how anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers added years to the covid pandemic

We held the key to defeating the COVID-19 in our hands. Then, our worst citizens gave the virus a second lease on life, and millions more will die before this is over.
cadaver with toe tag

When historians talk about the COVID pandemic centuries from now, it’s probably a safe wager than expressions like “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” will be used on a regular basis. We were so close. After a decade in development, mRNA vaccine technology made to counter the most likely family of viruses to cause another pandemic were ready to spring into action. By lowering every bureaucratic and financial barrier, we got vaccines into arms in record time, and by June we were counting down the days until COVID became a bad dream and life returned to its normal rhythms. We even started talking about Hot Vax Summer and selling t-shirts and tank tops saying “vaxxed, waxed, and ready to relax.”

And then, to paraphrase John Oliver paraphrasing the internet, Hot Vax Summer was rudely interrupted by Dipshit Fall as sociopathic grifters and malicious politicians, egging on vapid, bored ignoramuses in search of a windmill at which to tilt almost slowed vaccine uptake in the U.S. to a screeching halt while trying to do the same across the world. Vaccination rates may be picking up now, but countless right-wing politicians are still fighting any measure to even slow the spread of the disease, and new and more infectious variants are stalking the world, rapidly mutating into ever more vaccine-resistant forms. In their quest to be defiant contrarians, these rebels without a clue and the grifting parasites feeding off them have doomed millions.

This isn’t hyperbole. This is simply how pandemics work. Viruses, like all things containing some sort of genetic material, constantly mutate, and the greater their numbers, the more chances they’ll have to mutate into more dangerous and infectious versions of themselves. How many different versions of SARS-CoV-2 we’ll see will be limited since coronaviruses can only mutate so much while still infecting humans. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the virus still has in its bag of tricks and shouldn’t want to find out. That’s why immunologists want to vaccinate 70% of the population as quickly as possible. By limiting the spread, we limit the mutations so the rise of powerful new variants like Delta and Lambda would be far more difficult.

why vaccines are still our best way to defeat covid

If the pandemic was a fire, vaccines should be cutting off its oxygen. But instead of letting that, happen anti-vaxxers currently spending their days threatening school boards with violence for trying to keep kids from getting sick, and (allegedly) shitting their pants at grocery stores after taking livestock de-wormer to prevent COVID because a podcast or a YouTube video told them to, managed to slow vaccine uptake just enough for the Delta variant to explode worse than any previous COVID wave. And this sad state of affairs leaves us with two questions. The first is why so many people completely lost their minds, descending into rage and fury at any attempt to control the pandemic. The second is what happens next.

Let’s answer the latter question first. Until enough of the planet is either fully vaccinated or develops enough antibodies after exposure to the virus in the wild to make COVID more of a nuisance than a threat, SARS-CoV-2 will continue to mutate. Its victims will tend to be older because after 60 or so, our immune system starts to show its wear and tear, shortening the lifetime of the antibodies currently protecting them. Booster shots will become a necessity for those 65 and older come mid-fall, quickly followed by as many adults as possible. Meanwhile, we’ll keep on being exposed to new variants which are now endemic across the globe. After maybe 3 to 5 years of this, we can hope for some sort of an equilibrium.

While the virus doesn’t necessarily care if we live or die, it can’t effectively reproduce if it kills humans too often and too quickly. Outbreaks with very high mortality rates burn out rapidly since there just aren’t enough victims to keep passing on the disease. It’s in COVID’s selective interest to become something like the flu, and once enough of us are either vaccinated against its worst tricks or exposed to most of its mutations, that will be the likeliest outcome. But until this happens, millions with insufficient antibodies, certain comorbidities, or just old and frail, will continue to die. Even right now, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who say they’d rather die than “submit to tyranny by experts” are making good on their threat, wittingly or not.

how millions lost their minds

Since it seems like we’re doomed to keep fighting COVID for years instead of months thanks to the rage of malicious ignoramuses, sociopaths, and the pathologically oppositional, we have to confront the question of why they’re behaving this way and if we can make them see at least a glimpse of sanity. Ideas for dealing with them vary from vaccine mandates and passports to targeted outreach campaigns to their community leaders and reverse-proselytizing programs intended to open the refuseniks’ minds enough to give science and education a chance. None of the ideas is a silver bullet because anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and pandemic denialists aren’t actually a monolithic block despite often acting like one.

What does unite them, however, is their outrage at the loss of agency in a pandemic where all those days spent ignoring science classes came back to bite them in the ass and they have to do something they don’t want to do because the conversation is no longer about what they want and whether the information and actions fit with their worldview, and the need to latch on to a crusade so in their outrage they can find meaning in their lives. The nuances may be different, so a successful approach to change their minds will have to be as well, but the problem is that we’re in a time crunch and don’t have years to beg them to think about those around them, a suggestion many of them find an affront to their very existence.

And this brings us to the unpleasant thought that the root of the anti-vaxxer and anti-masker problems is cultural, expressed in great detail and far more eloquence than I could muster by astronomer Carl Sagan and sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov in their famous quips on the subject, as well as indirectly by Frank Herbert throughout his famous Dune series. We’re suffering through what could only be described as several generations of extremely selfish and coddled people raised on the twin beliefs that might makes right and that anything for the communal good must be evil and intended to bring about tyranny and mass control. Being asked to put on a mask to protect others and being commanded to march to a gulag is the same thing in their minds. It sounds like a pathology in need of treatment, but that is the way they think.

Lucky for us, new generations came of age or are entering their formative years watching the folly of pathological hyper-individualism and are repulsed by what they see. Family packs and tribes with tightly knit cliques is how feral animals and early Stone Age humans worked, not modern civilized societies. We can’t disappear as individuals, nor should we, but we’ll only have functioning, advanced civilizations if we find a balance between the goals of individuals and the needs of the society in which those individuals exist. There’s a reason why history books don’t regale us with tales of Karen of Costco and her prowess in shrieking at employees who ask her to put on a mask in a pandemic or hoarding toilet paper. It’s time we remember why.

# health // anti vaxxers / covid-19 / pandemic


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