An unidentified Florida Man in his 20s climbed over a barrier and started taunting Harry, a mature jaguar in the Jacksonville Zoo. He stuck his hand into Harry's pen and-- surprise, surprise-- now he's in the hospital. Yes... a quintessential Florida Man. Luckily neither Harry nor any zoo employees were hurt, so it isn't really significant news. If a Florida Man wants to feed his arm to a jaguar, it's really his own business. It's a free country-- especially Florida. This photo below isn't of the Florida Man. This is Missouri Man, Tyler Sprenkle, 18... and this is a very different story, and with a happier ending.
Sprenkle may very, very nice young man; I don't know him. I ran across him in a piece about vaccine-resistant people who are finally starting to get vaccinated in the Washington Post this morning by Ariana Eunjung Cha, Rose Hansen, Jacqueline Dupree. Writing on his Facebook page that he had been vaccinated the other day, Sprenkle reassured his friends that he's still a Republican. "I was afraid people would look down on me, say I was turning into a liberal or a raging Democrat," he said. "But I’d still rather take that chance than get put on a ventilator and dying." A real profile in courage!
Some friends still gave him a hard time, but others were inspired. His parents, younger brother and a high school friend received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the day after he did.
Vaccination rates hover around 20 percent to 40 percent in rural southwest Missouri, but demand is increasing. Sprenkle said he believes in vaccines but had felt the development of the coronavirus vaccines was rushed. He is against making vaccines mandatory, saying people will choose the shots once they get correct information.
Sprenkle graduated from high school in May and has been working at his family’s tire shop while studying to be an auctioneer and taking care of his grandparents. He said thinking of them and his own future made him finally decide to get the shots.
“I would feel really bad if I brought it to them,” he said. “Even me being so stubborn, I finally did it.”
In the town of Neosho, population 11,000, an hour from Springfield, about 100 people a day are lining up to get vaccine shots from a local pharmacist. That includes Tim Booyer, 57, a welder who had fretted for months about worrisome Facebook posts detailing the vaccines’ purported side effects.
Although Booyer dismissed reports that the vaccines contained microchips that could be used to track people as absurd, he wasn’t sure what to make of the other allegations of bad side effects. Then, three weeks ago, the delta variant killed a close childhood friend.
Booyer, a metal artist whose work is commissioned by Bass Pro Shop, said he had fabricated his friend’s cremation urn.
“This morning, I had to seal her in a box, weld that shut over her ashes,” he said. “It was rough. Then I made my mind up: I’m gonna get that shot.”
He said he has been sharing his changed thinking with several unvaccinated friends.
“We should have had covid knocked in the head if there weren’t so many hardheaded people like me,” he reflected. “I think we could have saved more than a few lives.”
Florida Men-- or the one who met Harry the jaguar at least-- aren't endangering anyone else. Missourans refusing to be vaccinated are. And that's the problem. They're endangering normal people. It's time to stop coddling them; it's time for the Show Me State to show them what a vaccine mandate looks like. Except... it's Missouri and barely over 10,000 of them have died and it's going to take at least 10 times that number in their graves before the all-red government there is likely to take mandates seriously. Yesterday, Missouri had 4,217 more cases (5th worst in the country and second worst per capita), bringing the state's total to 676,803-- which is 110,275 cases per million residents. Only 41% of the state's adults are fully vaccinated. And in real hardcore Trump counties, the situation is much, much worse:
Douglas County- 16% vaccinated- 83.2% Trump voters
Newton County (where Sprenkle lives)- 19% vaccinated- 76.6% Trump voters
McDonald County- 19% vaccinated- 81.1% Trump voters
Howell County- 20% vaccinated- 80.3% Trump voters
Laclede County- 25% vaccinated- 80.7% Trump voters
Taney County- 29% vaccinated- 76.7% Trump voters
Marion County- 32% vaccinated- 73.0% Trump voters
Do you honestly care if Trumpists all die because they decide to believe QAnon instead of scientists and refuse to get vaccinated? I admit that I don't. If their lives are so miserable that they choose death, good for them... and good for America. The less of them, the better off the gene pool. The problem of course, is that they will infect others, including normal people-- and overcrowd the hospitals endangering normal people. Now, I'd give odds that young Sprenkle doesn't read Ruth Marcus' Washington Post column much. This morning, she came out hard in favor of mandates for people like his friends. "Pay people to get vaccinated, no matter whether that is unfair to those who didn’t receive checks for jabs," she began. "Require them to do so as a condition of going to work or enrolling in school. Do whatever it takes-- and, recent weeks have shown, it is going to take steps like these-- to get the pandemic under control. Those of us who have behaved responsibly-- wearing masks and, since the vaccines became available, getting our shots-- cannot be held hostage by those who can’t be bothered to do the same, or who are too deluded by misinformation to understand what is so clearly in their own interest.
