VACCINE HESITANCY/HERD IMMUNITY/SOCIETAL RESPONSIBILITY

          Whoa, amigo, just like you said, you jumped right back into the saddle. Most certainly; guess I have too much spare time on my hands. The housing market’s a little tight. Not much to look at, so I’m thinking about life in our “fair land” rather than location, view, potential, tax liability, lot size… I’ve been musing about vaccine hesitancy and personal freedom, versus societal needs and well-being. Whoa, whoa, whoa, compadre, this doesn’t sound like what you mentioned last; you talked about shedding light on “the American Dream,” the loss of, and how this created what’s his face’s political base. You know I get up for your next writing, and when you throw curve balls, I feel a personal loss. Also, this has a déjà vu feeling, amigo. I’m thinking you’ve done this “switch thing” before. Well, yes I have, and honestly I thought “writer’s license” would allow me minor transgressions when choosing subjects to write about and the sequencing of said articles. So, I hear you saying, “My mind wanders from here to there, and whenever I get the itch to write, I write about what’s rolling around inside my head at that particular moment.” Ha, no, no, no, my dear friend. No, no…that’s not the case at all. Well, kind of “not the case at all.” Okay, yeah, a little bit so, but I like to think my topic choice is influenced more by relevancy and immediacy rather than pure random mental hijacking. Think what you like, amigo. I’m just hoping that in the time it takes me to gather up some nourishment, and get comfortable in the easy chair, you haven’t chanced upon another, even more important topic and, once again, left me wanting. I hear you. I’m focused and will not diverge from my stated path. Gracias, writer-san, so let’s hear it; what are your thoughts about personal freedom versus societal allegiance?

            I’m concerned about our culture’s use of the “lowest common denominator” in regard to creating rules and regulations we must all adhere to. By doing this we inflict restrictions upon the “common good” and everyone’s personal freedoms. Bear with me; I’m steering toward vaccine hesitancy and how a few are directly interfering with the majority’s well-being. My pet peeve (no pun intended) example of limiting rules created because of a few individuals’ poor choices deals with dogs and all the restrictions placed upon them. I’m sure that all you readers have your own personal, annoying regs that shouldn’t apply to you, but do, which makes your psyche want to scream, “But, that’s not me! I wouldn’t even consider doing that.” Anyway, the first such situation that comes to my mind is dog regulations, aka “leash laws.” In most cases, the movement of your family pet is restricted to one degree or another, or in some cases, they are simply banned from areas completely. This became abruptly apparent to me when I arrived in a national park two winters ago and set out to hike a trail with my leashed German Shorthair Pointer. Kiva, my GSP, loves all people and dogs. Putting her on a leash is a travesty, not only because of her warm personality, but also because of the breed’s inherent love of running and exploring. To my dismay, dogs were simply banned from the trail and for that matter, from all trails in the park.

            Leash laws became, well, the law-of-the land several decades ago because a few individuals began buying aggressive dog breeds, an unfortunate fad that gained a small yet ardent following. This small group of dog owners tried to rein in the natural instincts of these animals and make them into family pets. Consequently, with these breeds in much closer contact with the general public, instances of people and pets being bitten by man’s best friend increased sharply. The immediate response by municipalities and other organizations frequented by the general public was the creation of leash laws.

            Therein lies the problem for all of us. Because of a few people’s choices and their desire for aggressive pets, restrictions have been placed on all dogs. Pit Bull Terriers and German Shorthairs are treated the same by governing bodies. When the rules are posted, breeds are not mentioned. For ease of interpretation and enforcement, the generic term “dog” prevails, so that all of us must abide by rules that a small percentage of dog owners have forced into creation; “lowest common denominator” prevails, and even those who have chosen friendly breeds and trained them properly have their freedoms restricted, and the “common good’s” reality is once again modified because of a few people’s inconsiderate choices and behaviors.

            Before continuing, let me state that of course not all members of aggressive dog breeds are hostile. We’ve all patted and loved up our friend’s affectionate Pit Bull Terrier. These animals tend to emulate their owner’s personalities and abilities to train them. Poorly trained, aggressive dogs are the real problem. For the sake of discussion, I choose to ignore the other causes of aggressive dog behavior such as canine abuse, which produces emotionally depressed animals in physical and mental pain.  For this article’s sake, my concerns were, simply, “leash laws” and their creation. Their development was a direct result of aggressive breed dog numbers abruptly rising.  

