Summary: Anti-vaccination exposes one to potential suffering and death. It appears crazy. Yet, the deeper question is why are millions of individuals refusing to partake in government mandates? Perhaps there are deeper issues that we need to be alerted to.
All human behavior, with sufficient effort, is comprehensible. We are wired to understand each other, from the basic level of mirror neurons, which mimic and anticipate behaviors of others, to mental constructs necessary to communicate with our fellow humans.
Human understanding is created from the inside out, through empathy, signs, symbols and language. This trail of comprehensibility is subject to insight. Try as we may dismiss certain behaviors and symbols as crazy, ignorant, or unbelievable, the potential for understanding others remains.
As a psychologist, I have been challenged to comprehend why seemingly normal and rational people, many formally educated, would choose to avoid wearing masks, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated in the face of compelling Covid-19 data that indicates that failure to do so may result in severe sickness and death. An unvaccinated person ages 12-34, for example, is 5X more likely to be hospitalized than a vaccinated person; and persons ages 35-64 are 7X more likely to get hospitalized and 11X more likely to die than vaccinated persons (Washington State Department of Health, January 2022).
Yet, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a highly visible person, recently spoke at an Anti-Vax rally in Washington DC comparing government vaccine mandates to laws invoked in Hitler´s Nazi Germany. He has since apologized for overreaching. However, this hyperbole, in one form or another, has occurred in over 50,000 recorded protests worldwide. A common theme captured in signs featured at such protests states that vaccinations compelled by governments are about tyranny vs. freedom.
What’s at risk through opposing vaccination is biological demise and potential death. Every day in the mainstream news we see evidence of an individual–one among tens of thousands of individuals— who has refused to be vaccinated only to become infected with Covid-19 and subsequently be admitted to a hospital, only to die.
How stupid could these individuals be we ask; stupid meaning anti-life, devoid of caution for loved ones and others, and burdening the health care system. Their choices, perhaps ideological in nature, are very costly to humanity and society at large. Given our uniquely human gifts, the question becomes, what can we learn, if anything, from individuals who are Anti-Vax?
Mask As Symbol
Millions of individuals globally have protested the wearing of masks. Masks to many have become a symbol of government oppression. They position their protest as the curtailment of individual freedom. They are angry about the fact that governments are trying to control their lifestyle and choices. At root, is the perception that governments and the power of the state, do not have the right to prescribe and control individual behaviors to ostensibly benefit masses of people.
Governments, according to many anti-vax persons, are an essential part of the problem. They are worse than the science used to control the disease itself. This is being driven significantly by individual mistrust of government, which has grown rapidly over the years. In the US, according to recent Pew Research, 75% of the population has declining trust in government and 1 in 5 believe that government fails to help people in their everyday lives. Few citizens, furthermore, believe that the government is telling them the truth about significant matters that impact their well-being and the future of the country.
Governments, according to large numbers of citizens, have earned their distrust stripes. The fact is that government disinformation and outright lying about affairs of state have opened multiple channels of protest and conspiracy theories, some more rational than others. Why do governments assume that after lying to citizens for so many years that we should give up the freedom of movement and expression to follow their recommendations on preventing disease?
Consider this question: Which of the following governments should a citizen trust; US, China, Russia, India, European Union, UK, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, and most of Latin America; or how about Poland, and most countries in the Eastern bloc?
Governments have a history of lying about their motives and facts regarding the real content of information on war and destruction, climate change and environmental damage, impacts of wealth disparity and poverty on human survival, and lack of political representation and transparency worldwide. The United Nations reports for instance that 43 countries are one step away from the edge of famine, which translates into potential death or physical and mental harm to over 40 million people; representing six times the number of deaths due to covid.
The chances are that more death and destruction will be caused by governments avoiding preventable causes of death than all the deaths caused by Covid-19 and its various strains. Yet, government policies and inaction fail to address the problems at hand. Governments seem immune to millions of poor individuals dying prematurely, but do not try to enforce the wearing of masks.
It could be cogently argued, based on solid data, that economics in its current form is killing the planet, and its inhabitants, animals, and humans, all sanctioned by governments.
Repeatedly, in the commercial news, we hear that Covid-19 rates need to be controlled or reduced to ensure that the economies of the world can continue to function according to plan. Economic estimates are that the world economy will lose an estimated $19 trillion of value due to Covid-19. Sick people do Repeatedly, in the commercial news, we hear that Covid-19 rates need to be controlled or reduced to ensure that the economies of the world can continue to function according to plan. Economic estimates are that the world economy will lose an estimated $19 trillion of value due to Covid-19. Sick people do not go to work, are less productive, and do not consume high levels of goods. A sick person who stays home or in the hospital is a person non-grata in the labor force. Covid-19 attacks all classes of people, rich and poor, even if the poor are differentially impacted. Interestingly, white people in the US accounted for the largest share of the unvaccinated, standing at 65% (Federal data, Jan. 10, 2022).
The middle classes certainly can´t afford to remain sick in the US, especially since household debt levels are at all-time highs and need to be paid; and most people are one paycheck away from financial crisis. Globally, several million families rely on garbage dumps for parts or materials to recycle, and many for food.
Governments seem to be able to agree more readily on defeating Covid-19 due to economic concerns, than other killers like poverty and climate change. If 40 million-plus poor people are subject to starvation and premature death or 1 in 5 kids live in poverty in the US, well that´s unfortunate but not critical because these same individuals and families are peripheral to the economy anyway.
Covid-19 can be seen primarily as an issue of money and control. It´s not money generated from the sale of vaccines, or hospital profits or funeral services that matters most. It´s lost wages and productivity and disrupted supply chains that are causing real problems. After we get through this crisis, we will still fail, more than likely, to evidence real will or plans to create a rational industrial economy that promotes the life of its citizens, and Earth, short and long term.
Learning from Anti-Vax
- The anti-vax movement has given us powerful questions to ask: How do we promote a government that tells the truth, discloses self-interest and works to help us survive the problems that we face on the level of nations and globally? It does little good to claim a government by the people and for the people when so many of those same people are essentially fascists. Trump, who is a windbag full of recorded lies, stands as a representative of millions of people. What we need are media channels committed to veracity and fact checking—-and straightforward government accountability.
- The power of government has been demonstrated in practice to help control Covid-19. This demonstrates that rapid organization to address real-world threats is possible. Why not target the plague of poverty, causes of climate impacts, and corporate responsibility to address wealth discrepancies at home and worldwide?
- Transforming government will be difficult, but without transforming it the Anti-Vax position will spread to other public health issues and that will be dangerous and costly for everyone. Either that or it will be helpful to raise critical issues that affect us all.