Anti-vaxxers are undermining our success at curbing virus

When we don't challenge their mistruths, it only emboldens the fanatics set on weakening our public health system.

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Editorials

November 2, 2021 - 9:49 AM

A man shouts expletives at Portland school board members. An anti-government group put a call out for activists to protest against a proposed vaccine mandate.

Headlines Monday captured why the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to take lives. 

“Vaccine foes rally at the statehouse,” was one.

“Global death toll to COVID-19 tops 5 million,” the other. 

Combine the two and the story becomes clear. People are refusing to take a vaccine for a deadly virus.

In countries where the vaccine is readily available, the vaccinated are not dying. Yes, some are still contracting the virus — it is not 100% effective and never was purported to be — but they are not being put on life support in hospitals.

THE TOPEKA protesters Saturday were over the top. One claimed that to request employees get vaccinated is like Adolf Hitler ordering the Jews to concentration camps. Others called it tyranny. 

Let’s be clear.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can be deadly. The vaccine protects against it. When you don’t get vaccinated you are putting yourself and other people in danger, particularly young children and those who can’t receive the vaccine. 

If anything, people should regard it as their civic duty to get vaccinated.

Vaccine mandates are not new. 

For more than 100 years, states have required a slew of vaccines to treat childhood diseases — polio, smallpox, diphtheria — with few viewing it as an infringement on their public liberties.

Almost 575,000 Americans have died in the last two years from COVID, the most of any other country in the world. We are also the wealthiest.

Chart showing U.S. cases, deaths.

That disconnect can be explained by two things: The distribution of wealth in the U.S. is grossly lopsided and when it comes to COVID, the poor are hit hardest because they lack adequate healthcare. 

Step back, and it’s the same story on a global scale. 

While wealthy countries are now urging citizens to get booster shots, there are many countries where people have yet to receive a single dose.

As long as access to the vaccine remains lacking, no matter where you live, the unvaccinated will be at risk.

THOSE WANTING to politicize the public health crisis have no shame.

Kris Kobach, candidate for the GOP  nomination for Kansas attorney general, egged on Saturday’s audience to fight for their “constitutional rights” to refuse the vaccine.

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, accused government-issued materials about COVID-19 and the vaccines as propaganda.

And Attorney General Derek Schmidt, candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, has signed Kansas onto another lawsuit with six other states against the Joe Biden administration for requiring federal contractors ensure their workforces are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kobach termed Saturday’s group as a grassroots uprising.

If so, they must be stopped.

Investigations by the State Department have described how Russian intelligence organizations seek to discredit Western COVID-19 vaccines. One campaign implies that it could turn people into monkeys. This builds on a longer, well-documented history of Russia-sponsored disinformation, presumably to destabilize the United States and other democracies. The Biden administration has warned Russian media groups to halt their anti-vaccine aggression, and announced sanctions tied to disinformation.

That’s good, but we as individuals also have a role.

People bad-mouthing health professionals for their efforts to save lives are not to be commended.

Those criticizing school officials for working to keep students safe against the spread of the virus are not to be applauded.

And those turning reasonable questions and concerns over rare side effects into conspiracy theories and exaggerated fears should be called out for undermining progress in combating the virus.

For too long, most of us have regarded anti-vaxxers as a fringe movement, and turned our attention elsewhere. That silence is being interpreted as tacit approval. 

Vaccines save lives. 

Spread the word.

— Susan Lynn 

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