At every step in battling the coronavirus pandemic, it seems there are two — sometimes related — forces blocking the pathway to success. One is the government’s inefficiency (to put it kindly) or bungling (to be more blunt), particularly at the federal level. The other is the sad and potentially lethal mistrust many people have of science, medicine and anyone considered an expert.
We are now at a turning point (aren’t we always?). The introduction of vaccines — produced at astonishing speed — and better understanding of the virus than we had last spring, or even a few months ago, affords the opportunity to get ahead of the pandemic. Providing immunity to the ravages of the virus to enough of the population would vastly reduce the virus’ ability to reproduce and spread. This has always been the way out of a viral crisis.
However, the same two impediments are rearing their heads once again.
On the logistical side of things, Operation Warp Speed delivered a workable vaccine in record time, but inadequate thought was given to how it would be distributed once we had it, and to whom in what order. This lack of a unified plan is in tune with the dismissive attitude of the Trump administration toward the pandemic. Aside from pushing the creation of a vaccine, the federal government has alternately played down the crisis, offered conflicting and often bogus information, and left the mechanics of protecting Americans from the virus to individual states. Thus, some states fared well, while others, with leaders more in line with the president’s “keep the economy moving at all costs” view, did not.
Now, with many Americans (and others globally) fed up and unwilling to take a step back toward social distancing, the virus is spreading faster than ever, even in states like New Hampshire, that had been controlling the pandemic pretty well. News that the nationwide lack of an efficient plan to get the vaccine to people promptly has simply exacerbated that frustration.
Add to this the constant misinformation from three separate, but often overlapping groups, and the challenge is more pointed. There are the “anti-vaxxers” who have, for whatever reasons, decided that vaccines are bad. There are those who distrust everything backed by “the establishment.” They wail about Big Pharma controlling the FDA or “the state” using any and all conspiratorial means to control the citizenry using fluoride, public education, microchips or radio waves to infect our minds and turn us into sheep. And there are the Trump followers, who inexplicably believe anything the president says, even if it contradicts what he said moments ago, or is at odds with everything they’ve ever believed.
The crossover among these groups is obvious. They so want to be right that they’ll buy any story, any fiction, that feeds their preconceived notions. The Internet was made for people like this. And they do NOT want to be told — by anyone — what’s good for them, what’s best for others or, especially, what to do.
This is the challenge before us, with the payoff being that we regain some semblance of normal life this year, and save perhaps millions of lives. To do so means making sure the vaccines get to everyone who will accept them, in an orderly fashion that best contains the spread and protects the most vulnerable first. It means continuing to take social distancing seriously, even at the expense of seeing friends and family for a few more months.
And part of that is convincing enough of the population to create herd immunity that the vaccine and distancing are worthwhile. We may never win over those skeptics who turn every argument upon itself as “evidence” of the larger conspiracy. But this crisis won’t abate until enough of us take the right steps to defeat it.
It means educating people on the truth of the vaccine. So here are some of those truths:
It may hurt. In fact, many who receive it may come down with some of the symptoms of the virus for a day or two. That’s expected. In fact, it’s a good sign that your body is reacting, though the vaccines don’t contain any live virus.
There have been a few bad reactions to receiving it; some severe allergic responses and four reported cases of Bell’s palsy-like symptoms. It’s OK to acknowledge this, with the understanding that the palsy cases may well have nothing to do with the vaccine; they occurred in people who had received the shots, but in roughly the same incidence as the population as a whole would suffer from such cases. (This is the same dynamic, by the way, as with autism and vaccines; there’s no evidence of a link, but some people who’ve been vaccinated also have autism.) And yes, there is a slight chance of an allergic reaction. To avoid this, look up what’s in the vaccine before you get it and be careful if you have a history of allergies to any of those ingredients and consult your doctor.
There have also been instances where people expecting the COVID vaccine have been injected with COVID antibodies instead. This is simply a screw-up that shouldn’t have occurred. But you can’t remove potential human error from the equation. Still, the risk of something like that is extremely minimal.
In fact, the risks of any of these issues are far outweighed by the benefits of receiving the vaccine, both to the individuals who get it and to the society as a whole.
In short: When it becomes available, get the vaccine. It’s in your interest and everyone else’s.