I’m excruciatingly tired of two things right now: covid and our political divide.
We are a nation with both literal and figurative sickness — an actual virus that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and a partisan cultural breakdown that is crippling us.
I just had covid. Maybe I’ll see some effects over time — I wouldn’t put anything past covid; it’s a biological wildcard — but thankfully, it was mild. I had the Pfizer vaccine in the spring, and I had a low-grade fever and some pretty bad sinus pain for a couple of days recently with the virus. Then it passed. I was so glad to have had the shots, given the numerous sad stories and struggles I’ve heard about many who avoided them.
There is no “expert” on my resume on any subject. And I certainly don’t know the mechanics of the vaccine. I don’t know the science of planes either, but I still get on them when needed. If I need medicine, I take it. I try to know what I can about the possibilities, but I don’t know everything — and never will.
We live in a world of collective knowledge stacked on top of other collective knowledge. None of us have the full picture of all the innovation that has had to happen for us to enjoy our modern life, with its cars, bridges, computers, dentistry, etc. Science and human innovation surround us at every turn. The clothes you wear right now have a multi-layered story behind them, a fabric of agriculture, manufacturing and distribution, each with their own development over time. Just think of how awesome ice cream is in terms of human history. A large Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae is $3.39 and a tasty treat, though nothing we think much about, but put that in Biblical times and it would have seemed Biblical to the taste buds, like an impossible cold gift from heaven.
I guess what I’m getting at is this: we are focused on the vaccine right now because of our politics, not our science, which achieved something truly worth celebrating in response to this global challenge. We tend to be selective in what science we appreciate and what science we hate, depending on our own feelings about the world. That’s me, too. I have all kinds of worries about where technology is leading us.
But this vaccine fight, it’s not about the science at this point. I say this because the science is holding up in the hospitals. The people who have had the vaccine aren’t getting as sick as those who haven’t gotten the shots. That’s just an indisputable fact. A new variant could make the vaccines less effective. That’s true, too, but the vaccine has hugely reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from covid. And these vaccines already have saved many lives. That’s a point that doesn’t get made enough. We focus on many negatives, but there’s a huge positive: many people haven’t gotten desperately sick who might have otherwise without the shots. I include myself in that, and thankfully, I didn’t have to live through that alternate reality three weeks ago where I’m covid-positive and not vaccinated. It might have been the same, or it might have been much worse. I’m thankful not to know.
Think about it: the chicken pox vaccine is not political, neither is the polio or tetanus shot. Small pox was a recurring scourge of human history. No more, though. The politics surrounding those vaccines didn’t tank the efforts. I wonder, if a vaccine was developed that eliminated or took the teeth out of cancer, would we tear ourselves apart politically to deny it, or would we line up to get it? Would even a cure for cancer collapse now in our political angst and fractured realities?
We are certainly a nation in a collective crisis regarding power. And in this climate of vicious politics, my body/my choice is a kind of battle cry on both left and right regarding bodily autonomy. Abortion is a war about life itself, and what value will take precedence in our society. It’s fierce and emotional, no matter your position. Vaccines have now fallen into the same kind of political realm: Can the government dictate what happens with my body? That’s treacherous territory politically on both issues. And just as it’s true that an abortion is not just a medical procedure, but also a decision of yes or no on another life, that same argument goes in the vaccine debate: remaining unvaccinated is not just a decision about your own body; your decision affects others. If you doubt the science on this, then consider how many non-covid medical issues are getting pushed aside for all the unvaccinated filling up the hospitals. It’s never a good time to have a heart attack, but man, it’s particularly bad now.
I can’t help but wonder, what if covid was a country, not a disease? Say China attacked us and killed more than 660,000 of us. That would be a war of epic proportions. If the U.S. government said, we need you to take X action to help us defeat China, would you? Basically, if China attacks us, is the U.S. a “we” or a “me” nation? I suppose covid is different than this. It certainly is visually, but I don’t see much difference morally. Do you? If so, I’d like to hear that explained.
I also think of the phrase, “we’re all in the same boat,” which is pretty true figuratively. But then I think about an actual boat and rough water. What if we’re in a real boat in troubled water? We need to get to the other side. You’re rowing in the direction of safety, trying to push us through the danger. Is it my right to row the opposite direction, leaving us stranded in the middle of the raging water? Hey, it’s my body, my paddle.
If you’re unvaccinated, I might have ticked you off. But that wasn’t my aim. During all this craziness, and all this informational chaos, I can understand all kinds of emotional reactions to our weird, bad days. I also understand being fiercely against being told what to do. No one enjoys that. I don’t either.
But unless covid declares itself a Republican or Democrat, we need to treat covid as a completely apolitical problem. Because that’s actually what it is. And we have vaccines that help humans, not just Democrats, not just Republicans.
And maybe you can dismiss this as me being political. Or maybe, you can recognize that I don’t like being sick, I don’t like seeing people sick, and I don’t like seeing my country so sick. When we have remedies, I just want us to take them. I just want us well. Do you?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.