storyline based on that fact. Just for the record, Hillary Clinton is not eating babies, and Donald Trump is not the secret head of QAnon. It may be fun to entertain stories about Masons, the Vatican, and alien implants, but it is dangerous business when people listen to completely unsubstantiated theories and then use those stories to make ill-informed decisions about their and others’ welfare.
The God/Science conflict
I’m am not sure how this happened, but there seems to be a general distrust of science among some conservative religious groups. God gave us our minds, and it would appear that by doing so, he wanted us to use them. I’m not saying that science is all good, but it is not all bad. If you use a toilet, smartphone, or even a toaster, you have embraced science. However, note that science and scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. By its very nature, it changes as new data emerge and old data is either modified or disproven. However, that process is a good, not a bad thing. Millions of people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds are working to understand this coronavirus and how to treat it. As they learn, more rules and recommendations change or get modified. That is the way science works, and it is not a reason to discount a recommendation. The general treatment recommendations for COVID 19 have remained the same, but they have been modified to account for new information. In addition, governments have to balance risks vs. benefits not only on an individual’s level but also on a societal level. These two areas can sometimes be conflicting. We don’t live in a perfect world, but that doesn’t mean that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Real science vs. fake science
Currently, we have over a dozen different COVID vaccines available worldwide. They were designed using different methodologies, but they work by the exact same method. They introduce a unique part of the virus that is non-infectious to the individual whose body recognizes the foreign intruders and mounts an attack. It is that “attack” that causes some people to feel side effects when they get the COVID shot. Our bodies are incredible creations that have mechanisms to fight disease. Once we are exposed to a pathogen, we can quickly recognize it in the future, and we are much more capable of mounting a specific attack against it. That attack can eliminate the infecting agent before it has time to do significant damage.
Sometimes that “memory” is very long-lasting; at other times, it is more short-lived and requires a booster shot. For instance, a polio vaccine offers life-long immunity, while a vaccine for tetanus needs to be boosted every ten years. Since COVID is so new, we don’t have a complete understanding of how long a vaccine will last. However, many informed physicians believe that an initial immunization combined with a booster shot will offer long immunity. However, this can change as new variants emerge.
There are several different ways to produce vaccines. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have been in development for the last 20 years, but the COVID vaccines are the first to use this technology in a broad population. However, there are a number of vaccines using mRNA technology designed to treat other medical issues that are currently in the pipeline. The advantage of an mRNA vaccine is that it can be quickly developed, something essential when treating a pandemic. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses a different technology called viral vector. In both cases, your own body is the star as it creates the defense against the virus; the vaccine helps your body by giving it the components needed to mount the defense.
We have a number of treatments that have been proven to help some people who are already infected with the virus. Some of these antiviral treatments require IV infusions, and some can be taken in pill form. We have had antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections for over a hundred years. However, viruses are not bacteria, and antiviral agents have only been around for several decades. In addition, many antiviral agents are specific to a given virus, making their development more difficult. It is fantastic that we have a few antiviral agents that we can now use for COVID so soon after it emerged.
In addition, there are other medications, like steroids, that can help some who have COVID. Lastly, there is supportive care like ventilators for those in desperate need. None of these treatments are 100% effective. The best option is to not contract COVID; the next best is to get it when you are immunized; the most dangerous is to be unimmunized when you contract it.
It is clear that we have some treatment options that help, so why is it that individuals refuse these options or choose treatments that not only don’t work but may cause additional harm? This is a mystery to me, but it likely centers on our need to be our own expert and to be in charge (another individual rights issue). Such behaviors are supported by pseudo-experts who site crappy or unrelated studies or quote quack doctors. Why do these people do this? In my opinion, the reasons probably center around power, influence, manipulation, or direct/indirect profit-making. Shame on them!
Doctor’s have been threatened by patients and their families when they refuse to treat someone with a useless and potentially dangerous pseudo-treatment. How horrible is that? I am glad that I am no longer on the front lines as I’m not sure that I could maintain a professional composure if someone was threatening to kill me if I refused to poison their loved one!
