MORE THAN 609,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. It is a staggering, unimaginable loss.
We cannot pretend it didn’t happen though it seems that some will in their COVID-denial.
We see that denialism in the second-guessing of the governor exerting emergency powers. State government needed to be nimble enough to turn on a dime in the face of an unprecedented calamity, and it would have been hard to improve upon the science-driven approach from our state epidemiologists and local and state public health officials. Among states, we ranked 8th-lowest in the proportion of residents dying from the virus.
Do some wish we ranked higher? I will leave it to others to make the utilitarian argument that a death rate over twice as high as ours was OK for a state like South Dakota to keep conducting business as usual and even hold the massive 2020 Sturgis motorcycle rally that spread COVID-19 nationwide. I am just grateful our state and local governments valued human lives more.
We have also seen COVID-denialism in the never-ending culture wars over masks, with some now claiming vindication because the rare fines levied during the state’s mask mandate have been nullified. Yet that mandate was never a “gotcha” exercise and, really, was wearing masks in public such a sacrifice? Health care workers are still wearing them during their entire shifts, with no end in sight.
We now see COVID denialism in a movement against requiring COVID-19 vaccination. Every single state requires vaccinations for day care and K-12 education, public and private, including the vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis; varicella (chickenpox); and measles, mumps and rubella. Most states, including ours, also require the hepatitis B vaccine to even enter kindergarten.
Thus, all the wailing now about COVID-19 “vaccine passports” is like closing the barn door after the horses are gone. In the United States there were 13 measles cases in 2020. Does that mean we should stop requiring measles vaccination? Of course not, as the requirement is the very reason why there were only 13 cases. In comparison, drawing a line in the sand over a virus that has killed more than 600,000 seems bizarre at best.
This is not an argument for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination beyond what businesses, as free market actors, or schools, with their heightened responsibility, may require. You may choose not to get vaccinated, but hospitals have no choice but to treat you regardless of your ability to pay. The costs of COVID-19 illness are socialized and borne by all of us in the form of higher health care costs. We do not have the “freedom” to avoid paying the costs of the irresponsibility of others. And those who have avoided COVID-19 infection so far may not be so lucky with the Delta variant or new variants to come, as there is no reason to believe that this coronavirus is done mutating.
The COVID-19 vaccines are more effective than we could realistically have dreamed they would be. Some are reluctant to get vaccinated because the vaccines are “new” — but so is COVID-19 itself. Research has been ongoing for decades into the mRNA component that makes two leading vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, so successful. The technicality of an Emergency Use Authorization should not deter anyone because it is not materially different from the full approval that will follow.
Must everything under the sun be political these days? Is it too much to ask that we unite to stop COVID-19 to honor all those killed, or lastingly sickened, by it?