Tuesday, September 14, 2021

BTRTN: The Search for Intelligent Life in the United States... Anti-Vaxxers, and How to Deal with Them

Today, BTRTN launches a new series, in which Steve will endeavor to periodically examine segments of the American population that exhibit an unusually robust capacity to resist factual information, process information logically, and make decisions based on an understanding of a concept we call the “common good.” Please enjoy our first installment of “The Search for Intelligent Life in the United States.”

Joe Biden’s latest effort to gain the upper hand on the coronavirus epidemic was welcome, although certainly long overdue – and still underwhelming -- to the many Americans who understand that we could throttle the domestic pandemic into complete submission in two months if only we had the will.

Biden finally began to use his power to assert central policy for government workers, Federal contractors, and even private sector employees to force vaccinations or require frequent testing. In a nation that already has a vast trove of vaccination mandates on the books at the state level for polio, small pox, and measles, the failure to act accordingly on COVID 19 is inexplicable.

One has to admire the way Joe Biden keeps trying to cajole America into sanity. But the address he gave Thursday, ratcheting up pressure on the vaccination-refusers, was not the usual Joe: he wasn’t sunny, upbeat, and constantly assuming a core sanity and good-heartedness in Americans. He was pissed off and frustrated.

Good for him. If Happy Warrior Joe is getting fed up, you have an inkling of the rage that vaccinated America is feeling after 538 days of constipated social lives and an ever-present angst that the next trip to the dry cleaner will be the time the wrong person sneezes on you.

Yes, Biden’s actions were progress. Some people – faced with the loss of a job that they value – will undoubtedly finally buckle under and get the shot.

But there will remain a segment of the population that is not only impervious to Biden’s latest initiative, they will undoubtedly double-down in the ferocity and certainty of their resistance. For many, opposition to vaccination is rooted precisely in anti-government mistrust and political opposition. It borders on a suicidal contrarianism: whatever Joe Biden wants, I will oppose, even if it kills me. Live free, or die… on a ventilator.

Don’t worry. This first installment in our new series, “The Search for Intelligent Life in the United States,” is not going to be another useless gaseous blowhard exercise in castigating the anti-vaxxers as ignorant, stupid, self-involved, and misguided in their view of “personal liberty.”

This time we have an idea for what to do about it.

Let’s assume for a moment that the anti-vaxxers are people who have, in the past year, been exposed to a mountain of scientific evidence about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. The first step in getting serious is to stop playing “if only” games: If only they were confronted with the data. If only we could craft the right message. If only we knew the right messengers to deliver the message. If only they understood the science of vaccines.

In recent months, I have had a number of direct conversations with anti-vaxxers, and conversations with people who were very close to anti-vaxxers. The conversations were revealing, not merely for what was said… but perhaps much more so for what was never mentioned.

One was a very smart, extremely well-educated person who was deeply skeptical that the vaccines had been sufficiently tested, and was convinced that time would reveal catastrophic dangers to those who were vaccinated. Here is the only quote from that conversation you need to know: this person would “rather get COVID 19 than get the vaccination.”

Yes, this smart, generally highly informed person was more concerned about the unproven possibility of long-term dangers from the vaccine than of proven, horrific dangers – short and long term – of contracting Covid 19. There is no hint that the vaccines can kill you, damage your heart, or cause permanent loss of taste and smell… all just a few of the known, widely experienced, and proven possible consequences of Covid 19. At some level, the possibility of some unknown future ailment was a tough argument to counter: no, I guess I can't promise you that in twenty years you won't grown eight arms covered with tentacles. But I know that if you have not been vaccinated and contract Covid you could die or suffer debilitating maladies for months if not years into the future. 

A guitar-playing buddy of mine struggled to articulate a deep-seated fear of injections of any kind, even with the knowledge that he had received many vaccination shots early in life. He is not someone who appears inclined to spend hours online doing research on vaccine data. He is a very nice person… wouldn't hurt a fly.  But in the age of Delta, I am not going to spend two hours in a closed room with anyone who is not vaccinated.

A friend of mine describes a man she knows who, when pressed, will somewhat reluctantly express a rather dark and deeply rooted distrust of government as the cause of his vehement rejection of vaccines. He does not appear to be a full-blown or militant conspiracy theorist – he simply fiercely mistrusts medical and governmental authority. It is hard to imagine genial Joe Biden ever, ever reaching such a person.

A good friend of mine has a close relative who has actually been fully converted to the QAnon cult, where they believe that the vaccine causes the virus. That person is never going to get the vaccine… and it is terrifying to try to calculate just how many QAnon followers there are in the United States today. That block of the population alone can seriously reduce the opportunity for herd immunity and the resumption of normal life.

Not everyone who is avoiding the vaccine is an anti-vaxxer. One woman I know delayed vaccination for months because her doctor told her that she first needed to recover from Prednisone therapy. This underscores the necessity to resist demonizing the unvaccinated. As with so many things in life, there is nuance, and we must work to accept exceptions so that we do not punish people who have sound medical reasons.

