Ari Armstrong, Coronavirus, Exclusives, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Closing the partisan vaccination gap

Viruses don’t care about your feelings. Or your ideology, tribe, or politics. They don’t care how much you hate the Denver Metro area, city traffic, or the metro political scene. If you pick up SARS-CoV-2, the virus associated with COVID-19, you can get sick yourself or pass along the virus to someone more vulnerable.

In some cases an infection even can cause problems such as brain damage and erectile dysfunction. Notably, because of health issues, some people are not able to get vaccinated, or a vaccine doesn’t work for them, so they rely partly on others to help keep them safe.

But somehow the COVID vaccine has gotten bound up with politics. Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, reported a high correlation between 2020 presidential voting and vaccinations. He wrote, “Vaccinations are a better predictor of state voting patterns in 2020 than education, racial composition, or almost any other demographic factor.” Within Colorado, “the more a county voted for Joe Biden last year, the higher the share of eligible residents who have been vaccinated,” he noted.

This is bizarre. Vaccinations don’t work any better or worse depending on who you voted for, obviously, so one side evidently is being more tribalistic and irrational in this respect. And that is the Republican side.

Mesa County, for example, where Republicans retain influence, had reached a pathetic 44.8% vaccination rate among eligible people by June 25. Meanwhile, several counties had exceeded 80% (including San Miguel), Boulder passed 75%, and Denver passed 72%.

Are you telling me those Boulder latte sippers can get vaccinated but the big tough cowboys of the Western Slope and elsewhere are scared of a little needle? That’s just embarrassing. Cowboy up!

This is in the context of the Delta variant spreading through Mesa County with relatively high case and hospitalization rates there. As of June 25, 284 people had died in Mesa County due to COVID-19 out of a state total of 6,961. Nationally, “Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated,” the AP reports.

An especially odd aspect of this is that the Donald Trump administration started “Operation Warp Speed” to spur the development of COVID vaccines. It worked! Trump himself got the vaccine. So how has vaccine hesitancy (or worse) become more prevalent in some Republican circles? Why aren’t more Republicans lining up to get their shots to display party loyalty? Make vaccinations great again!

You’d think the first rule of politics would be “don’t kill your voters.” You’d think that the state’s Republican leaders, if only out of political self-interest, would take to the rooftops to exhort their fellow Republicans to go get vaccinated. But some Republican leaders are actively discouraging vaccinations rather than encouraging them.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents Mesa County in Congress, Tweeted the following: “So if you get this experimental vaccine, Democrats will give you donuts and fast food. But if you get diabetes from eating the donuts and fast food, they jacked the price of insulin up so you’ll be paying absurd amounts to get better. It’s never been about your health.”

I guess you can still call the vaccines “experimental” even though they’ve gone through extensive trials and been given to over 2.8 billion people, with over 300 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna given in the U.S. What does Boebert think vaccines are about if not people’s health? Anyway, private food chains, not Democrats, offered the free food, which in moderation won’t give you diabetes.

Then Andres Pico, a state representative from Colorado Springs (which is in El Paso County with a 50.6% vaccination rate) wrote what Chase Woodruff of the ultra-Progressive Colorado Newsline called “straightforward anti-vax conspiracism . . . falsely labeling the vaccines ‘risky’ and stating herd immunity ‘has probably already been achieved.'” But, as we know, Woodruff is prone to exaggeration when describing his ideological enemies, so we need to see what Pico actually wrote.

Pico doesn’t claim that the vaccine per se is risky. Rather, he writes “there is growing evidence that some number of young men [minors] are experiencing heart inflammation as a result of the vaccine.” And that may well be true. The journal Pediatrics reported “seven cases of acute myocarditis or myopericarditis in healthy male adolescents who presented with chest pain all within four days after the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination. . . . All 7 patients resolved their symptoms rapidly. . . . No causal relationship between vaccine administration and myocarditis has been established.”

That these vaccines might cause this heart problem in a very-small fraction of underage recipients is not, of course, a reason for adults not to get vaccinated. It’s probably not a good reason for people ages 12 to 17 not to get vaccinated, either. The CDC reports that, between January 1 and March 31, 204 adolescent patients were hospitalized “likely . . . primarily for COVID-19 related illness.” If I had a child that age, I’d definitely encourage my child to get vaccinated, as the risks from the virus seem many times higher than the risks from the vaccine. (I’m not a doctor, so you shouldn’t take anything I write as medical advice; you should instead talk to a competent and qualified doctor.)

When we start talking about kids ages 0 to 12, the discussion gets tricker. Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, argues there’s no “compelling” case “right now” for vaccinating healthy young children. Makary does urge vaccinations for children with preexisting conditions to prevent virus-caused multisystem inflammatory syndrome. But, unless your young child is in a trial, you don’t have to worry about that yet. (Vaccines currently are recommended for “everyone 12 years and older.”

But we’ve gotten rather far afield. If you’re an adult in Colorado without disqualifying health issues, you should go get vaccinated, to help protect yourself and others in your community.

Pico’s main point wasn’t about the efficacy of vaccines but about the appropriateness of vaccination lotteries. “It’s not the state government’s responsibility to ensure citizens are vaccinated,” he argues. His case is weak. Unless Pico is going to follow some of my libertarian and Objectivist friends and argue government should not try to provide public goods at all, including roads, there’s about as good a case for the vaccinations as for anything.

We can talk about whether government should have just stayed out of vaccinations from the outset, but that ship has sailed. In fact, government is providing the vaccinations for COVID-19. Given it’s doing that, I think the lotteries are a pretty-good way to promote vaccinations. There’s some indication the drawings worked.

I definitely prefer the carrot to the stick. Trish Zornio, a Newsline columnist, called for mandatory “vaccinations for all indoor public spaces.” Republicans in various states are wrong to prohibit businesses from requiring vaccinations, but thankfully Democrats are not committing the mirror mistake of forcing businesses to require them.

A little irony here is that, while some people refuse to get vaccinated though they can, I’d like to get better-vaccinated but cannot. I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so I’d like to get a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna. A mix-and-match approach is becoming common globally. Michael Lin of Stanford says “allowing J&J recipients a RNA booster is a no-brainer.” But reporter John Daley asked about this, and the state health department said it didn’t “recommend” that I get a follow-up shot, which I take to mean I am forbidden to get one.

So put down the magnets, knock off the paranoia about Bill Gates, stop watching lunatics on YouTube, and go get vaccinated. You’re not “owning the libs” by failing to do so; you’re just needlessly putting people in your community at risk. And that’s not a very Republican thing to do.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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