The choice on offer is invariably binary. And like so much of life these days, the one who chooses one takes to despising the one who chooses the other (with one sure to be more determined to convert the other to his or her side). Such is the product of the social-media-driven, troll-empowering zeitgeist that has emerged over the past decade.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the binary choice of the day. 'Tis nobler to vaccinate and engender the goodwill of distant superiors who are no more than strangers, or 'tis nobler to not vaccinate and endure the calumny of a vaccine-obsessed media and potential loss of gainful employment?
If nobility is conflated with ease and popularity, the answer is too obvious: Vaccinate and engender the goodwill of the distant strangers. Life will certainly be better lubricated, that's for sure. But when is nobility conflated with ease? I conflate nobility with individualism: doing what the individual knows is right: ease, popularity, and goodwill be damned. For one person, to get vaccinated against Covid is to do what's right. For another, to do what is right is to remain unvaccinated.
If it were to end there -- live and let live and move on -- all would be well in the world. But it never ends there, and all is never well in the world. As for the binary choice, the one side -- the vaccinated -- is keen to impose its will on the other side -- the unvaccinated. What's more, the vaccinated are more willing to move beyond persuasion to coercion to wrench the unvaccinated to its side. Many among the vaccinated see a secondary binary choice within the first: get vaccinated and save humanity or remain unvaccinated and perpetuate death.
The alternatives to the mainstream narrative, dictated by the vaccinated, are derided as irresponsible, nonsensical, delusional, or conspiracy ridden: countering the pandemic with natural immunity, a strategy rationally favored by the young and healthful; the use of monoclonal antibodies and ivermectin; relying on sunlight, fresh air, exercise, nutritious diet, dietary supplements. All are evidence of a gullible mind and a dupe for nineteenth-century quackery.
Let's acknowledge the obvious: politics is an influencing factor in the choice one makes. Those of a blue hue are vaccinated at a higher percentage than those of a red hue (though the gap is less yawning than you might think). Those blue are more concentrated in urban settings, while those red are disbursed throughout the hinterlands. Those blue tend to emphasize the group; those red, the individual. Those blue tend to be more materialistic, more willing to defer to the empiricism of science, more willing to heed the aggregated numbers. Those red tend to be more religious and more skeptical of scientific conclusions that come tethered to coercion.
Because those blue are more willing to embrace scientific conclusions, they believe they are more rational than those red. They believe they are more intelligent. If I believe I am more intelligent than you, I cannot help but think I am superior to you. If I am superior to you, then perhaps I feel entitled to hold sway over you. If for no other reason, I am protecting you from your ignorance, though in the end, it is all about me.
Psychology is a frustratingly complex thing. No one can know with certainty what motivates the other person. We are frequently blind to our motives. We share one constant, though, one universal characteristic: We are all motivated to improve our sense of well-being.
For one person, increasing wealth improves his sense of well-being; for another, striving for status does the job; moral grandstanding for a cause is yet another; displays of superior intellect or physical feats can do it; the fellow down the hall might seek power over others; relieving anxiety is yet one more, and nearly universal. The motives to raise well-being are infinite. (Improving a sense of well-being can appear counterintuitive: Shedding all responsibilities and ownership and taking to street living, for instance. Don't assume that something you find distasteful is distasteful to all.)
Pursuing a satisfactory state of well-being is an individual calling. It is never about the other person, no matter the desperation to projects otherwise. The CDC reports rising Covid cases. Afterward, the President strides solemnly to the podium to comment on the report. He balls his hand into a fist as he takes the final step. His eyes clench, his brow furrows. He gnaws on a knuckle of the fisted hand. The rising case numbers and the potential death of unknowable strangers diminish his sense of well-being, to be sure, but mostly in that it diminishes his image as a competent savior in the eyes of a fickle electorate. The death of your anonymous grandmother from Covid fails to keep him awake at night. The potential hit to his reputation does.
"Sunk costs are sunk" is a phrase familiar to sophomore-level economics students. A previous course of action shouldn't impede a potentially profitable (profits can be monetary or psychic) course of action. You buy stock ABC and its share price tanks 50% in the first year. The facts a year hence suggest that ABC is unlikely to recover soon. Another set of facts suggests that stock XYZ offers the potential to double your money over the next eighteen months. What to do? Armed with the facts, homo economicus sells stock ABC and buys stock XYZ.
Except that no one is homo economicus. Sunk costs frequently float to the surface to influence decisions of the day. Yes, jettisoning a stock with a poor outlook for one with a positive outlook will rationally increase the wealth of the investor. The jettisoning might also inflict a psychological hit, which could outweigh the potential financial gain. Selling the loser and buying the winner is to acknowledge a poor decision. A valued financial reputation could take a hit. The desired sense of competency is diminished, and so is a sense of well-being. Which stings more: the financial hit or the reputational hit? Only the individual knows.