But by far and away, what most fascinated me in my microscopic sample of interactions with the determinedly unvaccinated segment of our population was what does not come up in the conversation. None of these people ever brought up the idea of the “common good.”

This many months into the pandemic, people have to be aware that the decision they are making to not become vaccinated is having a direct impact on our society’s ability to fight the pandemic. It is well documented and abundantly available information: unless upwards of approximately 75% of the population gets vaccinated, there will continue to be a sufficient critical mass of virus transmission to generate more variants like Delta. The risk is that each new variant is ever more infectious and potent, and therefore trigger new waves of disease, hospitalization, and death.

What was so striking in my conversations with anti-vaxxers is this: they don’t care. They either have no concept of or some level of contempt for the notion of the “common welfare” of the society to which they belong. They feel no sense of obligation to the society that employs them, feeds them, and yes – in times of great need – provides them medical care. In this regard, the anti-vaxxers exhibit a seemingly unconscious flavor of sociopathy. The needs of the society – of the other human beings they share the planet with -- do not factor into their decision matrix.  

And sure, some people mistakenly believe that since they have already had Covid, they are immune. Wrong. Some people have decided that the odds of getting Covid are small, and some people think that if they were to get it, they would get a mild case. Huge bets, with bad odds… with Delta, refusing vaccination is less like betting against the New York Jets and more like Russian Roulette.

Sure, we read about the young people gasping for breath in emergency rooms who begin begging for the vaccine, proving that their anti-vaccination position was born of true ignorance and failure to have made any effort to understand the disease, how to prevent it, the treatment options, and the implications – both short and long term – on personal health, and the very real risk of death.

But the point remains the same: whatever reason people have for arriving at their anti-vax stance, we now know that attempts to cajole, educate, beg, or even bribe them with a chance at lotto millions are over. They don’t work. We all know Einstein’s rule that insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.

It is time to stop trying to convince people to take a vaccine that they are dead set against. Yes, Joe, it is time for mandates, and let’s push them as hard and as far as we can.

But even with mandates, we are failing to employ a critical weapon, which is to create very real consequences for the decision anti-vaxxers have made.

You see, part of the problem is that anti-vaxxers have had to face precious little by way of consequence for their stance.

Wow, Mr. or Ms. Anti-Vaxxer -- you don’t get to eat inside the restaurant! Big deal -- eat outside. You say that A-Vs can’t work at your company without a vaccine? Fine, they’ll go elsewhere and get one of the millions of jobs that is going begging, or just go on unemployment until this supposed pandemic blows over. No one is stopping any unvaccinated people from shopping next to you, breathing on you, sneezing on you, and grabbing the door handle in front of you at the CVS. You have absolutely no idea whether the person on line two feet behind you at the DMV is vaccinated.

But here is what should really steam us: if an anti-vaxxer actually does get Covid, no one is stopping that person from calling 911, breathing all over the first responders who come to their house to save them, and no one is stopping them from going to the hospital for expert care from medical professionals who are risking their own lives to save theirs.

Most outrageous: no one is stopping that person from tying up an ICU bed that is desperately needed by the person waiting to have open heart surgery, which cannot be scheduled unless it is certain that an ICU bed will be available for the recovery. Or an ICU bed that is urgently needed by someone who is in the hospital emergency room because of a grave, life threatening situation that was not the result of personal choice. The anti-vaxxer is in the ICU because of a choice they made. The victim of a heart attack, a traffic accident, a stroke, or a ten-year old’s horrific lawnmower disaster did not have the nearly certain option to avoid it. 

In America today, the anti-vaxxer gets to make an incredibly self-involved decision with absolutely no consequence … no trade-off, no nothing.

It’s time that we stop allowing refusing vaccination to be a decision with no consequence. 

The search for intelligent life in the United States brings us to Delta Airlines,a company that decided to add a $200 per month health insurance surcharge to employees who are not vaccinated. Brilliant! If you choose to create more risk for yourself, you should bear the expense! Delta has created real, difficult, tough consequences for anti-vaxxers. 

We need more consequences. Here's how we do it.

Let’s start by making unvaccinated people who contract Covid 19 go to the back of the line for urgent medical care.

Let’s require that a certain percentage of ICU beds in every publicly funded hospital in America be reserved for patients of trauma who are not in need of an ICU bed because they elected not to be vaccinated.

If you show up at a hospital with Covid and without proof of vaccination, you do not get to clog up every single bed in the ICU.  Some of you have to wait, so that there are beds available for people who are not there because of a freely elected choice.

And yeah, if you begin to choke and die waiting for that bed, who’s choice was that, really? The hospital’s? The government’s? No… it is time you come to grips with the fact that that choice was yours, entirely.

