The futility of playing Russian Roulette with covid-19

The state of Maryland reported yesterday that everyone that died of covid-19 in the state during June was unvaccinated. Moreover, 95% of covid-19 related hospitalizations in Maryland in June were from people who haven’t been inoculated.

This tells us something that should be obvious: these vaccines work. The news is especially good here in the United States where we have three very effective vaccines, including the “one and done” Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They appear to be ninety percent effective or greater, even against the new and more contagious delta variant now wreaking havoc worldwide.

It’s not like it costs money to get the vaccine. It’s free, even to the undocumented. It’s not like it’s hard to get a shot either. It’s available pretty much everywhere now, including in many doctors’ offices. If I needed a shot, I could get one at a Walgreens pharmacy a mile from my house. Check how far you would have to go to get a shot here. If that weren’t enough, President Biden is pushing for door-to-door outreach to try to increase the vaccination rate, hovering at just under seventy percent of eligible adult Americans. And yet plenty of Americans still aren’t convinced, and likely won’t be convinced, to get the vaccine.

It’s not too surprising that the variants are becoming more lethal over time. Although viruses aren’t technically alive, those variants that are easiest to acquire will naturally tend to infect more people. If there is an epsilon variant, it won’t surprise me if it is more transmissible and deadly than the delta variant.

Generally, our survival instinct is pretty powerful. But it appears that about thirty percent of us have an instinct more powerful than survival: believing in untruths. If you hear the message from your peers that these vaccines are fake or contain a microchip controlled by Bill Gates or that it’s part of a great conspiracy, somehow these things can override the basic survival instinct for a lot of us.

While I don’t wish misery and death on anyone, it is clear that these people are predominantly Republican and conservative, not to mention Trump supporters and wholesale swallowers of The Big Lie. Many have guns in their household too. Effectively they are playing Russian Roulette with their own lives and the lives of their family members who are also unvaccinated. It’s not too hard to figure out that there will be yet another covid-19 wave, probably in the autumn, and that almost all the fatalities will be from these people who simply refused to accept basic science.

When the pandemic started, it was an equal opportunity disease. Well, not quite. Certain people like me were well protected as we didn’t have to go out and earn a living. And a lot of people could also work from home to mitigate risk. Otherwise, it was an equal opportunity disease, but you have more “opportunities” if you lived in close contact with others. Unsurprisingly, it hit minority communities disproportionately hard.

Now, at least here in the United States, it’s not that way at all. Unless you are stupid or choose to be willfully ignorant, you are choosing to risk bad odds. The disease is likely to always be with us, so for the unvaccinated it’s just a matter of time before you will get it. It’s still unlikely to kill you, but the delta variant will give you a more severe case of the disease than at the start of the pandemic. The mortality rate is about 1.7 percent. There are some 600,000 dead Americans who, if they were still alive, could attest to the lethality of the disease.

Approximately 174 million people in the United States are not fully vaccinated. About 52 million of these are children not yet eligible for vaccination. There have been at least 33 million cases in the United States so far. So roughly one in ten Americans have gotten the disease.

Assuming that until recently cases and deaths are proportionate, with 150 million Americans unvaccinated, ninety percent of those haven’t acquired covid-19 yet. That’s 135 million people. If ten percent of them get it in the next year we can expect 13.5 million more infections and about 230,000 more deaths to stack on top of the 603,000 confirmed covid-19 death. So before the pandemic is over we can expect over 800,000 deaths from covid-19 in the United States. And probably 200,000 or so of these will be fully preventable if these people had simply taken the time to get the free vaccine.

About 88 percent of the population is age 18 or over. Assuming fifty percent of these people are registered to vote, and eighty percent of them vote Republican, this means there will be about 70,000 fewer Republican voters in the next election. This only counts those who haven’t died yet. Add in those that have and it’s likely there will be 150,000 or more fewer Republican voters in the next election.

Republicans of course are doing their best to pass restrictive voting laws to make it more difficult for principally non-white people to vote. Many of these people will have died from covid-19 too. But if Republicans lose elections in these states in spite of all this, it’s pretty clear why. It’s because they promoted baseless covid-19 vaccination conspiracy theories and untruths. In short, they did it to themselves.

I am reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge. He was speaking of poor people, but I’m not. Still, it’s true enough: “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Given all the opportunities for these people to say yes to the vaccine, it’s hard to disagree.

How do we win the fight against willful ignorance and stupidity?

There are so many overarching issues to deal with right now that it feels overwhelming. For me, one of the largest overarching issues is figuring out how to fight all the willful ignorance and stupidity that is going on pretty much everywhere in our country.

