Sunday, August 8, 2021

Are We Now Losing the War on Covid-19?

The title of this post conveys a decidedly pessimistic mindset. But it wasn't that way for me until pretty recently. As someone who is over 65 with additional risk factors, I was in no mood to take any chances of contracting the disease.  When the vaccines were announced late last year, I looked forward to the day when it would be my turn to get the shots. After I was fully vaccinated, I felt the euphoria of finally being able to safely gather with family and friends - a life that finally signalled a return to normal.

But even back then, most of us knew that we had only won the battle. To win the war, we first needed to vaccinate enough Americans to get us to that promised land of herd immunity. But even then we knew that the war would not finally be won until enough of the world’s population was vaccinated. It was no surprise that some of those here in America would be hesitant to take the vaccine. But seeing over 600,000 Americans perish from the disease, it was hard to believe that the resistance from those left to take the vaccine would last so long and be so entrenched. We were wrong. We were so very wrong…

Once the so-called Delta variant started to take hold, an epidemic sickened many of those who chose to remain unvaccinated. The progress we celebrated started to take a u-turn backwards. Will we need masks and lockdowns again? While the present vaccines still adequately protect the vaccinated against the Delta variant, the virus has not yet surrendered. There is reason to fear that if the virus hangs around long enough, there will likely be future variants that will elude our present vaccines. Will many of us, especially the older ones, need a third shot soon to keep us safe? And what about those under 12 who have shown that they too can get sick, but are unprotected for now because they are ineligible for the vaccine?

Put another way, until the virus is eradicated or at least brought under control, it will continue to become an increasingly dangerous threat - probably someday even to the vaccinated. There is only one way out of this to win the war - we simply must get enough of us vaccinated! 

While a shortage of vaccine supply is an obstacle to the long term goal of vaccinating the world, the more immediate obstacle is to get enough people vaccinated here in America where we have an abundant supply but too many who are hesitant to take it.

So how do we get enough of the hesitant to take the vaccine? This is a question without any easy answers. Polls have determined that this is far from a monolithic group. Many fall into different categories, each possibly requiring different strategies in hopes of winning them over.

In the interests of simplifying things, I believe most of the hesitant fall into one of two categories.

The first group is primarily politically oriented. While there are some on the left who haven’t been vaccinated, surveys show that many more on the right are stubbornly resisting the vaccine. With them, it is a libertarian streak asserting itself. To them, Americans must have the right to choose whether or not they will wear masks and whether or not they will take the vaccine. It’s all about FREEDOM! Government has no right to make this decision on their behalf. In his attempt to be “helpful”, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to take away the ability of public schools in Florida to enforce mask mandates on its students. In his eyes, this is a decision that belongs in the hands of parents and not big, bad government.

The second group more than anything else is just scared of the vaccine. A recent poll showed that among this group, there is far more fear of the vaccines than the diseases they are supposed to prevent.

Trying to persuade these people seems to be a tall order. The idea of imposing vaccine mandates at first blush looks to have more appeal. Want to work in an office or attend public events with others? Prove you are vaccinated or undergo periodic testing. Don’t want to take the vaccine without a bonafide medical exemption? The cost of your health insurance may go up. (Many smokers already pay more for health insurance.) While this may all sound appealing, in my opinion, this is something that should only be considered as a last resort. People who feel that their liberty is being taken away are not going to be cooperative to say the least. Even more disturbing, a number of unvaccinated people who were polled openly admitted that they would not hesitate to use fake vaccine cards to avoid exclusion from places where they would not normally be allowed.

So can enough of the vaccine hesitant be persuaded to take the vaccine? Although there are both Democrats and Republicans among the vaccine hesitant, it stands to reason that a Democratic administration is going to have a much more difficult time persuading Republicans/Conservatives. Indeed many of these people see vaccine hesitancy as a litmus test to prove they are real conservatives. But the irony of this all is that The Former Guy and his wife indeed took the vaccine. Unfortunately, it was done in a very quiet and low key way instead of being recorded on video for all of America to see. What is so regrettable is that this one man had the power to persuade more conservatives into taking the vaccine than anybody else in America. But true to his selfish nature, he apparently couldn’t be bothered to do so.

One thing that the Biden Team had right from the beginning was that when it came to persuading people to take the vaccine, the messenger was at least as important as the message itself. But despite assembling what appeared to be a formidable cast of celebrities to spread the message, the results have been to be kind, underwhelming. Perhaps if they could only find the most convincing spokespeople, they might be onto something.

Interestingly, in the last few weeks, a small clue emerged. For those paying attention, the vaccination rate lately has been slowly increasing. Nothing earth shattering, but a trend nonetheless. What could be the cause? While before most of the attention has been on the vaccine deniers, a new story has begun to dominate social media. 

