Those Vexing Anti-Vax: “I Owe You Nothing”

By Shlomo Maital

  source: L’Express

Do you struggle to understand the anti-vaxers?  Here is a New York Times Op-Ed that may help:  “Behind Low Vaccination Rates Lurks a More Profound Social Weakness”, by Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal, Dec. 3.  Sreedhar is a family physician, Gopal is a sociologist. 

    The bottom line:  The most highly-correlated variable with anti-vax is…social class.  The underclass is saying, we don’t believe you, we don’t trust you, and we don’t owe you, as a result of decades of neglect, including the two terms of Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama. 

       In the US and globally, as Omicron spreads rapidly, the situation is serious:

    ”About 70 percent of American adults are now fully immunized, but in pockets around the country — from the rural South to predominately Black and brown neighborhoods in large cities — vaccine hesitancy remains a stubborn obstacle to defeating the pandemic. And it’s not just in the United States: In 2019, the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy one of the 10 threats to global health. With persistent vaccine avoidance and unequal access to vaccines, unvaccinated pockets could act as reservoirs for the virus, allowing for the spread of new variants like Omicron.”

Vaccine hesitancy was an accident waiting to happen:

“Over the past four decades, governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services. This has two important consequences for public health. First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.”

And this conclusion: “… It turns out that the real vaccination divide is class.”

“….Americans began thinking about health care decisions this way only recently; during the 1950s polio campaigns, for example, most people saw vaccination as a civic duty. But as the public purse shrunk in the 1980s, politicians insisted that it’s no longer the government’s job to ensure people’s well-being; instead, Americans were to be responsible only for themselves and their own bodies. Entire industries, such as self-help and health foods, have sprung up on the principle that the key to good health lies in individuals making the right choices.”

If you sanctify individual choice and freedom – the freedom to make stupid choices is included.  And the ultimate result will inevitably be opposition to whatever the government is trying to pitch.  When people are told, ‘you have to….xxx’   those screwed by government in the past are more likely to say, ‘No, I do not have to..’. ‘I owe you nothing!’. ‘Because you do nothing for me’.  

And the wealthy?  “Vaccine uptake is so high among wealthy people because Covid is one of the gravest threats they face. In some wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods, for example, vaccination rates run north of 90 percent.”

  What should be done?  Structural long-term change.  The authors recommend:

“The experience of the 1960s suggests that when people feel supported through social programs, they’re more likely to trust institutions and believe they have a stake in society’s health. Only then do the ideas of social solidarity and mutual obligation begin to make sense.   The types of social programs that best promote this way of thinking are universal ones, like Social Security and universal health care. Universal programs inculcate a sense of a common good because everyone is eligible simply by virtue of belonging to a political community. In the international context, when marginalized communities benefit from universal government programs that bring basic services like clean drinking water and primary health care, they are more likely to trust efforts in emergency situations — like when they’re asked to get vaccinated.”

The obscene rise in income and wealth inequality, driven by shark capitalism and impotent governments, has created a vexing anti-vax underclass.  Until the root cause is addressed, all the science in the world will not help.