A lot of reputational capital has been sunk into the Covid vaccines. If the facts suggest the vaccine strategy was wrong, you can be sure those whose reputations are most sunk into the vaccines will only double down on their costs. The countervailing "facts," the vaccine proponents will assert are wrong. (Whenever someone asserts he has the facts to support his assertion of a disputed conclusion, I think of Nietzsche's observation that there are no facts, only interpretations.) The countervailing facts will be lampooned as disinformation, snake oil, or outright lies. The more one sink's a reputation into a cause, the more one will adopt the defense of the old Tareyton cigarette ad: I'd rather fight than switch.
The facts point to a prevalent pre-existing-condition aspect to Covid. The facts, as I interpret them, suggest that Covid is as much a pandemic of pre-existing conditions as anything. Every study confirms that if a person has an underlying pre-existing condition, he or she is much more susceptible to a serious infection. He or she also carries much higher Covid loads and a higher potential for Covid transmission. The facts also point to vaccines being less effective in those most at risk. The narrative has centered overwhelmingly on vaccine efficacy across a homogeneous universe, where one size fits all. The pre-existing-condition aspect has been given short-shift, and yet the pre-existing condition is most likely to determine life or death.
Obesity is near the top of pre-existing conditions that raise the odds of an unfavorable encounter with Covid. The reason is easy enough to understand. Fat cells are very welcoming hosts for Covid because of the nature of a virus, which is a particle of peptides. A virus needs a cell to infect to multiple itself. The virus needs a co-receptor -- a doorway -- to enter the cell. Fat cells tend to have more co-receptors than other cells. More fat cells mean more potential homes for the virus. More homes for the virus means more potential harm the virus can inflict on the host. Where is the importuning to lose weight?
Fear leads the variables that diminish a sense of well-being. Fear is the leading factor those championing universal vaccination want to diminish. They fear that the unvaccinated increase the risk of the vaccinated catching Covid. But once again the heterogeneity of reality is overlooked. A healthy, weight-appropriate vaccinated person with no pre-existing conditions has little chance of dying. Yes, the risk increases with age, but that is true of every virus, of every bacterium, of every malady. (Remember, none of us gets out of here alive.)
Nonstop media bombardment only exaggerates the fear to sensitized minds. When in the past year-and-a-half has Covid failed to be a lead story on a major television network or newspaper? Continual bombardment further sensitizes the receptive mind to the risk and the fear of catching Covid. Where to the myopic carpenter, every problem is a nail, to the myopic media consumer, dying is related to COVID.
Wealthier, urban dwellers have been sensitized to the risk more than most. Perhaps they believe they have more to lose, and perhaps they do (from a materialistic perspective). They live in fashionable burgs that are immune to crime. They work in plush, climate-controlled offices. They drive high-end automobiles. They live in a safe cocoon that protects them from outside world. And on the occasions when the cocoon is penetrated by perceived risk, they will reflexively inflate the risk to outsized proportions. As for Covid, they are convinced the unvaccinated increase their risk of dying by a factor the data fail to support.
Uncertainty of the vaccine's safety also weighs on the vaccinated mind. The uncertainty evokes a subtle form of resentment. The vaccinated wonder if they have done the right thing. Science is never absolute. The narrative, after all, has shifted numerous times since early 2020. (Remember in the beginning when the narrative was that we would all get it, but it was imperative that we "flatten the curve" so as not to overwhelm the medical infrastructure?) They think that if I'm going down, everyone should go down.
Because the risk is already distorted by irrational fear, the vaccinated wonder if they have underestimated the risk of the vaccine despite being inculcated otherwise. Unsettling questions arise: Could the variants be a product of mass vaccination? What are the long-term health ramifications of continual vaccinations? Worst of all: Would I have better immunity against the variants without the vaccine? Studies from sources sympathetic to mass vaccination suggest immunity gained after recovering from a bout of COVID-19 is more protective against the variants than vaccine-induced immunity.
Those with more economics knowledge will ask if profit has skewed the narrative? Lead vaccine providers Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna are forecast to make $34 billion in operating profits this year. Vaccine production is the primary source of the windfall. What is this trinity's influence on the regulators? Have the regulators been captured by those they regulate to become inadvertent marketing pawns?
Let’s appraise two simple facts: The unvaccinated minority comprises mostly the young and healthy. This demography rationally eschews the vaccine because it is at little risk of harm if infected. And let's remember that they are the minority. The majority, 80% of the adult population, is fully vaccinated.
That the unvaccinated are so few posses a problem, though one rarely reported. The one-in-five challenges the narrative about Covid is spread primarily. They are rational to challenge. Indeed, one report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the summer found that 74% of people infected in a Covid outbreak in Massachusetts were fully vaccinated against the virus. The study also found that people fully vaccinated and get infected can carry as much of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in their noses as those unvaccinated.
Those blue tend to favor a Rube Goldberg approach to problem-solving. Those red tend to favor an Occam's Razor approach, which Dr. David Katz offered in March 2020 in a New York Times editorial. Katz opined that the best we could do is to protect the elderly and those predisposed to harm from infection while the rest of us continued with our routine lives, gaining herd immunity along the way.
I doubt the New York Times would consider, much less publish, a proposal like Katz's today. Railroading into opinion singularity is, unfortunately, another product of the current zeitgeist.