Do We Not Value Life Over Death?
Beyond reason and basic notions of human values, a death cult continues to ignore the reality of COVID's deadly grip
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One out of every 500 Americans has died of COVID-19. As of this week, that’s over 663,000 dead Americans. For those 85 or older, the number is one out of every 35. And the death rate has disproportionately hit Native Americans (one in 240), Hispanics (one in 380) and Blacks (one in 480).
After Joe Biden became president and the population began to be vaccinated in significant numbers, the reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths began to fall. During June, the number of daily cases dropped below 13,000 and the number of hospitalizations fell below 17,000. By July 9, the average number of daily deaths had declined to 220.
Then the highly contagious, highly transmissible Delta variant began to spread and surge, causing this month a spike to a daily average of 166,000 reported cases, nearly 103,000 hospitalizations and over 1,600 reported deaths. That included at least three right-wing radio talkshow hosts who lied about COVID’s deadly danger and discouraged listeners from getting vaccinated or wearing masks. Wherever you are in America, wherever you are along the political spectrum, the deadly evidence of this terrible disease is here to see.
I suspect just about everyone reading this—in fact, most people in America—can point to someone they know or someone close to someone they know who’s died of the coronavirus. In my own case, I have friends who’ve lost parents and grandparents. I know parents who’ve lost children. I feel extremely lucky that no one in my own family has died of COVID. And if I think back over those long months between March 2020 and February 2021 when we were quarantining and hand sanitizing, masking and hoping that somehow we’d avoid contracting the virus or worse, the idea of a life-saving vaccine was a beautiful dream—a reason for hope. And it came true.
Once we had a competent government in place, the opportunity to get vaccinated soon accelerated. Over 200 million doses were delivered in the first 100 days alone.
But now we are witnessing in real-time a population of people who have drifted outside perhaps the most elemental instinct of human existence: to stay alive if one possibly can. We are witnessing millions of Americans who, despite all available evidence of the contrary, cling to such false notions as COVID is not real, free vaccines were manufactured to do them harm, masks and mask mandates are dictatorial tools to deny their freedom, and the government should never be trusted.
Yes, they may be listening to the flood of disinformation from Fox News, Newsmax or some other right-wing media outlet. They may be relying on what GOP governors like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are telling them about their right to reject the very strategies that will keep them and their families safe and alive. They may still be holding onto the lies perpetrated by Donald Trump—that COVID is a hoax and it’s all an attempt by the liberal elites to undermine him and his rule.
But even as the infection rates and death counts disproportionately surged in Trump-voting red states, there are few signs that the latest round of death and dying is convincing this entrenched minority, who are willing to toss away their own lives and risk the lives of their families to hold onto their “freedom.” Count me among those who assumed that as the death rates climbed, the mindset would shift.
Yet I underestimated and didn’t fully recognize how powerful this death cult is. And as much as there’s always been some fear and resistance about getting vaccinated from any virus or disease, this feels like a genuine, widespread break from external reality. In other words, a form of mass psychosis. It’s no coincidence that nearly 99 percent of the new COVID hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.
I read a lot of angry comments from people who are more than willing to let the unvaccinated just die—to let the Darwinian principles of human evolution do their thing. I understand the anger toward the recklessness and selfishness that puts everyone at risk, has led to extreme overcrowding in hospitals, and will extend the time it takes to put this exhausting, dispiriting pandemic behind us. Clearly, those with such a bleak outlook toward the unvaccinated are responding to the sickening toxicity in the body politic that increases indifference to the humanity of fellow humans.
But it’s important to remember that throughout history, smart policy and capable leaders have found ways to motivate those who resisted vaccinations (or simply lacked access) to join the party of the living. Polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox and many other illnesses have been overcome because of science and because of the success of vaccination. And then there’s the remarkable case of smallpox.
In 1798, Edward Jenner published Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, Or Cow Pox. The English physician detailed his finding that dairymaids were not contracting smallpox after they had been infected with cowpox, and that he could immunize others from smallpox by infecting them with cowpox.
How significant was this? In the 17th century, English historian Thomas Macaulay described this horrifically painful and infectious disease as “the most terrible of all the ministers of death.” Despite this finding, in lieu of the ability to sufficiently vaccinate, smallpox killed over 300 million people in the 20th century alone, more than twice the number who died from World Wars I and II.
But here’s the thing: In 1967 the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate this ravaging disease from the globe, and the World Health Organization devised a plan to vaccinate 80 percent of the people in 50 countries with a vaccine of reliable potency. By 1973 they had eliminated smallpox in Latin America, Indonesia, every African country but one, and five countries in Asia.
Yet with over a billion people who were still at risk in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the WHO mobilized 120,000 people and visited every home they could in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In May 1980 the World Health Assembly announced that smallpox vaccinations were no longer needed: Smallpox was eradicated in the world.
Last week President Biden announced new measures to increase vaccination rates among the 80 million Americans who still have not gotten a shot. “That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage, and they are,” Biden said, his frustration unusually visible. “The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals or overrun the emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer.”
His plan, which has already triggered Republican condemnation for his dictatorial behavior and threats of lawsuits from GOP legislators and two dozen attorneys generals from around the country: Require vaccinations of all nursing home staff who treat patients on Medicare and Medicaid, require the same from 17 million health care workers in hospitals, home health or other medical facilities, require vaccinations for all executive branch federal employees; and require employers with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated. That would affect, he said, about 100 million Americans, representing about two-thirds of all workers.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for?” Biden said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”
He’s not the only one frustrated and impatient, tired of the politicization of something as basic as human health. That includes most of the 175 million Americans who are fully vaccinated and have had enough with a death cult that refuses to take advantage of a free vaccine and give America a fighting chance to finally move on, unburdened by a hostile minority who thinks reality is not for them.
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