One of the first of its kind was posted on Facebook by a Birmingham, AL intensive care physician, Dr. Brytney Cobia. With Alabama’s lowest vaccination rate in the country, she was suddenly surrounded by sick and dying Covid patients, most of whom strangely enough were still in denial over whether Covid was a real disease that demanded a vaccine to help evade its dangers. The post has since gone viral. But for those who missed it, here is a link to the story. 

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late," she wrote.

"A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same,” she posted.

“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu,’” Cobia wrote.

But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives,” she continued.

But even this was too much for some of the crazies who still believe in their lies.

Cobia declined a request for an interview on Wednesday, telling NBC News via text that she’s been receiving “threatening messages.”

There are many other similarly sad stories online. The reader can Google “unvaccinated regret” to see more. Hopefully, the reader can indulge me with sharing a couple more stories before I conclude.

Here is a gut-wrenching Facebook video diary by Travis Campbell from his hospital bed.

“I messed up big time, guys,” he said through an oxygen mask in one video posted to Facebook on Wednesday. “I didn’t get the vaccine … I made a mistake, I admit it.”

In his first couple videos in July, he was describing his illness in full, uninterrupted sentences. By July 31, he was talking only a few words at a time between strained breaths.

By Tuesday, he was lying in bed, struggling to talk about whether he and his wife would let hospital staff put him on a ventilator if needed.

That night appeared to be his darkest yet, because by Wednesday, he was recalling a difficult thought that came to him: He might not live to see his 19-year-old daughter’s wedding, whenever it comes.

“I had to make a phone call (Tuesday night) to my 14-year-old son … and I had to ask for his permission that if I didn’t come home, that he would give my daughter away” on her wedding day, Campbell said in Wednesday’s video.

I saved the final story to talk about Phil Valentine who is not just a recent victim of Covid, but who also used his conservative radio talk show to spread vaccine skepticism to his audience. This is his story. 

Conservative radio host Phil Valentine spent months preaching vaccine skepticism to his followers in Nashville. It seems like many of them listened. Tennessee has experienced a dramatic spike in the Covid-19 cases as the Delta variant has swept the nation, with the case rate ballooning over 220 percent over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.


Among the newly infected is Valentine.


Valentine’s station, 99.7 WTN, announced on Friday that the host contracted Covid and that he is in “serious condition” in the critical care unit. The experience has led Valentine to reconsider his stance on the vaccine. “If he had to do it over again, he would be more adamantly pro-vaccination, and that is what he will bring in his message when he gets back to that microphone which we hope is sooner rather than later,” his brother Mark recently told News4 Nashville.

Valentine’s hospitalization is another needless tragedy in a pandemic that should have been all but snuffed out months ago. Thankfully, he’s had plenty of support. Since the announcement last week, friends and fans have expressed their well wishes on Twitter, and his family has kept followers updated on Facebook. “Phil & his family would like for all of you to know that he loves ya’ll and appreciates your concern, thoughts & prayers more than you will ever know,” 99.7 posted July 22nd. “Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”

At the time of this posting, we do not know what Mr. Valentine’s ultimate fate will be. [Sadly, Mr. Valentine died from Covid 8/21/21] I’m sure there are some that if he were to die, wouldn’t shed a tear. He got what he deserved.

I don’t feel the same way. He may have put out a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda. But he was at least morally consistent in that he himself didn’t take the vaccine. I would categorize him as willfully ignorant but not evil. To my mind, the lowest of the low are those who put out anti-vaccine rhetoric while unbeknownst to others, he and his family have taken the vaccine.

I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Valentine survives and makes a full recovery. And then I hope he gets on his knees and thanks the God he worships for granting him another chance for life. But most importantly, I hope he uses this second chance for life to own up to all the lies he has spread, going far and wide and talking to anybody who will listen.

As mentioned earlier, it’s often more about the messenger than the message itself. If President Biden tried to appeal to a hard core conservative by telling him to take the vaccine to save his life, he likely would accomplish little. At worst, the man might conclude that if Biden was giving him the advice, it might convince him once and for all to permanently ignore it. But the same advice coming from a fellow conservative he trusts and has come within a whisker of losing his life over the lies he believed - would be truly difficult to discredit.

If President Biden wants to launch an effective ad campaign to convince as many as possible to take the vaccine, using these conservative survivors to tell their story would be a most effective option. And for those who weren’t fortunate enough to have their dear loved one or friend survive, there would be no better tribute to their memory than saving as many lives as possible by persuading as many as possible -  to just take the damned vaccine!

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