By BEN R. WILLIAMS
As I write this, it’s been three days since I got my second COVID vaccine shot. I had no ill effects with the first one, but with the second one, I had a pretty sore arm and I felt lethargic for a couple of days. I’m pretty much back to normal now, and I got to spend a couple of days lying in bed watching horror movies guilt-free, so that wasn’t a bad deal.
The thing that struck me after the very first shot was the sudden and overwhelming sense of relief. I had the same sensation when my parents were fully vaccinated (and unlike me, neither of them suffered any side effects). It was like a weight I’d been carrying for a year had suddenly fallen off my back.
Of course, I realize the limitations of the vaccine. Scientific evidence has shown that while it limits the odds of contracting the virus, it doesn’t eliminate those odds completely. However, if you do catch COVID after being vaccinated, evidence shows that the effects will be on the mild end of the spectrum.
And, of course, the jury is still out regarding whether or not vaccinated people can still spread the disease. We just haven’t been able to compile enough data yet. We will in time.
All of this is to say, we’re not out of the woods on this thing yet, but there’s good reason to feel hopeful. The finest medical scientists in the world put in long hours for a year in order to turn around workable vaccines in record time, and an incredible infrastructure was built on the fly to mass produce and distribute those vaccines. The system obviously isn’t perfect — there are still far too many people who want the vaccine and aren’t able to get it — but it’s pretty good, and it will get better. The future looks a whole lot brighter than it did this time last year.
Of course, every silver lining has its cloud, and in this case, that cloud goes by the name “anti-vaxxer.”
Yes, there are millions of people in the world — millions just in this country — who refuse to get the COVID vaccine. Some of these are people who believe the vaccine was put together too quickly to be effective (which ignores the fact that the different varieties of COVID vaccines are built off of the framework provided by pre-existing vaccines, but I digress). Others believe all vaccines are dangerous, a theory they have had years to develop on account of not dying of polio.
On the one hand, I do wish more people would choose to get vaccinated. In order to hit herd immunity, it’s believed we need a solid 90 percent of the population to get vaccinated, and the statistics I’ve seen show that we’ll be lucky if we hit 75 percent.
But on the other hand, I don’t care.
Before we had a vaccine, I often railed against folks who refused to wear masks or practice social distancing. I felt then — and still feel — that they placed more value on their comfort and selfishness than on the lives of others.
While I feel similarly about anti-vaxxers, I’m having a hard time caring as much. My loved ones are largely vaccinated. And while I do feel a great deal of sympathy for those who cannot get the vaccine due to legitimate medical reasons, if some anti-vaxxer ends up on a ventilator because he was convinced a COVID shot would change his DNA based on a misspelled article posted to www.freedomrights.truth, I have a hard time shedding any tears at this point. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to make smart life choices due to its colossal misunderstandings regarding science and medicine. Maybe that sounds callous, but the events of the last year have made me the man I am today.
Here’s where I draw the line, however:
If you don’t want to get the vaccine yourself, don’t talk anyone else out of getting it.
Some of you probably read that line and thought, “Geez Ben, you’re so desperate for a column idea that you’re making up a fake problem just to argue against it.” Oh, how I wish that were the case.
I know people — actual people in my life — who have been shamed by their loved ones for getting the vaccine. They’ve been told they’re going to die horribly very soon because they got vaccinated. I even know people who have talked elderly loved ones out of getting the vaccine. These are people who, if they were to catch COVID, would very likely die.
To be clear, this is not a partisan problem. No, in my experience, whether you believe COVID is a fake disease no worse than the flu that was created to make the former president look bad, or whether you believe that all diseases can be cured by placing healing crystals on your chakras, the most uninformed people from both ends of the political spectrum can come together to form a death cult. It would be heartwarming if not for, you know, the death.
One of my favorite quotes of all time, often attributed to former Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., is as follows: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” If someone is convinced that the vaccine was designed by Bill Gates in order to put a Satanic microchip in their body, fine. But the moment that person tries to sway the opinion of an innocent bystander, that’s where I draw the line.
We are fortunate to be experiencing a remarkable moment in time, a moment when brilliant people from all different walks of life came together and used their collective wisdom to crack a problem that once seemed nearly insurmountable, and they did it in record time. In the future, I firmly believe that history will look back on the development of the COVID vaccine the same way we look back on the remarkable medical breakthroughs of folks like Louis Pasteur, or Max Theiler, or Jonas Salk.
Of course, it’s possible that back in the day, the anti-vaxxers of the era called Salk a devil-worshipping con-man who was trying to kill them with his evil vaccine. It was just a lot harder to hear them from inside their iron lungs.