            Whoa, amigo, you’re off and running with the dog analogy. You going to rein it in, and move on with the vaccine hesitancy concept? Ha, ha, ha…Well, the above paragraphs did come to an end, and I told you it was a pet peeve of mine, although now, in retrospect, I probably should have chosen another example to discuss, not one quite so personal. Seemingly, years of frustration and bottled-up sentiment equated to a lengthy and possibly counterproductive diatribe that might have sent some readers groping for the remote and relief. Truer words could not have been written, compadre. You gotta focus, writer-san. Andale, Andale, let’s get back to your outline. Thanks for your verbal slap in the face, dear colleague. You’re right, time to return to the original course, and sail on with whoever is still onboard.

            Presently, our country is trying to render the Covid-19 virus into a position of weakness, so that it cannot direct our populace’s daily lives and control our economy’s strength and development. The mRNA vaccine has become the tool by which the medical community intends to rein in the virus. There appears to be a large amount of data to support the belief that this new vaccine will provide the needed relief. The societal, medical success of this vaccine is dependent upon a large number of people becoming immune to the disease. A certain number of citizens need to be vaccinated and/or infected with Covid before the virus becomes moot. This number is referred to as a “herd immunity” level. Data suggests that 70 to 85 percent of our country’s citizenry needs to be inoculated for and/or infected with Covid-19 before herd immunity is reached. Herd immunity can be reached quickly by everyone getting vaccinated or it can be achieved by the slower path utilizing the transmission of the disease through human interaction. What we’re seeing now is an accumulation of disease-resistant people via both avenues.

            Oh happy day, oh happy days…There is a light at the end of this here tunnel. This horrendous disease can be beat, and eventually, we can all return to our pre-pandemic lives. Whoa, not so fast, mate. A slight problem has reared its ugly head and thrown a spike strip down in front of our caravan. Vaccine hesitancy may derail our successful control of Covid-19. This can happen by a lengthy immunization period, one that allows the virus to mutate into a new, vaccine-resistant strain. We have already seen new strains develop, and fortunately, for all of us, these new strains still are vulnerable to the mRNA therapy in use. By the middle of June, CDC data predicts that roughly half of all Americans eighteen and older will be fully vaccinated. Add to that group the 30 to 40 million citizens naturally infected with Covid-19 and you have about two hundred million Americans resistant to the disease. This number is shy of the minimal, targeted threshold of 70 percent immunization before herd immunity is reached. What’s more troubling is the reduced demand for the vaccine. State after state, vaccination site after vaccination site are all reporting unused and wasted vaccines because the demand by unvaccinated people for the shots has plummeted. Officials are so concerned by the lack of vaccine interest shown from the remaining unvaccinated populace that they are offering “carrot-like” incentives for the unvaccinated. Business owners and government officials are proffering monetary incentives like lotteries and paid days off from work to attract the unvaccinated back to immunization sites. This last-ditch effort to reach herd immunity is very troubling, not because of the effort, but because we’re at the point where people must be bribed to do the right thing. As I stated before, individuals in the know, such as infectious disease experts, warn that the longer it takes for us to reach herd immunity the more likely a resistant strain will mutate into existence.  If this occurs, it’s back to square one and the ol’ drawing board, folks. Throw your previous immunization shots out the door, hunker down some more, and wait for the new vaccine.

            Why in the hell is it so hard to accomplish a communal goal in this country? The answer’s obvious, but I’ll state it anyway. We’re not a community. Webster states, and I paraphrase, “a community is a group of people living and working together, adhering to similar beliefs and goals.” There you be. Does that sound like the good ol’ USofA? Right now, we live in a fractured culture that has various groups wagging their index fingers toward each other and assigning blame for this and that on everyone but themselves.

            With that said, miraculously, our country’s pre-pandemic reality is slowly coming back into focus. Jobless claims diminish week after week. Manufacturing is slowly growing, although it is stumbling along due to the lack of needed supplies and a reported shortage of workers. The service industry is showing gains as people get out and about more. Consumer optimism waxes, then wanes depending on economic activity and reported business nuances. For sure, our economy is awakening and many economists believe 2021 will witness a large increase in GNP. With the overall economy coming back and Covid deaths declining week after week, we should eventually return to the norm that existed before Covid-19.