2020 had many appalling displays of it, and 2021 looks to be much more of the same. Regular stupidity is one thing, but exhibiting willful ignorance that could kill you in on a whole different plain. Behavior of this magnitude is unprecedented here in the United States.

For me, the magnitude of the problem was truly driven home last August when some 400,000 motorcyclists converged on Sturgis, South Dakota for their annual rally. They weren’t going to let catching covid-19 keep them from coming together. Most disdained masks, kept close quarters and dined largely indoors. For ten days people rubbed shoulders and revved their engines in the name of freedom. The rally led to a huge increase in covid-19 infections in South Dakota, and many infections elsewhere were directly attributed to the rally. It turned into probably the biggest super-spreader event of 2020, likely directly killing thousands of people.

It was preceded by many other events, starting most notably with Florida Spring Break in March 2020. Prior to it, you could number the total covid-19 infections in Florida to a hundred or so. A few weeks afterward, infections went through the roof, in Florida and most other states as students brought the disease home with them. And so it went, at numerous events including pretty much all Trump rallies. It is likely that the late pizza magnate Herman Cain acquired the disease at a Trump rally in Tulsa, and died from it. The stupidity extended into the White House itself, where Trump likely acquired the diseases, and at a subsequent event outdoors where people were tightly packed enough where it didn’t matter, allowing people like Hope Hicks to get it. All this willful ignorance was hardly without cost. 600,000 or so Americans are dead from covid-19, and the likely real figure is closer to one million people.

And yet still so many people don’t believe covid-19 is real, or that somehow they are special enough so that they won’t get it. Now there are highly effective vaccines available and some half of Republicans still won’t get the shots. It appears that to do so they must admit the obvious to themselves: that they and the people they listened to were wrong. The psychic cost of going there must be higher than their fear of getting the disease.

That’s some drug these people are on and many have paid the price, either in acquiring the disease or dying from it. But it’s really a mental illness because it’s an inability to acknowledge the undeniable reality that is right in front of you.

How do you stop this level of stupidity and hopefully reverse it? Thinking about it, I realize it’s complicated because so many people have this idea in their head that freedom means they can do whatever they want, damn the consequences. I’ll grant them the right to believe what they want, but I for one don’t grant them the right to let them get away with it without sanctions.

In the short term, they should not just be shunned, but society should make their lives difficult. Democrats control the government now. I would start by upping the ante on travel. If you are a legal adult and can’t prove you are immunized against covid-19, you should not be allowed to travel on any airplane or train. Full stop. No cruises for you either, although there is already a moratorium on cruising for ships leaving the United States. Oh, of course these people would whine, but they are already whining. Whining is not something they can control. So if they are going to whine anyhow, let’s at least keep these people away from the rest of us as much as possible.

I’d extend it to the schools. You want to attend classes inside a public school? You must be immunized. We’re not quite there yet because so far vaccines have not been approved for those aged 12 and under. Unless you have a doctor’s note saying you are immune-compromised if you can get a vaccine you must if you want to get in-person teaching. If not, or your parents won’t let you attend classes on line, and if this means throwing everyone into online classes, so be it. Those who do attend in person need to wear masks indoors until the CDC says its acceptable not to because infection rates are low enough.

Society needs to aggressively signal that these behaviors are unhealthy simply because (minimally) you could carry the disease, if not acquire it or die from it. You – yes, I’m speaking to you, you vaccinate-hesitant Americans — have an obligation to your fellow humans, and if you think you won’t do your civic duty, then you don’t get to play with the rest of us. This sort of willful ignorance if practiced by a parent is nothing less than child abuse. This policy is really the least that society should be doing. In a more just world, these parents would be hauled off to a detention facility until they see the light.

In the longer term, it’s clear that most students these days are getting substandard civics education, if they are getting it at all. They are also apparently missing a lot of science basics, particularly the lessons that describe the scientific process used to discern knowledge. A robust mastery of how science knowledge is learned and how government works should be required for any diploma or GED.

Government can also help by elevating scientists and researchers that make advancements in science. These people should be admired and put on pedestals. There should be lavish prizes awarded to citizens who contribute the most to improving our understanding of reality and make major advancements in basic and applied sciences. The government should provide tuition free scholarships to students showing exceptional aptitude in these skills, so they can be applied sooner for the benefit of all humanity.

Obviously there are huge problems with our voting laws, which I have addressed in numerous other blog posts. I won’t revisit them in this post. These problems are longstanding and very hard to address. But where Democrats can require change, they should.