Why not take it further? If you don’t get vaccinated and you contract Covid, should you be automatically allowed to get treatment in a publicly funded hospital ICU?

Quite apart from the grave and needless risk you are imposing on medical professionals, and quite separate from possibly stealing an ICU bed from someone who didn’t have a choice, there is the matter that the rest of us are paying through the nose for your self-indulgence.

Our tax dollars helped fund the research that led to the vaccines… the vaccines that would have kept anti-vaxxers out of the ICU in the first place. Our tax dollars helped pay for the manufacture and distribution of the vaccine you opted not to take. Our tax dollars paid for a massive information program about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine that you chose to ignore. And we are now helping defer the cost of your ICU bed, because our insurance premiums will be raised to cover the medical cost of treating unvaccinated people in an ICU.

Wait -- it gets worse. We are all paying for your self-indulgence in the compromised education of our children, in our foundering economy, and in endless, needless constrictions to our right to live normal lives. What price do we put on that?

To be clear: if you get a “breakthrough” case of Covid – the cases that are occurring among the people who were vaccinated – none of this applies. Show your vaccine card at the emergency room and, if need be, go straight to the ICU. This policy only applies to people who chose to not be vaccinated, and now believe they are entitled to the full muscle of our medical resources to save them now that they are dying.

What, you say? Wouldn’t this idea be abhorrent to medical providers?

Well, let’s start by saying that a key reason to implement this as government and hospital policy is so that every ICU decision is not forced on a doctor who is simply trying to triage in a hospital overrun by unvaccinated Covid patients. Doctors are trained to give the best possible medical attention to all, regardless of circumstance or culpability. By making it hospital policy to cordon off a percentage of ICU beds, the doctors are relieved of a brutal decision that will likely prioritize the dying Covid patient over the person requiring planned surgery that is not deemed a life or death matter.

I suspect that virtually every doctor, medical provider, and first responder would tell you that they were more than willing to spend a year in grave danger, selflessly devoting themselves to the care of people who were sick and dying through no fault of their own. That’s what these good people signed up for, train for, and give of themselves selflessly for.

But now?

Yes, anti-vaxxer, have a really candid conversation with a medical professional today. I bet they are grinding their teeth as they recite the Hippocratic Oath. They didn’t spend eight years of their lives studying their brains out, working 72 hour shifts, and missing any semblance of social life so that some recklessly irresponsible, hopelessly self-involved, and willfully ignorant jerk can casually put their life at risk.

Sure, every doctor in America deals with patients who make bad decisions. They deal with it as their patients fail to lose the weight, forget to take the pills, refuse to quit the booze, and never get to the gym.

But that is different. A doctor’s own life is generally not put in jeopardy when his patient makes a foolish, selfish decision.

I would love to see real data on how doctors feel about treating unvaccinated people who contract Covid. I wonder if doctors are tired of putting themselves and their own families at grave risk so that people who do not believe in science have the opportunity to demand that science be at their beck and call in their moment of need.

Believe me: I am as ardent as anyone in my belief in the right of personal choice. But only in the right of choice that comes with acceptance of responsibility for those choices.

Yes, anti-vaxxers, if you are so certain of your view, are you really willing to accept the consequences?

As with so many issues in our country today, it is the hypocrisy that leaves us as dumbfounded as we are disgusted.

Anti-vaxxers are quick to invoke their country, claiming that it gives them the right to make decisions without government interference… all while failing to see any obligation to make decisions based in some measure on what is good for that country.

Anti-vaxxers decry the science of vaccination, but when they fall ill, they suddenly turn desperately to science as they hope it will save them. 

And, of course, there are the Republican leaders who are screaming bloody murder about the "government over-reach" of vaccine mandates, and yet you just know that if Trump said mandates were a good idea, they would all fold faster than origami rather than be seen as disloyal to the big orange gas bag.

I would have more respect for anti-vaxxers if they stood up and promised that they would not seek medical assistance if they contract Covid.

That would be having the courage of your convictions.

But that’s problem, isn’t it?

Anti-vaxxers have plenty of conviction, but they expect the doctors to have all the courage.



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1 comment:

  1. A friend of the BTRTN blogger, who reads my blog, emailed me:

    Check this out. My friend Stephen Gardner has a similar solution to anti-vaxxers as you do.
    Stephen’s a smart guy, a political blogger and former ad exec. I used to work for his brother Tom at Reader’s Digest. Also very smart.
    Go here:

    I replied:

    Good article, the psychoanalysis of anti-vaxxers won’t change them, but cutting off their hospital privileges if they catch C19 will get their attention. I wonder if they understood C18 is a RedChina bioweapon, they would rally like they did to 9/11?

    Title my blog post yesterday, with link:

    Anti-VAX mantra: U.S. Constitution gives infected non-vaccinated adults right to glut hospitals and deny other critically ill patients treatment


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