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A Plague Of Vaccine Skeptics

A 15-year-old receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
A 15-year-old receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Once upon a time, there was a plague. It was highly contagious, as plagues tend to be. Oddly, the American president at the time was not a rational adult, but something closer to a sociopathic toddler. So he ignored the plague, which he thought would make it go away.

It did not. Instead, 30 million Americans got sick and half a million died. The country shut down. You might remember all this.

The president himself got so sick his chief of staff feared he would die.

Fortunately, the president lost re-election and a new president, this one fully grown, with a functioning conscience, launched a furious campaign to vaccinate as many people as possible. Because America is a wealthy country with remarkable scientific capacity, vaccines became widely available and proved highly effective. Case numbers plummeted. Schools and businesses began to open up again. You might remember this, too.

As often happens with plagues, however, the underlying virus mutated into a much more contagious and lethal form.

Our fanatical loyalty to free speech has spawned a giant industry that peddles lethal misinformation.

Even more baffling was the chorus of voices that claimed — with no evidence whatsoever — that the vaccines posed an imminent danger. Or might, eventually.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, the former president had been mocking science and stoking paranoia among his fans for years. And the larger media ecosystem that spawned him had been, for many years, been making big bucks by sowing panic and distrust.

The result is that the plague has now entered a new and resurgent phase, especially in those areas of the country where people refuse to get vaccinated, such as southwestern Missouri. “We only get beds available when someone dies, which happens several times a day,” one hospital administrator told the Atlantic’s Ed Wong. Cases there are rocketing to levels unseen since the worst of the pandemic.

To summarize: millions of Americans are refusing to accept a free, life-saving vaccine, and are instead risking their lives and liberty at the behest of various political and media demagogues who claim — again, with zero evidence — that the vaccine poses a danger, most of whom are, by the way, curiously, vaccinated.

Examples abound. When Fox & Friend’s Steve Doocy, in a rare burst of lucidity, noted that 99% of those dying from COVID are unvaccinated, his co-host Brian Kilmeade replied that it’s “their choice” to die, and insisted that it’s not the government’s job to protect citizens. I’m sure that will come as a surprise to our military.

Georgia lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene, who compared Biden officials who urge citizens to get vaccinated to Nazi-era “brown shirts,” was recently banned from Twitter for half a day after spreading more vaccine lies.

The former president – who once crowed about how his administration oversaw the development of the vaccines – is now openly discouraging his supporters from taking them, claiming that “people are refusing to take the vaccine because they don't trust [Biden’s] Administration.”

In fact, studies show that current vaccines are effective in blocking the virulent Delta variant that now makes up 83 percent of all cases in the U.S.

If you’re wondering how these folks could be cynical enough to encourage people not to get vaccinated, the answer is pretty simple: because it sells. In the same way cigarettes sell. Or guns. Or deep-fried Twinkies.

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Fox News hosts pump out lies and insinuations because their viewers would rather feel aggrieved than vulnerable. The former president burps out seditious word salads because he wants his successor to fail. From an epidemiological standpoint, they amount to bio-terrorists.

At this point, there is almost no way to win over vaccine skeptics. There are epistemologically inoculated against medical common sense, and thus self-preservation. They believe what they wish to believe.

Inevitably, American society will become further divided as a result of this plague. But we should not blame the virus for this. It is the desired result of those actors who profit by our division, whether foreign or domestic.

Our fanatical loyalty to free speech has spawned a giant industry that peddles lethal misinformation. The plague will continue to kill Americans — as will angry men with guns, and climate catastrophes — until that industry is held accountable for its abuse of the First Amendment.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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