As August 2021 began, 50% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, over 165 million people. There have been 615,000 confirmed deaths — the actual number, given the national excess mortality rate since the start of 2020, is likely double official figures. Over a 12-month period, since last August, 2.5 million people were hospitalized, many leaving with lasting medical problems. All the while, protests and foaming at the mouth over mask and vaccine mandates continue; half the population has refused or delayed the vaccine, this group disproportionately (+20%) Republican.
Attempting to convince the conspiracy theorists, bullheaded conservatives, and those concerned over how (historically) fast the vaccine breakthrough occurred is of course still the moral and pressing thing to do. This piece isn’t an exercise in fatalism, despite its headline. However, great frustration exists: if the hesitant haven’t been convinced by now, what will move the needle? With over a year and a half to absorb the dangers of COVID, deadly and otherwise, and eight months to observe a vaccine rollout that has given 1.2 billion people globally highly effective protection, with only an infinitesimally small percentage seeing any side effects (similar to everyday meds), what could possibly be said to convince someone to finally listen to the world’s medical and scientific consensus, to listen to reason? People have been given a chance to compare the disease to the shots (the unvaccinated are 25 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID and 24 times more likely to die, with nearly all [97, 98, 99%] of COVID deaths now among the unprotected population), but that requires a trust in the expert consensus and data and trials and peer-reviewed research and all those things that make American stomachs churn. Giving people accurate information and sources can even make them less likely to see the light! There is, for some bizarre reason, more comfort and trust in the rogue doctor peddling unfounded nonsense on YouTube.
It may be of some comfort then to recognize that the insanity will surely decrease as time goes on. It’s already occurring. The most powerful answer to “what will move the needle?” is “personal impact” — as time passes, more people will know someone hospitalized or wiped from existence by the disease, and also know someone who has been vaccinated and is completely fine. There will be more family members who get the vaccine behind your back and more friends and acquaintances you’ll see online or in the media expressing deep regret from their ICU hospital beds. You may even be hospitalized yourself. Such things will make a difference. States currently hit hardest by the Delta variant and seeing overall cases skyrocket — the less vaccinated states — are also witnessing increases in vaccination rates. Even conservative media outlets and voices are breaking under the weight of reason, finally beginning to promote the vaccine and changing viewers’ minds, while naturally remaining in Absurdsville by pretending their anti-inoculation hysteria never occurred and blaming Democrats for vaccine hesitancy. Eventually, falsities and mad beliefs yield to science and reason, as we’ve seen throughout history. True, many will never change their minds, and will go to their deaths (likely untimely) believing COVID to be a hoax, or exaggerated, or less risky than a vaccine. But others will yield, shaken to the core by loved ones lost to the virus (one-fourth to one-third of citizens at least know someone who died already) or vaccinated without becoming a zombie, or even by growing ill themselves.
To say more time is needed to end the foolishness is, admittedly, in part to say more illness and death are needed. As stated, the more people a hesitant person knows who have grown ill or died, the more likely the hesitant person is to get his or her shots. A terrible thing to say, yet true. That is why we cannot rest, letting time work on its own. We must continue trying to convince people, through example, empathy (it’s often not logic that changes minds, but love), hand-holding, and other methods offered by psychologists. Lives can be saved. And to convince someone to get vaccinated is not only to protect them and others against COVID, it suddenly creates a person in someone else’s inner circle who has received the shots, perhaps helping the behavior spread. Both us and Father Time can make sure hesitant folk know more people who have been vaccinated, the more pleasant piece of time’s function.
Hopefully, our experience with coronavirus will prepare us for more deadly pandemics in the future, in terms of our behavior, healthcare systems, epidemiology, and more. As bad as COVID-19 is, as bad as Delta is, humanity was exceptionally lucky. The disease could have been far deadlier, far more contagious; the vaccine could have taken much longer, and been less effective. We’ve seen four million deaths worldwide, but even with this virus evolving and worsening, we’ll likely see nothing like the 50 million dead from the 1918 pandemic. Some see the rebellion against masks, lockdowns, and vaccines as a frightening sign: such insanity will spell absolute catastrophe when a deadlier virus comes around. This writer has always suspected (perhaps only hoped) that view to be a bit backward. A deadlier virus would likely mean less rebellion (as would a virus you could see on other people, something more visually horrifying like leprosy). It’s the relative tameness of COVID that allows for the high degree of madness. Admittedly, there was anti-mask resistance during the 1918 crisis, but there could be a correlation nonetheless between the seriousness of the epidemic and the willingness to engage in suicidal foolishness. That aligns with this idea that the more people you lose in your inner circle the more likely you are to give in and visit your local health clinic. Let’s hope science and reason reduce the opportunities to test this correlation hypothesis.