            Getting people vaccinated and unafraid of Covid-19 is touted as being the best solution for people’s health and growth in our economy and return to normalcy. So why isn’t everyone on board with vaccinations, the apparent quickest path to herd immunity, and the consequent, fastest route to regularity? Well it depends on who you listen to. One faction in our country, which has the fewest supporters, wags its finger toward those who believe in wearing masks, social distancing, and vaccination as the correct route out of our Covid mess. The vaccination believers point their fingers at those who won’t get vaccinated, stating this group’s irresponsible behavior is causing our recovery to crawl forward due to the continual spread of Covid by the unimmunized. The continual spread of Covid forces the restrictions set into place to protect people from the disease to remain in place. These restrictions are slowing our economic recovery. I believe the abovementioned stand-off and finger pointing is another example of the “lowest common denominator” controlling the options available to all of us, and consequently, keeping a timely, uniform, and well-received plan from derailing Covid-19. Time is of the essence; the longer we dawdle in regard to eliminating this disease, the more victims it will claim. The longer it takes for our transition away from a Covid-19 business environment, the more damage small businesses will sustain, and in general, the more damage our overall economy will endure. We all know about the closures of so many small shops and businesses and the loss of millions of jobs due to Covid. Do we really want this hostile environment to linger and cause more such catastrophes? No we don’t.

            People from both aforementioned factions want our economy to recover quickly. So why the conflict? Why the caustic impasse, and counterproductive finger pointing? Well, I believe some of the apparent discord is residue left over from the dysfunctional presidency, recently dismissed from office by the largest popular vote ever recorded. But, in my opinion, there’s more to it than just that. First, let’s focus on the obvious conflict remaining after our last election: Trumpers versus non-Trumpers. One group tends to emotionally follow their ideologies, no matter what the evidence suggests. The “don’t tread on me” types and the far right and all their subsidiaries believe in an “us versus them” mentality and “if you give an inch, the other side will take a mile” philosophy. Consequently, you have a suspicious, unbending, demographic with knee-jerk responses to all perceived threats regardless of size or authenticity. On the other side of the cultural spectrum you have the non-Trumpers, who tend to be science-based individuals who believe in the “common good” and a society based on character and inclusiveness, not one based on defending exclusive personal and political ideologies. These two factions have become well defined over the last five years and their differences remarkably contrasted. Due to dynamics of the two camps, if one says make love not war, the other will say make war not love. There you have it…plain and simple: the non-Trumpers say vaccines, and the Trumpers, consequently, say no vaccines. The Trumpers will have all sorts of rationales for their stance; they’ll say everything from, “there isn’t a pandemic; it was just a scam created to rob Trump of the presidency,” to “the dead died because of their underlying conditions, not Covid,” to “vaccines place molecular-sized tracking devices into you which allows the government to monitor your movements,” to… The Trumper response to mRNA is totally predictable and in line with their previous narratives and actions. They’ll simply reject it because the other side champions it and, well, it’s a science-based solution. The hard-core Trumpers will die before getting vaccinated (or at least never admit to being inoculated); this demographic is unbending and entrenched in their ways.

            There are several other societal segments that regard the vaccines with skepticism and are presently resisting the shots. These groups as a whole may or may not change their stance, but I think some of their numbers will eventually get immunized. Hopefully, those who change their minds will propel us onto the herd immunity plateau. These demographics are the real “vaccine hesitancy” people. They fall as I said into two camps: one group distrusts all vaccines, and the other segment is skeptical of the mRNA vaccine. The people who distrust all vaccines have grown up in a world filled with disinformation regarding inoculations. They’ve heard how the mercury in some vaccines causes autism. They’ve been spoon-fed the theory that vaccinations causes a person’s natural immune system to become weak and susceptible to disease. Both these theories have been disproven over and over again by the scientific community, and yet believers in said ideas still persist. One common thread the younger generations all share is a world that due to vaccines, has fewer crippling and deadly diseases. These young people have never seen a polio victim walking with leg braces and crutches. They’ve never seen the scarred body of a person who survived smallpox. They’ve never seen the results of brain cell–killing fevers that accompany severe measles outbreaks. All these diseases have been erased or weakened because of vaccines. If vaccines caused our immune system to become weak and unable to defend our body from infection and/or disease in general, the boomer generation would be the bellwether group to watch. We’ve been poked and prodded for incalculable reasons and yet we keep on keeping on. We die from boring diseases such as heart conditions, cancers, and diabetes, many of which are brought on by environmental and/or causal factors such as diet or lack of exercise. We haven’t succumbed en masse to some lethal, microscopic substance found within vaccines. Hopefully, the vaccine-skeptical younger people will realize this and advance past their self-imposed, medieval ignorance.

