Vaccinate, Please

When I learned about the timeline for the COVID-19 vaccination creation, trials, and emergency approval, I knew it was incredibly fast. I don’t tend to be someone who plans on things outside of my control being a certain way at a certain time, but I suppose that somewhere in my mind, I had imagined that by this time of 2021, we would have reached, at least, herd immunity. I’ve been aware of a general anti-vaccination sentiment since when I was first pregnant and I knew we would soon have to be making decisions about childhood vaccine schedules. Still, I was surprised back in 2009 when other pregnant women I knew opted to not get an H1N1 vaccine. But I sort of thought that the anti-vaccination movement had more or less died out or was so fringe and isolated as to be irrelevant. When The Lancet retracted the almost entirely fictional study it had printed linking childhood vaccinations to autism, I thought that was the death knell for people opposing vaccines.

This image of some of our loved ones in the ocean doesn’t really have much to do with this post other than to show that even the experts and the virologists have people who they love and care for. It’s not about money or power or prestige, it’s about keeping their fellow humans safe and free from unnecessary suffering.

So I guess I’m even more surprised that so many Americans who have access to the vaccine have opted to not get it. Have we really just been experiencing this pandemic in such different ways?

Shortly after we got married, my husband started a six-year long process of earning his PhD in virology. This degree had been preceded by a bachelors in science and a few years working in two different labs. (It was in one of these labs where he met my sister who ultimately introduced us to each other, but that’s a story for another post.) His PhD was followed by four years in a post-doc position.

I’m not going to go into too many details about what his training entailed but suffice it to say that it was long days and long weeks in the lab, reading and writing at home, very, very little pay (part of which, he usually had to apply for grants or fellowships in order to cover his own salary). He was back in the lab within a few days after the birth of our first two.

But, of course, he learned. He became what some might call an expert in his area of virology (HIV, specifically) and he learned how to be a scientist, how to collaborate and learn with colleagues, how to understand how all of the different pieces of the field and research fit together. He learned how to write (and perhaps more importantly to read) articles.

There were many sacrifices made by him and his colleagues and, yes, to a lesser degree made by me and the other families who were supporting them. He is not alone in this. Scientists in many different fields make sacrifices every day to learn and to contribute to the greater body of knowledge of their fields, which, in his case, is viruses. And even though he is no longer in a lab and has been lucky enough to be able to work from home, he is on the phone every day with other scientists figuring out ways for them to share knowledge and collaborate and to fund research that will hopefully lead to cures and more (and better) vaccines and more and better treatment for all of what ails the human body.

Like many in his field, he doesn’t have a lot of time for socializing outside of work. Through the pandemic, much of his socializing has been answering friend’s and family member’s questions about Covid-19. Although it’s not his area of expertise specifically, he does need to stay on top of what’s going on in that area of the field. And he will periodically point out to me conversations that have played out on Facebook. These are invariably alarming to me.

The ones I find most alarming are those who post about how they are not getting vaccinated. These anti-vaccination people then point to some article or anecdote about the vaccine that is so obviously biased or mis-interpreted or even just flat out factually incorrect.

Here’s the thing. The people who are posting these sorts of things are stupid people. Like my husband, like many of us, they have their area or areas of expertise. Unlike my husband, that area of expertise is not viruses. In most cases, it’s not science at all.

I think that papers and articles and journals and information generally should be readily available to everyone and anyone. Information should not be guarded or kept behind lock and key in any way. But I also think that people should recognize their own limitations and areas of understanding and, in doing so, recognize that other people, like my husband, do, in fact, have more knowledge about certain things that they do.

The closer that a person who is expressing anti-vaccine sentiments or propaganda is to me and my husband, the more they know about what it took for my husband to learn all that he has learned, the more it feels like a kick in the teeth to me when they perpetuate anti-vaccine ideas. My husband doesn’t have time to comb through and respond to all of the articles people are citing on Facebook or other places which, in their minds, appear to be a “smoking gun” proving that the vaccines are bad or ineffective or dangerous or whatever it is that they are trying to show or prove. Mostly, I think it’s that they are trying to show that they know more than the people who have made the study of viruses and human immunology their life’s work. I don’t know why they must insist that they know better, why they must prove that they are so fiercely independent, and why they must hold so tightly to this self concept of being self made and self taught. I don’t understand why they can’t accept that sometimes there are people who do, in fact, know better than them and who are not, in fact, out to harm them.

The bottom line is this: please get the vaccine. Please, if you have any platform or sway with people who haven’t gotten vaccinated or who are anti-vaccine, please, please try to convince them otherwise. Let’s not let all the work and the sacrifices that people have done and made in this pandemic and before be in vain.

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