My modest proposals may rankle many as anti-American somehow, but not only are they necessary, they are legal and morally necessary. Public health law is a thing in the United States, even if many would like to pretend otherwise. We can’t “promote the general welfare”, as we say we want to do in the U.S. Constitution, if we allow such counterproductive ignorance to remain unchecked.

Anti-vaxxers – Lock ’em up

It’s nice to get some validation that you were a good parent. The latest was a tweet from my 29-year-old daughter publicly thanking her mom and me for getting her vaccinated. She was watching a documentary on rubella that scared the crap out of her until she realized that we had vaccinated her against it.

I’m not sure we deserve plaudits for doing what every parent should be doing, but that many are not. What I would like to do is to make it criminal for parents not to get their kids vaccinated against common communicable diseases. At a minimum, these parents are guilty of child abuse. Maybe their kids would end up in a foster home, but at least their foster parents would get them vaccinated.

Maybe I’m pro-life at heart. I think that kids deserve the right to grow up strong and healthy and with a minimum of unnecessary misery and death. These days, of course, being pro-life means forcing women to carry to term pregnancies, and to not give a damn about the mother and the kids afterward. This is borne out by, well, not caring if they get their kids vaccinated against wholly preventable diseases!

It’s hard to miss the news that there are a lot of bad parents out there, i.e. parents who won’t get their kids vaccinated. It’s not too hard to do it these days because you can claim it’s against your religion or deeply held beliefs or pretty much for whatever reason you want in some states. That’s because states are increasingly reluctant to trample on parents rights. It’s all about freedom or something, i.e. the parents’ freedom to make decisions for their kids, not their kids right to not become a victim to preventable diseases that used to kill millions.

Anti-vaxxer parents have their reasons for not getting their kids vaccinated, but none of them make any sense. For example, there is zero credible evidence that vaccinations cause autism. But even if you grant that parents should decide whether their kids should be able to catch these diseases, they shouldn’t have the right to inflict it on the rest of us. Because that’s what’s going on with these recent measles outbreaks: if almost all of us are not vaccinated, those of us who do catch these diseases can pass them on, sometimes to people who have been vaccinated because there are newer mutant strains of the disease, like measles.

I had measles, chickenpox and mumps as a kid because there was no vaccine available. Fortunately I was young enough not to remember the impact they had on me. While I don’t remember having them, you can bet that when it’s time for my booster shot I’ll happily raise my arm for it. Most recently, I raised my arm for a shingles shot, which is recommended if you are age sixty or over. The doctor didn’t have to ask me. I brought it up, even though my physical was a month before I turned sixty. (I got it about a week after I turned sixty; insurance won’t pay for it before then.) I have friends who got shingles in their sixties and each says that it was the most painful thing they have ever endured. I’m not going to take that chance.

Children of course can’t speak for themselves; it’s a parent’s job to act in their best interest. With my daughter, I got her vaccinated for everything I could legally get away with. She did end up with the chickenpox, but only because the vaccine was not approved at the time. A few months after she got it, the vaccine was finally approved. Tough luck for her. When the HPV vaccine came out though I made sure she got that even though she was a young teen who was not sexually active. It would be up to her if she chose to be sexually active, but most people are at least at some point in their lives, so there was no point in taking chances in getting cervical cancer. In addition, I made sure she was vaccinated against both Hepatitis A and B, also getting both shots for myself. As we’ve done a lot of foreign travel lately, they might have come in handy. I don’t know for sure but I do know I didn’t come down from these diseases. Neither will she.

I doubt any parent intends to be malicious by not vaccinating their kids. They probably think they are doing their kids a favor. What’s really going on though is that they are believing disinformation or not taking the time to truly study the issue. Certain vaccines can actually cause the condition it is supposed to prevent, but only in very rare cases, and it’s virtually impossible in the case of vaccines with dead viruses. In many of these cases, your kid would have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting the disease from the shot.

This is freedom gone amok. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of the same biosphere. We all have to live with each other. We have an implicit obligation to society not to transmit preventable diseases. Thankfully we haven’t had a real pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed millions in a very long time, so long that we don’t think it can happen again. It killed an aunt I never met. But we are definitely playing with fire and when it happens, it won’t be just these anti-vaxxer parents kids that will die many miserable and preventable deaths. It will be millions of the rest of us who did our best for our kids but because we allowed boneheaded parents to opt their kids out of vaccines ended up killing millions of the rest of us too.

What these parents are doing to not just their children but also to the rest of us is criminal. It should be treated that way.