Friday’s column in The Sun — available at baltimoresun.com — is about the very strange and dangerous trend of right-wing politics and extreme ideology affecting a basic health decision: Whether to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. We have had the vaccine since December, but only half of the country is fully vaccinated, and public health officials continue to blame purveyors of misinformation in politics and the media for the slowing of the nation’s vaccination rate as the Delta variant spreads.
I tell of Dennis Champney, a Maryland man I met via Facebook, who shakes his head as he mourns an older cousin who refused vaccination and died of COVID-19 in June.
I don’t know if every American family has such a person — Champney says his cousin “wore the stripes of an officer in the right-wing army” — but obviously the anti-vax malady is very common. That is, very common in red states that voted for Trump.
And yet, there are some signs of hope that vaccination rates are picking up in areas of resistance — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — and I’m guessing that has to do with reports of surges, warnings about returning to lockdowns and the hit the stock market took the other day.
Even the so-called Republican leaders are changing their tune about the vaccine — this after 609,000 deaths, supporting Trump’s lethal incompetency, abiding anti-vaxxers, opposing the state shutdowns early in the pandemic, attacking Fauci. This is the beginning of their effort to revise history.
Speaking of history . . . Who thought we’d live to see a con man become president? Who thought that we’d be hit with a pandemic while the con man was president? Who thought we’d see an attack on the Capitol? And who thought that millions of Americans, followers of the con man, would base a fundamental life decision on warped and fevered political views?
These same people were fully vaccinated against all kinds of diseases — their mommas took them to get their shots! — and many of them probably got an annual flu inoculation.
My longtime Baltimore Sun colleague Frank Roylance offered this take on the resistance:
I think many people fear, distrust or simply can’t accept anything or anyone outside their own experience: people of different races, colors, religions, sexual orientation or national cultures beyond their own personal, daily experience. All are suspect until proven otherwise. Most of us living in the US today have never experienced a public health emergency, much less a deadly global pandemic. They’ve rarely, if ever, been urged by their government to have even a minimally invasive medical procedure. So the past year has pushed millions of us — especially those in more rural, insular, homogeneous parts of the country — beyond their comfort zone. They didn’t experience the Depression, the war, or the polio scares, so, as you pointed out, they don’t have those experiences to guide or reassure them. They’re just not buying it. It may take more time, and perhaps the suffering and death of someone close to them to change their minds. It’s tragic, but very human.
I agree with a lot of that, but the political tribalism in America is strong and steady. Here’s how I believe a lot of those people think about this: Joe Biden, the man who soundly defeated Trump last fall, wants to see 70% of the nation fully vaccinated. We can’t let that happen because that would be seen as a political victory for a Democrat. It’s why Republicans fought tooth and nail to kill Obamacare: If they didn’t oppose it and then try to repeal the law, millions of people would soon benefit from it and like it and forever associate it with a president who was a Democrat, and a Black man at that!
Well, guess what: Republicans and the nutty right lost that battle. They will also lose the battle against Biden and vaccination, and a Democrat will always be associated with ending the pandemic in the United States.