To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
A couple of hours ago we wrapped up my wife’s monthly family Zoom teleconference. Thirty family members were present. It was great to learn that one niece was in the family way, another had a virtual wedding five days ago, and a family member just announced his wedding plans for next year. These were the good news.
The not so good news was of course still about the pandemic. A nephew from upstate NY recounted that the hospital in their area could no longer hold enough covid patients due to the recent spike. They are now moving patients to another hospital in a nearby town. A niece who is a nurse at a rehab hospital in Westchester NY said that her hospital has covid patients again. Last month they were covid free.
Another niece in California shared with us her fear of stepping out of her house. She lives in a red zone. The grocery store beside her just closed shop. The owner contracted covid.
When my turn to talk came, I asked everyone who among them would be taking the vaccine this December 11. Nobody raised a hand. Their “self-justifications” varied from waiting for another 3 months to not taking it at all. They admitted they feared covid, even as they said they trusted God would protect them.
But they would not take the vaccine.
Last week I saw a middle-aged man limping towards the Pharmacy section of a supermarket in Elmhurst, Queens.
“What’s a good medicine for my sprained foot?” he asked the counter representative.
“Sir, I think you better have your foot checked at a hospital or clinic. You can hardly walk.”
“You crazy? I’m asking you because I don’t want to go to a clinic.”
“I’ll get infected, that’s why. I’m sick and tired of this *#@^ covid-covid thing! That’s why I’m in your pharmacy!”
“You can try that aisle over there, sir.”
I did not follow up on what happened next. But it was very clear to me that the person looking for medication was in pain and acting irrationally. It was also clear that he hated going to a medical facility for fear of catching the virus. As a result he vented his pent up anger at the sales associate.
Looking back at the incident I amusingly recall Yoda’s famous lines in one of the Star Wars movies:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda, Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, 1999.
We live in a world full of fear and anxiety. During the Cold War, the question was when will I be blown up? Today it is this pandemic. We’re fearful each time we leave our homes. Sometimes we think that wearing a face mask and a face shield are not enough to protect us. This day-to-day anxiety has drained us. We’re exhausted. I bet that even if the vaccine rolls out by December 11, many people will be wary of taking it because no one knows for sure what the side effects would be.
This wariness, however, is not without good reason. For instance, is it safe? Did the fast paced testing compromise safety? Did we cut corners? What about transparency of clinical trials? For example, the UK trial of a leading covid vaccine was abruptly halted when a person participating in the trial showed an adverse reaction. Scientists have criticized the trial sponsors for not releasing more information about the pause. The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have not released full details of the adverse reaction that forced them to halt the trial. In light of this and other snags, should we wait for two or more years for all the data to come in? Can we afford to wait that long?
What about people with high-risk chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, kidney and respiratory illnesses? Senior citizens?
Don’t get me wrong. I think that if you are working with covid patients you should get the shot. If your work demands close contact with people in departments of social welfare and the like, for instance, prudence requires that you take the shot. If you travel often, you need it.
The fact is, vaccines are a boon to humanity in that it saves millions of lives every year. Immunization has protected us against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, smallpox, rubella, measles, whooping cough, and other life-threatening diseases.
Vaccines help our body to develop immunity to the virus, so we don’t get sick. The more people are vaccinated, the more there will be a general immunity. The less people are vaccinated, the longer it may take for us to get back to normal. The aim of our scientists now is to include Covid-19 among these “vaccine preventable” illnesses.
Moreover, vaccination not only protects you but everyone around you. If you are immune to the virus, you cannot spread it to others because there is nothing to spread. The more people are vaccinated, the lesser chances for it to spread.
Like all other vaccines, there will be unpleasant side effects. Prepare yourself for flu-like symptoms, soreness in the arm, headache, muscle pain, fatigue that could last for a few days and may disrupt work and school. But the good news is that if you feel these, it means it is working.
There’s always risk in many things in life. I’ve conquered fear and anxiety by turning to the Bible.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
May these verses remind us not to fear because we are with God. These verses are for people who trust in the Lord. Remember there would be a lot to fear if God is not with us.
Sooner or later we would want to gather again in churches, attend weddings and reunions. I for one miss the classic Bible stories live on stage at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster. That’s the first place where I’d treat my family when this thing is over. And it will be over.
In the meantime, masking will be a part of our lives. That’s all right. After all, it’s not just about myself but about the whole of humanity. For each day I mask up, practice social distancing, wash my hands properly, and pray hard, I do my part not only in flattening the curve but in bringing it to a “sustained downward trajectory” until and with God’s Infinite Power wipe it out forever, like we did to smallpox, from the face of the earth.