            One group of vaccine-hesitant people, I feel, has a leg to stand on. This group knows that the mRNA style vaccine has never been mass produced before, and therefore, has no track record. They don’t want to be the guinea pigs, proving or disproving the safety of this new vaccine technique. Hard to argue with their position, although I’ve read numerous reports declaring the safety of the mRNA vaccine. I know also that two respected research scientists, Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D., and Katalin Karikó, Ph.D., spent the last two decades of their lives developing this new vaccine type, and that many other infectious disease experts have heralded it as a major “breakthrough” in the fight against infectious disease.  To help alleviate fears about their new vaccine, Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó have both been inoculated with an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine. The ultimate stamp of approval: “I’ll bet my life on it.” There you be… We all took a leap of faith when lining up for mRNA vaccine jabs. The scientific community felt it was safe, and frankly, no inoculations meant the Covid pandemic would run its course, unabated, until herd immunity was naturally reached by person-to-person transmission. I wasn’t willing to sit back and watch this happen. If there was a chance to curtail the Covid-19 deaths, I was willing to participate. Can one fault the mRNA hesitancy shown by a suspicious few who won’t be the new vaccine’s guinea pigs? No, I don’t think so. Can one applaud the bravery and community spirit demonstrated by those who stepped up and were jabbed with the new serum? Most definitely. These people and this new vaccine could save millions of American lives.

            I started this article discussing “lowest common denominator” thinking in regard to how policies, informal and formal, are developed in our country. Seemingly, in neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and at the national level, people, when trying to make things better, refer to the worst-case scenarios as the starting point. In my opinion, that leaves most of us giving up freedoms because a few people are selfish, irresponsible, or just don’t care about how their actions affect other people’s well-being. Well, let’s bring this thought full circle and connect it to vaccine hesitancy and our country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

            Soon, roughly half of all Americans 18 and older will be vaccinated. Let’s not treat the vaccinated people the same as the non-immunized. In my opinion, they are keeping us from a speedy economic recovery. Vaccine or no vaccine? Everyone has the right to choose what to do, but there’s a big difference between one’s choice and public safety. Those that aren’t vaccinated can still infect the vulnerable with Covid-19 and kill someone. Those of us who chose to be vaccinated are for the most part safe from passing the disease onto others. Big, big difference here; one choice can kill people, and the other route produces safe individuals, not likely to cause others harm. Those of us who’ve been vaccinated should have our restrictions removed and move on with the pre-pandemic lifestyle we deserve.

            Businesses, event organizers, educational institutions, governments, nonprofits, and a host of other publicly frequented establishments should all take note of who’s vaccinated and who’s not. They should render their services accordingly. Those vaccinated should have minimal restrictions, and those unvaccinated individuals should be required to continue with CDC guidelines. The Portland Trail Blazer organization just changed their arena seating for their home 2021 playoff games. Those vaccinated had seating areas where rules were relaxed; for instance people could sit next to each other, regardless of family ties. The non-vaccinated people had to social distance, wear masks, and continue with state-required protective measures. Thank you Blazer organization.

            There is an upside to this segregated system I’m suggesting. Picture the Trail Blazer fans in the Moda Center sitting in the two highly different sections provided them. The unvaccinated folks look across the arena to the fans who are vaccinated. They’re a typical basketball fan base: standing, shouting without masks on, sharing large containers of popcorn, high-fiving each other, and being, well, being normal arena fans. This situation could be a real incentive for those unvaccinated folks to step up to the plate, and help the rest of us out by getting vaccinated. Earlier, I mentioned monetary incentives offered by states and businesses to encourage inoculations. Well, sitting, watching your fellow citizens living a more normal life than yours certainly could make you reconsider your choice.

            Several of us, last night, were talking, and I was sharing the thoughts expressed within this article. One good friend began laughing when thinking about treating vaccinated and non-vaccinated differently. He was amused by the concept of individually self-governed behavior in our society in regards to following the rules. Can we trust our fellow citizens to follow an “honor system” and police themselves? My friend’s point was, “Hell no!” He felt non-vaccinated people would simply pretend to be vaccinated and join in with all the fun. I proffered that a percentage of the unvaccinated would become transgressors, but that the lion’s share would not. You can see how this became a philosophical debate, one that could not be decided by facts. Bottom line though, even a small number of cheaters could throw the whole system into disarray; by masquerading as inoculated individuals, they could easily infect the vulnerable.

