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Rage against the unvaccinated rises

 

A nurse breaks down in a TV interview after she’s held the hand of a third ICU patient to die of COVID-19 during just one grueling shift. Tick … tick … tick …

Children are masked in their classrooms, yet they’re the lucky ones who are at school, not those forced for a third school year back behind a laptop at home because of the wildfire spread of the coronavirus delta mutation. Tick … tick … tick …

In crimson Republican states, particularly in the deep South, governors abet the dangerous contagion with foolhardy orders that tie the hands of local leaders and even private businesses who follow medical science and restrict gatherings, require masks for indoor public settings and mandate vaccinations in certain situations. Tick … tick … tick …

It builds by the day – the bitterness and resentment of those who’ve been vaccinated – toward those who have refused the vaccine and singlehandedly enabled a new coronavirus surge that recalls the bleakest, deadliest days of January and February.

Unlike last winter, however, this time a proven safe, effective and free vaccine made this debilitating encore avoidable, at least in the United States. Now, there’s more than a fair chance we will see that wrath unleashed at the polls this fall against any candidate seen to have lent comfort and support to science deniers and conspiracy-mongering vaccine resisters for political gain.

“There is growing rage among the people who are vaccinated about the people who have refused a free and effective vaccine,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg and an author who writes about the confluence of media, public opinion and politics.

That enmity tracks largely (though not exclusively) along lines from previous elections. Most of the aggrieved vaccinated voters also strongly disapproved of former President Donald Trump and made it a point to punish not only him but those running as Republicans in every Virginia election since 2016. On the flip side, many who have rebelled against vaccinations from a ideological or libertarian perspective last year supported Trump, who spent 2020 downplaying or dismissing the pandemic that has killed about 630,000 Americans already and is expected to add100,000 more by December if the delta surge continues unabated. The disease last week was killing about 1,100 Americans a day.

“We’re all going back toward lockdowns because of the selfishness of a few. That anger may very well motivate a great number of voters who otherwise might have stayed home now that Trump is no longer president,” Farnsworth said.

An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted Aug. 12-16 showed that 50 percent of in-person workers supported vaccine requirements compared with 26 percent who opposed.  Trump himself felt the scorn of rabid anti-vaxxers who booed him during a recent Alabama rally when he said he had been vaccinated and recommended it.

“Politically, this is dynamite. Think about all that rage from all those people who thought they would be able to live normally again, and they can’t. I wouldn’t want to stand in front of those voters,” he said.

Not all vaccine hesitancy is politically driven or born of some poorly reasoned notion of individual liberty. There are people whose bodies respond badly to vaccines. Black Americans are understandably suspicious of supposed cures pushed by the same federal government that allowed infected African American men in Alabama with syphilis to go untreated for decades in the infamous Tuskegee study.

Others have genuine concerns about the safety of a vaccine developed and dispensed in months compared to years it has taken in the past to research, develop and test vaccines. Quantum in the quality and speed of technology and data analysis condensed the timeline. While side effects have been reported, they are an extremely small fraction of the 365 million doses given nationwide, fully vaccinating 52.3 percent of the U.S. population and while 61 percent have received at least one shot. And the technology used to develop the vaccines has actually been in the works for years, helping to speed up the process.

The effectiveness of the vaccines become clear in data about people contracting serious illness, crowding hospitals and dying. The unvaccinated are more than 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19 disease than the vaccinated, according to a new CDC study. Similar results showed up in an Aug. 23 VDH report on COVID-19 attack and hospitalization rates showing a significant drop in hospitalizations among seniors, the most-vaccinated age group, and a major jump in admissions of young COVID-19 patients, the vast majority unvaccinated.

Virginia has administered nearly 9.9 million doses, enough to fully vaccinate 56.6 percent of the state’s population. Fully vaccinated Virginia women outnumber fully vaccinated men 2.3 million to 1.9 million, according to Virginia Department of Health data. Eighty-three percent of Virginians 65 and older are fully inoculated – the highest age group by far.

What those demographic groups have in common is they are among voters who most reliably turn out to vote. Overlay that with a VDH data map showing localities with the highest percentages of vaccinated residents clustered in the Democratic-voting suburbs and exurbs in Northern Virginia and around Richmond and Hampton Roads and you have clear reasons for Republicans to be concerned.

Those results are not lost on candidates seeking the state’s top offices in an election just two months away.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe launched a full-on media fusillade last week including a Washington Post op-ed voicing his full-throated support for vaccine mandates as the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine and calling for his opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin, to follow suit.

That puts Youngkin in a tight spot, said George Mason University political science professor Mark Rozell.

“This is a much easier issue for McAuliffe than it is for Youngkin,” Rozell said. “It squares much more closely than Youngkin’s with the prevailing position of swing voters in the voter-rich areas of Virginia.”

“Youngkin, by contrast, has to worry about losing the Trump-voting base if he compromises too much while, at the same time, appearing reasonable to the critical swing voters who don’t agree with the anti-vax, anti-mask craziness. How does he do both?” he said.

Both candidates say vaccinations are the way out of the pandemic, but they differ on how.

Youngkin, like Republican governors in COVID-19 hotbeds Florida, Texas and Mississippi, opposes mandating masks or vaccinations, saying those calls should be voluntary rather than a directive from Richmond.

In his op-ed, McAuliffe not only supported requiring school personnel to be vaccinated, he said health care providers should require it of employees. And last week, he called on ALL Virginia employers to require vaccines.

For months, we’ve listened to anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers howl, rant and threaten at school board meetings and other public forums about what they perceive as grievous encroachments on their freedoms.

But freedom cuts both ways. You have the freedom to express yourself, but it doesn’t extend to falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. You have a right to swing your arms as robustly as you wish, but that right ends at the tip of your neighbor’s nose. There’s a right to drive your car, but not recklessly or while drunk.

For some, a lazy and selfish hedonism masquerades as a fundamental freedom to go unvaccinated and unmasked wherever and whenever they choose, foolishly imagining themselves impervious to illness and unbothered by or even contemptuous of others’ rights not to be needlessly sickened or killed by an aggressive pathogen that is within our means to control.

That question that has emboldened Americans fed up with the bullying and bellowing to push back.

In Texas, dozens of local school districts that require students and employees to wear masks sued to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. Those cases remain in legal limbo in state courts at every level up to the Texas Supreme Court. Doubling down as new COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths rivaled their midwinter peak, Abbott last week issued another directive banning government vaccine mandates.

In Florida, school districts have also imposed mask requirements notwithstanding Gov. Ron DeSantis’s threat towithhold those districts’ state funding. President Joe Biden assured districts that stick to their guns that the feds will reimburse any lost state dollars.

Delta Airlines last week announced that unvaccinated employees will be required to shoulder a $200 a month company health insurance premium hike starting Nov. 1. The self-insured airline cited high hospitalization costs for COVID-19-stricken employees, none of whom were fully vaccinated.

So the political skirmish has begun. And it’s not looking great for those who position themselves on the wrong side of both science and history.

originally published at www.virginiamercury.com, Authored by Bob Lewis

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