Richard Donze, DO, MPH
Medical Director of The Occupational Health Center at Chester County Hospital
Anyone watching TV news heading into and during the recent Memorial Day weekend and seeing all the travelers rolling suitcases through airports, seashore-bound traffic snarls, and crowded beach and restaurant scenes may have experienced a familiar COVID anxiety. Similar images the last 15 months have usually been quickly followed by case surges and shutdowns. A physician colleague who observed large and close gatherings of unmasked summer-gateway revelers at a South Jersey shore point said it will be a vaccine stress-test. Indeed.
As I write this on June 3rd it's a little too soon to know how that stress test will turn out, but so far the public health officials and regional governors aren't backing off of their plans to ease restrictions. Confidence is running that high in the three currently-authorized vaccines that have so far performed remarkably well (not perfect, but really really well and better than expected).
But every feel-good COVID vaccine story contains a next-breath concern about all the people that haven't been immunized that fall roughly into one of three categories:
- Those who can't get it, or at least not yet. Children under 12 will be added eventually, but others in the "I would but can't" group—such as people who've had severe allergic reactions to a first dose of one of the mRNA and can't take the J&J due to clotting risks will have to wait until a new kind of vaccine is available.
- At the other extreme, the "I can but won't" folks may be against vaccines in general (historic anti-vaxxers) or just against the COVID vaccine for a variety of reasons (too new, too fast, too much government interference, etc.).
- In between are the "I could but don't know if I should" so-called vaccine hesitaters. They get a bad and unfair rap in the proverb "He who hesitates is lost." While they risk getting the illness and giving to others, they aren't really lost, just waiting in a kind of vaccine limbo while life goes on.
Health officials and politicians like to bombard hesitaters with persuading education. While the hesitation is sometimes due to bad information, maybe they just need more of what we've already seen. If they already know 140 million people in the US have been successfully immunized (mostly), maybe they are just waiting for that number to reach 280 or 420, or just for more time to pass. Yes, we've given out a ton of vaccines, but have barely been doing it six months (almost a year if you count the vaccine trials). Maybe the proverb driving the hesitaters is this one:
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Why would anyone be foolish enough to undertake something an angel is reluctant to do? An angel, mind you, that calls Heaven "home" and should have pretty decent first-hand intelligence on the course of plagues and pandemics. Aside from comedians, medieval court jesters, and parents and grandparents trying to make babies laugh, people typically don't like playing the fool, except perhaps in matters of the heart. Popular songs are full of examples of lovers doing all kinds of foolish things to get or keep the objects of their affection, whether it's the Temptations being willing to cry, plead and beg (and not being too proud to do so), or Aretha Franklin singing "Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool for You, Baby)."
It made me wonder . . . if people would be fools for the ones they love, might they be willing to do something that seems foolish to keep from getting something they DON'T particularly love? Something like, say, COVID-19? Willing to rush in like fools to make something go away rather than keep it by their sides? And not just away from their sides, but away from the sides of the ones they love, and even the sides of strangers so that eventually the virus knocks on doors that don't open?
Maybe we can turn off the data spigot and approach the vaccine hesitaters with a reverse love song that could go a little something like this:
I know you don't wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you stay
If I have to beg and plead for a vaccine appointment, I don't mind, 'cause it means that much to me
Ain't too proud to beg, nasty virus, please leave me, don't you stay
If the shot makes me sleep all night and day just to keep COVID walkin' away
Let my friends laugh, even this I can stand, 'cause I wanna keep COVID away, any way I can
I got a pain so deep in the pit of my arm but each day it won't grow more and more
I'm not ashamed to plead for some Ibuprofen, baby, 'cause I know it kept COVID from walkin' in my door
Ain't too proud to say oh me oh my, I'm a fool for you, COVID
If it means rushing in like a fool to be part of the herd and help protect my herd-mates
I'd rather do that than be lost.
The Occupational Health Center (OHC) at Chester County Hospital has been serving the work-related health care needs of the business community since 1988. For more information about medical marijuana and drug testing, contact 610-738-2450.
Related Information from Chester County Hospital