            The above conversation caused me to accept the need for serious, formal ID for Covid-19–vaccinated people. For a moment, this thought seemed to be unsurmountable hurdle, and a game stopper. But, with further speculation, my nay-sayer first response quickly dissipated and the term “easy-peasy” popped up. We can easily get state-endorsed vaccination ID. The vast majority of us have picture ID of some kind. Many of us have driver’s licenses, and regardless of our general impressions of this ID photo, it does depict our image. We also filled out CDC required documents and signed a ledger when receiving our vaccination, and upon completing the immunization process, we were handed a CDC card which proved just that, we’ve been inoculated for Covid-19. So, where’s this going? Well, somewhere in your county or local municipality, there is a record of your vaccinations. You have in possession a CDC immunization card and your good ol’ picture ID, so let’s take all this to the local DMV, which has an “industrial strength” computerized camera system, and get a state-sanctioned Covid-19 ID card. Totally easy for the state to facilitate this effort. They’d simply need to get the county ledger of your inoculation dates. That shouldn’t be too hard. Then match the ledger name and signature to your CDC card and your picture ID. Voilà, easy-peasy! You leave the DMV with your card, and our system of treating vaccinated versus non-vaccinated differently, yet fairly, can prevail. I would suggest the procedure I discussed should happen after regular DMV hours and on the weekends. This way the DMV can continue on with their regular responsibilities. Monies should be available for this pursuit. Most states still have cash available from the Feds for fighting Covid-19.  I can already hear the nay-sayers. “But someone will forge the documents, and you can’t treat people differently like that!” You know what, this is a pandemic, and my friends’, neighbors’, and fellow countrymen’s lives are stake. Also, remember, we’re not letting the lowest common denominator rule the day. They need to step aside with their negativity and gripes, and let the rest of us move to the front of the line.

            We are so close to the finish line in our battle against Covid-19. Our country is roughly one and a half years into this conflict. Many vulnerable and elderly Americans have sheltered in place during this entire time frame. Estimates state that a million of our fellow citizens will die before we, as a culture and nation, take care of business. With vaccines being offered to all, the goal of reaching herd immunity is right there, waiting for us to grasp it and break through the ribbon. The vaccine-hesitant folks are the only stumbling block in our path. We mustn’t let these factions keep the rest of us from the normalcy we can bring back to everyone by reaching herd immunity via immunizations. The lowest common denominator cannot set the bar for the rest of us. It’s time to recognize this group and convince them of their error. The faster these groups get onboard, the better it is for all of us. Remember, the longer we delay herd immunity, the more likely a variant strain develops that will be immune to our vaccines. That’s how it works in the infectious disease world. There ain’t no getting around this deadly fact. We all need to be proactive and help bring our pre-pandemic world back.  Offer money incentives to those questioning the need for vaccines. Allow peer pressure to factor in, and treat the two groups differently. “Vaccinated” can ease up on restrictions while the “unimmunized” must still abide by the CDC safety standards. Vaccinated can travel without quarantining; unvaccinated need to isolate upon arrival. Vaccinated can sit or stand side-by-side at concerts, dance and sing with their friends, while unvaccinated still need to social distance and keep their masks in place. Vaccinated can give people hugs when greeting and unvaccinated can bump elbows. What I just described sounds punitive, but it’s not. The hard, cold reality of this disease, Covid-19, simply demands such attention and different behaviors. If unvaccinated people don’t follow basic safety precautions many more Americans will die. Give people vaccine IDs. Let them hang these badges of courage and community support from lanyards draped around their necks. It’s time to bring this disease to its knees, so let’s get it done.

            Amigo, I heard a marching band accompanying that last paragraph you wrote. Ha ha, my friend. I heard “Imagine” by John Lennon. He crooned some classic songs, and had a lot of good things to say, writer-san. Well, I agree with you, dear friend, and you know what they say? How so, amigo?“The good, they die young.” Oh, no, no, compadre. I’m not sure I want to take credit for setting your table. Too late. It’s already said and done. Then, how ’bout we just keep my blunder between just us two. Again, too late.  Your error is already out there for all to see. Any chance for an edit? Nope. It’s final, then. Yep. Okay, I’m licking my wounds and moving on. You know that whole “dog” thing at the beginning of this article was a little too much, amigo. You might think of an edit there, and when editing that part… Ha, ha, ha, dear colleague. A pun and paybacks thrown at me, rapid fire like. You are such a good comrade who often brings a smile to my face, and in the next breath, takes me to task. I do what I can, maestro. Before you wrap this up, one last thought. Shoot. When will you write the “American Dream” article? Soon, very soon, and I hope not to mess things up for you, again. The next writing will be about the lost American Dream and “what’s his face’s’” political base. I promise. So good to hear that. I’ll be waiting for your every word, sitting in my easy chair with my feet propped up, and nourishment at my side.

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