“Whatever that number is”: Vaccine Hesitancy, Common Sense, and Stigmatizing Christians

CNN has an analysis out today by Stephen Collinson that quotes Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, as saying, “This is a pretty dangerous time to be unvaccinated, but what CDC is signaling is if you are fully vaccinated, freedoms are just becoming safer and safer for people.”

First, it isn’t a particularly dangerous time to be unvaccinated. New cases have fallen to levels last seen nearly a year ago when the Democrats were encouraging people to mass gather and promote the project to depolice America’s most dangerous communities. Moreover, half the population has now received at least one dose of the vaccine. If the vaccines are as efficacious as health officials are asserting, combined with the more than thirty million of those who have already been confirmed to have been or are currently infected, an undercount given an unreckoned but no doubt large number unconfirmed infections, we are at or around typical levels of herd immunity.

But, second, consider the disturbing rhetoric of “freedoms becoming safer.” What a bizarre way of putting the matter. Authoritarian, actually. We can’t have our freedoms until they are safe—as judged by unelected technocrats? Put Jha’s statement alongside what Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor at George Washington University, and you see clearly what the thinking is here: “It’s time for the CDC to start embracing this kind of bifurcated strategy [allowing the vaccinated to move about unmasked, while continuing to restrict the freedom of the unvaccinated] and perhaps giving the unvaccinated a hint of what life can be like if they become vaccinated.”

In other words, either you participate in a massive corporate experiment using a novel technology or you will not be allowed to move freely about your own country—a democratic-republic in which you are a citizen with guaranteed constitutional rights. See my blog concerning the ethics of this: The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg. In sum, this is a profound violation of basic human rights and personal sovereignty and liberty.

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a lengthy essay “Faith, Freedom, Fear: Rural America’s Covid Vaccine Skeptics” on vaccine hesitancy that represented skepticism of vaccines as backwards mouth breathing politically rightwing Christianity. The name of URL itself is revealing, identifying “white Republicans” as the collective culprit. Check it out: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/30/health/covid-vaccine-hesitancy-white-republican.html.

The story, by Jan Hoffman, makes crucial admissions that the Times nonetheless tries to pin on vaccine skepticism and political and religious ideology. First, widely circulating coronavirus variants are damaging to alleged vaccine efficacy. Second, Hoffman lets slip an effective point made by an interviewee that, if these rubes are, as they are depicted, devoted Trump followers, the fact that the vaccines were developed under and pushed by Trump has had no measurable impact on their willing to receive an experiment vaccine is rather revealing. Disconfirming, actually. Far from slavish followers of the former president, the skeptics are independent minded. Most importantly, which goes to independent-mindedness, Hoffman reveals what really lies at the core of vaccine hesitancy: common sense. Many feel the vaccine was rushed, its long-term effects unknown. They recognize that the vaccine—all of them—enjoy emergency use authorization only.

What explains their skepticism? Consider that the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is between 1-5% depending on state and region. A study by the Brookings Institute asked representative samples of Democrats and Republicans to estimate COVID-19 hospitalizations. More than quarter (25.6 percent) of Republicans articulated the accurate statistic, whereas fewer than one-in-ten (only 9.8 percent) of Democrats did. Astonishingly, 41 percent of Democrats believed that half or more of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 would be hospitalized. Taken together, well more than two-thirds of Democrats believed hospitalizations per infection were 20 percent or more, a wildly accurate estimate. Given the nonstop fear campaign by mainstream media, with a viewership drastically skewed towards Democrats, the fact that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be outside the propaganda bubble contributes to a more accurate grasp of the relative risks of this virus, a virus that has killed fewer than two-in-ten of those 65 years of age and younger and fewer than one-in-ten of those 55 and younger.

(Similarly, studies show that Democrats wildly exaggerate the number of underarmed black men shot by the police. Annually, that number if around a dozen. However, large percentages of Democrats believe the number is in the thousands and tens of thousands. Comparatively, Republicans perception is more aligned with the actual facts. Again, this is a measure of propaganda effect. Put another way, the more mainstream media one watches the more ignorant a person is.)

Today, The New York Times ran a story carrying the title “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe.” The story cites experts who portray the virus as an ineradicable yet manageable threat, stigmatizing the unvaccinated as disease vectors. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on Covid-19, after moving the herd immunity goal posts several times (he did the same with masks), and working from an apparently (and conveniently) changed definition of herd immunity that excludes those already infected, told the Times that the shift in rhetoric was due to a “confused” public “thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is.”

Whatever that number is.

* * *

Update (same day):

USA Today fact checkers. Some wisely pointed out that, according to the CDC, the case fatality rare for the vaccinated who contract COVID-19 is approximately the same as among the unvaccinated who contract COVID-19. “As of April 20, the CDC has indeed reported a total of 7,157 cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated people and 88 deaths.” I calculated the rate and, at 1.22 percent, it is indeed roughly the same as the rate for the unvaccinated.

“But public health experts say calculating a death rate from those numbers and comparing it to the general population is misleading.” Really, how so? “To calculate an accurate death rate, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases among vaccinated individuals must be known. But that number isn’t, said Lisa Miller, an epidemiologist and clinical professor at the Colorado School of Public Health.” Oh really? You mean like I have been saying all along on my blog. “We don’t know that [the infection fatality rate] because we’re not out there testing everyone (vaccinated),” she told USA Today. Exactly. Like I have been saying all along.

But—on no—there’s a snag here. USA Today accidentally told the truth. If you apply the same metric, guess what? That’s right, you lower both fatality rates and find that, in the end, vaccination doesn’t provide any greater protection from death. Try it for yourself. Take either case fatality rate and apply any multiple you wish—as long as it’s the same metric. You would have to engage in dishonesty and apply different metrics to show a disparity in infection fatality rates.

Now we understand that the 95+ percent reduction in hospitalizations = 95+ percent of cases do not result in hospitalizations in the first place. You draw the logical conclusion.

One more thing: “It’s important to note that the CDC has said 11 of the 88 deaths among COVID-19 infected, fully vaccinated people were ‘asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.’” Oh, so not everybody who dies with COVID-19 dies from COVID-19. Where have I heard that before?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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