By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Not a day passes without a new headline that some noted personality or politician tests positive for COVID-19. The danger of COVID-19 infection still roars.
Its companion virus, Omicron, is also taking a ravenous toll on thousands. Yet, the figure remains virtually unchanged. The figure is nearly one half of Americans still say no to vaccinations.
A mountain of polls, studies, surveys and interviews have been conducted to figure out just why so many millions of Americans doggedly refuse to get the shots. The usual reasons are evangelicals, or religious skeptics, influenced by Fox News and assorted right-wing anti-government conspiracy theories. They are hard-core Donald Trump loyalists who believe COVID is a government mind control hoax. Or they are just plain scared of getting a needle stuck in their arm.
The fear, paranoia and plain ignorance floating around the COVID debate are certainly there in abundance.
I’ve noted that in the several informal polls I’ve taken on my Facebook page. In the polls, I asked some variant on this: “Now that there’s a COVID vaccine and it’s been available for months, will you get vaccinated? Most said no. There were dozens of responses. They spanned all ethnicities, genders and age groups.
Their responses admittedly were anecdotal. However, the multiple polls over the past year on vaccine resistance back up the large numbers who still say no.
Initially, the number of minorities, especially Blacks, who consistently said no to vaccination was much more significant. That, even though Blacks and Hispanics from the start of the pandemic have been hospitalized and died from COVID in disproportionate numbers to whites.
However, subsequent studies of the anti or non-vaxers debunked the widespread belief that it was primarily minorities, religious zealots, or Fox and GOP anti-vaxers who refuse vaccinations. The anti-vax sentiment can’t be pinned on any one group.
The resisters cut across all lines and age groups. The single most significant reason many refuse vaccinations is the same reason countless Americans refuse any immunization. That’s fear and ignorance.
In other words, they are wary of almost all vaccines. Many surveys have shown that many Americans are less likely to get vaccinated as prevention to just about every infectious disease no matter how benign and health-protecting, even lifesaving, vaccination can be from diseases.
Vaccines do work and have saved tens of thousands of lives. That has certainly proven to be the case with the COVID vaccines.
Yet, the massive public health education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have done little to scrub away the suspicion, reluctance and outright fear among many Americans of vaccinations. Some thought that those Blacks who refused vaccinations were mindful of the infamous Tuskegee experiment.
The ghastly experiment made Guinea pigs out of dozens of unsuspecting poor Black males infected with syphilis. They were deliberately allowed to suffer and die for four decades from the 1930s on with the knowing consent of the U.S. Public Health Service without any treatment.
That was decades ago, and few individuals are alive today who have even the remotest connection to the men involved in that horrid experiment. Still, the horror of the Tuskegee experiment has spun belief in supposed insidious conspiracies by always unknown and unnamed conspirators in the medical world.
Distrust, racial double standards past and present, fed by tons of quackery on social media about vaccinations and conspiracies, create the perfect storm of doubt over the merits of vaccines. Pew Research surveys find that a substantial number of Americans are deeply skeptical of the safety and risk of COVID and other vaccinations. In truth, Blacks are hardly unique in their skepticism about vaccines.
This does not bode well. There is no underlying ulterior motive in encouraging vaccinations.
The public must have complete trust that a vaccine is safe and effective to have maximum value in preventing outbreaks of infections and diseases. Without that trust, viral infections will continue to be a public health risk and thus an endangerment to vast segments of the population.
The debate over the COVIDs vaccine and the booster shots is no different. This is especially troubling given the daunting possibility of new outbreaks of COVID, Omicron and perhaps other new variants that will continue to pose grave health threats.
It does no good to argue that it’s just a minuscule percent of the population that get seriously ill or die from COVID. The blunt reality is that the millions who remain unvaccinated are walking time bombs.
They pose and will continue to pose health threats to those they encounter. That could be anybody, anywhere at any time.
This is America. And yes, individuals do have the freedom to say to vaccinations. There is no way the government can or should forcibly compel someone to get vaccinated.
Millions of health risks by wallowing in ignorance, bias, false beliefs and even superstition about vaccines are real. This presents a clear and present danger that’s likely to be our perpetual torment.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “Duped — The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.