I am having a struggle with vaccine hesitance. Half of Americans have now been vaccinated against Covid 19. Those of us who are in that half are enthusiastic, grateful beyond belief for this gift of science that promises to rescue us from this plague. We are the “low-hanging fruit,” the ones most eager to benefit from this reprieve. Many of us are in the most vulnerable categories—the aged and infirm—for whom the virus is more likely to be a death sentence. Once the scientists affirmed that the vaccine was safe and effective, we pushed to the front of the line, baring our arms.
Suddenly, however, the vaccination rate has slowed and some areas are reporting excess availability of vaccines, while half of the eligible population is still unvaccinated. My struggle, then, is with this phenomenon of vaccine hesitance. I encounter it, internally and externally, almost daily.
The internal struggle is with my own attitude toward people who hesitate or refuse to be vaccinated. The external struggle is to work out practical, ethical responses to it in my personal encounters.
Internally, I must admit that my default attitude is highly judgmental, something like, “what can you possibly be thinking?” I move from that to, “let me listen and consider what you are thinking.” And, after listening or reading and considering, I finally admit to myself (if not to others) that on this as on many other issues it is simply impossible to get fully inside someone else’s head; that argument and even a reasonable back-and-forth is mostly futile; that nobody persuades anybody to change their minds—people have to come to their own conclusions. This is the price of living in an individualistic culture that places personal freedom higher than the communal good. And I, too, value my personal freedom so I don’t knock that too hard except that I can’t help seeing how self-destructive such freedom often turns out to be. But I don’t want to put forth my personal arguments here.
So, internally, I can bring myself around to a live-and-let-live attitude without too much difficulty. And I can say to myself, “I choose to protect myself. It doesn’t matter too much what other people choose to do.”
(However, at this rate the country won’t get to herd immunity any time soon and a large unvaccinated population offers plenty of opportunity for virulent variants to arise that may nullify or weaken the effect of the vaccines. This will keep the scientific community working to stay a step ahead of the virus we couldn’t all agree to quash ASAP because . . . what were those reasons again? OK, I don’t really understand them and will never agree with them but . . . personal freedom. Whatever. I will just keep getting the boosters.)
My difficulty right now is the practical, ethical response. How does this affect my personal relationships and encounters? I find myself eager to exercise the freedom of being more or less protected and sometimes resentful of the way other people’s choices continue to hamper that. I also am tempted to exercise pressure in various ways to impose my point of view.
Do I continue, for example, to patronize the hairdresser who is dithering about getting vaccinated? I texted her the other day, “Are you vaccinated yet?” No response. She probably saw that as a threat to take my business elsewhere and it probably was though I am probably too lazy to go through the trial-and-error process of finding a suitable (vaccinated) replacement. We do wear masks. I still patronize only businesses that require masks.
What do I ask of the household member who believes he has medical reasons to refuse vaccination although his doctor, who, he says, has confirmed this, refuses to give him a letter saying so? All the rest of us are vaccinated.
What about dear ones who refuse vaccination and, accordingly, choose to continue stringent precautions? How long must we keep meeting outdoors, masked?
Masks are a burden for me since I am hearing impaired. Is it worth going to church and trying to socialize distanced and masked because we can’t require everyone to be vaccinated?
I choose to protect myself. It shouldn’t matter too much what other people choose to do.
But it is interesting that I seem to have the most difficulty, not with those who are blatantly defying all safety protocols (I stay as far away from them as possible), but with the need to continue safety protocols because some are choosing not to protect themselves through vaccination.
Thus, I am most resentful of the continued limits on my own freedom. I am such an American.
How are you navigating these shoals?