Individual vs. societal rights
Why have we become so black and white in our thinking? We live in a society, and because of this, we have to act accordingly. I can’t raise cattle on my quarter-acre suburban lot, and there is a reason for that. Likewise, I can’t shoot a gun in my backyard. These rules change with the setting. I can raise cattle on a farm, and I can shoot a gun in a gun range. COVID is causing so much pain and injury because of our social connections and not because of our individual rights. Therefore, we have to approach the problem as a societal issue, not as an individual rights one.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say a person wants to drink an excessive amount of alcohol every day. If they were going to stay in their home while they did this, it would be their individual right. What if they had a family? Now their actions impact their spouse and children. Some may argue that they still have a right to do the above; others would disagree. Let’s extend this a bit further, do they have a right to be drunk and drive? Most would say no as their actions could have a negative consequence on innocent others.
How about COVID and vaccinations? If a person had little to no contact with others, most would agree that they have a right not to be vaccinated. They are making a personal decision. However, that simply is not the case when we are dealing with individuals who are interacting with others. To understand that, you have to look at the impact of the unvaccinated.
- Unvaccinated people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID and are at more of a chance of getting potentially deadly or long-term consequences. Their selfish actions clog hospitals and cost untold amounts to society on many levels. They place innocent compromised individuals at risk of contracting COVID just like a drunk driver place innocent bystanders at risk by their actions. Burdened health facilities’ abilities to treat other medical problems are compromised too. Dad’s heart attack may not get the treatment that it deserves due to exhausted staff, depletion of supplies, or lack of ICU beds.
- Unvaccinated people allow for more dangerous mutations to occur. When someone has COVID, they become a virus factory. It is not uncommon for someone with active COVID to shed 100 billion virus particles. Every time a virus is replicated, there is a chance that a mutation could occur. Some of these mutations result in an inactive virus, but others may lead to a more active mutation. The more people who are not immunized, the greater the number who will become sick. The more people who are infected, the greater the chance of creating a more dangerous variant. By not getting vaccinated, the individual not only puts themself at greater risk, but they also put the entire world at risk.
- Delta and Omnicron originated in people infected with COVID. If those individuals never got sick with COVID, those variants would have never existed. That is a fact. Do individual personal rights allow someone to do this when it could be preventable? How many people have died due to Delta and Omnicron? How many people have had long-term health consequences? How many people lost days of work, missed family events, or couldn’t be there for a loved one in need?
Risks vs. benefits
Everything in life has risks. Every time you leave your house, plug in an appliance, walk on a sidewalk, or take a bath, you are taking a risk. However, these are reasonable risks, and the benefits of your actions outweigh the potential danger that they hold. Sometimes we have to take greater risks. We may need to drive between point A and point B during a snowstorm, or we may have to accept a toxic treatment to fight off aggressive cancer. Every day we balance risk vs. benefit. Doctors do this with every decision they make. Nothing is 100% safe; taking aspirin has potential risks. However, if risks outweigh benefits, then a treatment should not be done. Current acceptable treatments for COVID, including vaccinations, do have risks. However, those risks are tiny compared to the benefits that they provide to both the individual and the society that they are part of. Quack treatments, like Ivermectin, have risks that exceed their usefulness and should not be used.
So who is getting the vaccine, and who isn’t? If you are educated, have financial stability, have insider knowledge, or have a background in science, you are more likely to get immunized. If you are poor, have lower education, have fewer resources, are rural, and have less social support (unmarried), you are less likely to get vaccinated. A good portion of unvaccinated individuals cite fear of the vaccine, conspiracy theories, or individual rights as their reason.
Those who have access to the best information and have the best financial resources are the ones standing in line to get vaccinated. They include politicians like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, who have not only been vaccinated but also got the booster shot. These folks are privy to the very best information and have the resources to obtain the very best care. Think about it.
In the end.
The sad reality is that those who most need to read this post won’t. Further, those who do read it and who are into conspiracy theories or pseudo-experts will likely not waiver in their opinion. So why am I writing this? If even one person changes their mind and lets logic rule, it will have been worth my New Year’s Day morning. Here’s hoping.