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Columnists

Stop Your Sanctimonious Vaccine Shaming

When schools, restaurants, parks, and beaches began shutting down a year ago, I was one of many who really thought that after two weeks – the time they initially promised us it would take for things to get back to normal – we’d never hear about COVID again. I even thought that by last year’s Fourth of July, people would gather for barbecues and fireworks and exclaim: “hey, remember when we all shut down for two weeks back in March, how crazy was that?” To say that my prediction was wrong is the understatement of the past two centuries combined. Now, it’s a wonder if we’ll even be able or willing to attend maskless barbecues on this year’s Fourth.

Never in a million years did I imagine that anything would shutter not only the United States, but the entire world. I thought that even if most horrible thing I could imagine were to happen, say, if our big cities – New York, DC, Los Angeles – were decimated by nuclear bombs, turning them all to rubble, people in Des Moines, Wichita, and Omaha would still be going out to dinner – just like we did in New York City following 9/11. Again, the COVID shutdown didn’t just happen here, it happened all over the world.

I remember being on my parents’ native island of Nisyros in August 1991 when hard-line communist leaders unsuccessfully attempted a coup d’état against then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, just months before the USSR crumbled. I didn’t find out about that Earth-shattering event until the following day, when the USA Today arrived at the local grocery store. Back then, there was no Internet, no smart phones, and tiny Greek islands like Nisyros had about two TV channels – and with fuzzy reception. None of the locals were talking about it. Either they didn’t know or didn’t really care.

Once I read about the coup and looked around me, gazing at the sea and the whitewashed houses and streets, I felt a wonderful sense of tranquility. I knew that no matter what else goes on in the world, there’s at least one idyllic spot that remains undisturbed. Not so with COVID.

The two weeks of closedown in March 2020 have turned into over a year. I haven’t been back to my beloved hometown New York City since the lockdowns, and have no desire to do so anytime soon. Why on Earth would I go back, so I can stare at the emptiness of all the forsaken places where I used to go eat, drink, and be merry?

Should we have closed down for over a year, or even at all? I remain skeptical about the answer, and those who respond to that question with certainty are not being intellectually honest. The truth is, we don’t know. Just as some who insist we never should have closed down point to countless lives that were destroyed economically, and even blame all of the mask-wearing and social distancing for prolonging the virus, others argue that had it not been for the lockdown measures we would have experienced even more dire consequences.

I ask everyone to consider how much longer they’re willing to put up with this. A lot of folks will say “for as long as it takes.” Does that mean for another 25 years? What if everyone around the world made a pledge that under no circumstances would we continue the social distancing measures beyond, say, Christmas Day 2046? Would you be ok with that? How about 2036? Or 2026? What’s your level of lockdown tolerance? Are you willing to put up with it for years, months, weeks, or have you already had your limit?

I am cautiously optimistic about the vaccine. I am by no means a sheep, but I’m not paranoid either. My common sense tells me that, generally, if most people are doing it, it must be the right thing to do (yes, I’ve heard the red herring counterpoints about Columbus and Galileo). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t very valid justifications about being hesitant to inject something so new and unproven into one’s body. It’s one thing to wear a mask; it’s quite another to be injected with chancy substances.

What is really resentful is all of the vaccination proselytizing by those who swear by it with relentless certainty. I have not been vaccinated. I don’t know if I’m eligible yet, but I haven’t bothered to check because I’m not sure I want to be. I’m still deciding, and I’d really prefer that people stop trying to shame me into it.

It is not like, say, smoking indoors. Smokers obviously are willing to take the risk, but nonsmokers are not, and they don’t want smokers polluting the common airspace. That’s a perfectly reasonable request; after all, it’s not as if smokers think it’s bad for their health not to light up. But many folks aren’t quite sure they’d say the same about a COVID vaccine, so, why should they be rushed to make up their minds?

Equally importantly, if those preaching about the vaccine are vaccinated, what are they worried about? And if they’re skeptical because – as we’re told – the vaccine doesn’t guarantee COVID immunity, doesn’t that bolster the argument for waiting and seeing?

I know a lot of people who’ve been vaccinated, others who flatly refuse to be, and others, like me, who haven’t committed one way or the other. As for me, I mind my own business. I neither encourage nor discourage anyone from being vaccinated. I wish more people would do the same.

I caution those who are certain that the vaccine is harmful to consider that most of those who do this sort of thing for a living haven’t just talked the talk, they’ve walked the walk by being vaccinated themselves.

Finally, to those who reflexively sing the vaccine’s praises, I ask them to remember that once upon a time, people thought it was a good idea to put heroin in aspirin, cocaine in cola, and asbestos into buildings too.

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