The thoughtless privilege of America's vaccine refusers

The thoughtless privilege of America's vaccine refusers
Image via Shutterstock.

So we sit, month after month, patiently waiting for the 90 million or so unvaccinated, COVID vaccine-eligible people in this country to get off their pampered American asses and drive a meager mile or so to the CVS or Walgreen's to get a safe and simple shot that would prevent a long, painful hospital stay (or at worst, a dismal end-of-life experience on a ventilator) for them. We wait, and wait again, as we read article after article proposing new, clever ways to get the so-called "vaccine hesitant" to come around (Whatever you do, don't criticize them, we're told).

But while we're busy waiting for these people to somehow see the light, we shouldn't lose sight of just how incredibly lucky we all are to live in a country that actually has the wealth and public health infrastructure to provide these vaccines in the first place.

Only 16% of the entire world population has been fully vaccinated at this point, which means 84% of the folks on the planet have not. 83% of all those precious vaccines have gone to people in high and upper-middle income countries, while only 0.3% have gone to low-income countries. As every map depicting vaccine distribution will show, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of all. Many countries on that continent haven't even started providing the vaccine to their populations.

Just stop and think about that—the vaccines have been administered in the US since December, 2020. It's now mid-August, 2021 and many countries haven't even begun to inoculate their citizens, because they can't. Either they don't have access to the vaccines or they don't have the ability to administer them. All that time, in those countries, the pandemic has raged on as virulently as did beginning in February, 2020. Now the delta variant, far more contagious than the original strain, is infecting people in those same countries. And they have no vaccine to ward it off.

Nor will many in these poorer countries be getting the vaccines anytime soon. Most people in the poorest countries will not receive a vaccine until as late as 2023. While we sit and try to cajole our well-educated, well-fed citizens to decide to get the vaccine, these folks continue to get sick and die.

These countries don't have the public health system we enjoy. Most don't have the luxury of many modern hospitals with ICU beds. Many don't have any type of health insurance system at all. As crappy and frustrating as our own health system is, most people in this country still won't be socked with astronomical, life-ending medical bills from COVID-19, but that is what happens like Uganda and Zambia, for example. Most of the working class people in those countries can't even afford to get tested. For many, "social distancing" is next to impossible, living in multi-generational households with poor sanitation and water availability, and certainly no ability to "telecommute" to wherever it is they work.

The situation on the African continent is hardly any better in large swaths of South America, Southern Asia and Southeast Asia. In India, the world's second most populous country, where only 11% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, they've resorted to mass crematoriums just to try to dispose of all the dead bodies piling up.

Most people in those countries really, really would like to be in the position we are in, with vaccines freely available to just about anyone. Many millions of them are simply going to get sick and die, because they happen to have been born in the wrong place. Millions and millions of children in these countries are going to lose one or both of their parents or grandparents. Their lives are going to be forever wrecked by this pandemic.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of people in this country (supposedly one of the most educated in the world) continue to find nonsensical excuses not to get vaccinated. "I wanted to wait and see," "I wasn't sure they were tested enough," "I read on Facebook that they don't do any good," "They're a plot to benefit drug companies," or my favorite, "It's all a liberal hoax; it's nothing worse than the flu."

WTF? Talk about privilege. Talk about entitlement. The fact that these anti-vaccination dipshits even have the leisure time to research their nonsense on Facebook or peddle their foolishness online or in school board meetings is a testament in itself to that privilege. How nice that they have the luxury of making a political statement about their non-vaccinated status!

Junaid Nabi, a health systems researcher and an Emerging Leaders Fellow with UNA-USA, describes the "peculiar privilege" afforded to Americans who refuse to get vaccinated:

As an immigrant in the U.S., I am in the uniquely painful position of witnessing two sides of this story: friends and family here who are unwilling to get vaccines and loved ones in other countries who are unable to get vaccines. Whenever I discuss the refusal of getting vaccinated in the U.S. with people in other countries, they are often baffled that American policymakers need to provide monetary incentives to convince people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, while in their countries, people are desperately seeking any way to get out of this pandemic.

And Kristen Mae, writing for Scary Mommy, describes the reaction of two of her overseas friends to anti-vaccination sentiment in the US:

It is astonishing to both of my friends that so many Americans are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Their foreheads wrinkle in disbelief. Don't Americans realize how good they have it? I cringe in embarrassment. No, I tell them. No, Americans don't realize how good they have it. In fact, it's often the ones who consider themselves the most proud to be an American who are most resistant to getting the vaccine. I can't make sense of it either, I tell my friends.

Most Americans have absolutely no clue how unbelievably fortunate they are to have these vaccines available. The fact that so many are willing to blithely and casually risk the lives and health of others, to say nothing of their own lives, is a sorry testament to American hubris, ignorance and entitlement.

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