The more inconvenient we make life for the unvaccinated, the better our own lives will be. More important, the fewer who will needlessly die. We cannot ignore the emerging evidence that the delta variant is transmissible even by those who have been fully vaccinated. “The war has changed,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.
President Biden recognized this new reality with his actions Thursday. He announced that federal employees must be vaccinated or mask up and submit continuing proof that they are not infected; he urged private employers to do the same; and he encouraged the use of federal funds to prod-- okay, bribe-- the unvaccinated to step up.
If anything, Biden didn’t go far enough. He should have imposed a tighter mandate on federal workers and contractors-- no frequent testing option as an alternative. He should have required vaccines for airline and railroad travel. He should have mandated vaccines for members of the military rather than kicking that can a few weeks down the road.
...It’s reasonable, it’s fair, and it’s legal to step up the pressure on the reckless noncompliant. By reckless, I mean to exclude some people: If you have a medical condition that counsels against vaccination, you are excused.
If you have a good-faith religious objection, same-- although I have a hard time imagining what that might be beyond adherents of Christian Science, or what religion does not advocate some version of the Golden Rule. Yes, some fetal cell lines were used in the development or testing of the vaccines, but the Vatican has declared that it is “morally acceptable” to take the vaccines, and that reasoning seems solid.
And speaking of morally acceptable: How galling is it that some labor unions are resisting the vaccine mandate? The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the American Postal Workers Union and the American Federation of Teachers, which also represents health-care workers, are insisting that any mandate be the subject of bargaining. No. Show some leadership. Just tell your members to get the damned shot-- for the sake of their colleagues if not themselves.
Federal judges have already rejected challenges to vaccine mandates by hospitals and public universities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made it clear that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t prevent private employers from requiring proof of vaccination. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that federal law “does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements” for vaccines even at the emergency-use stage.
A century ago, balancing the tension between individual liberties and public safety, the Supreme Court upheld the ability of state and local governments to enforce mandatory vaccination laws. “In every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members,” wrote Justice John Marshall Harlan, “the rights of the individual … may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”
Then the great danger was a smallpox epidemic. Today it is a global covid-19 pandemic. The “safety of the general public” demands a “reasonable” response today, just as it did in 1905.
For a little good news, let me go back to Post reporters Cha, Hansen and Dupree for a moment. They reported that "one thing is finally grabbing the attention of millions of unvaccinated Americans-- the invasion of the hyper-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus... misgivings about the shots based on ideology, apathy or fear have taken a back seat to the desire to protect themselves and their loved ones" for about 4.7 million newly vaccinated Americans (like Sprenkle) in the past 2 weeks. "More than 856,000 doses were administered Friday, the highest daily figure since July 3... This was the third week that states with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases also had the highest vaccination numbers... Vaccine-hesitant pockets of the country turned hot spots, including Louisiana, experienced a 114 percent increase in uptake, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arkansas recorded a 96 percent increase, Alabama, 65 percent, and Missouri, 49 percent. Texas last week reported its highest single-day vaccine administration in a month; the numbers, while still far from the peak earlier this year, are more than 25 percent higher than a month ago."
Nationwide, 67 percent of the eligible U.S. population ages 12 and over has had at least one shot, with 57.7 percent fully vaccinated, as of this week. But in some parts of the country as few as 20 to 30 percent of people have been immunized.
Meanwhile, as the early promise of a coronavirus-free summer has given way to new mask mandates and other restrictions, public hostility toward vaccine holdouts has spurred accusations of political grandstanding, ignorance and selfishness. This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) blamed low vaccination rates in some areas on misinformation by a “‘right-wing echo chamber,” naming individuals including Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
But the reality among those still trying to decide on vaccines is often more nuanced. Several of those in line for shots this week said they had taken a wait-and-see approach, and now that the vaccines had been taken by millions, they were willing to roll up their sleeves. Others said they were newly concerned about exposing parents or grandparents, or young children, to the virus. A few got the vaccine shots to keep their jobs.
The boost in interest may also be driven in part by new incentive programs and campaigns by prominent conservative leaders. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) wrote in an opinion piece this week that those “pushing fake news and conspiracy theories about this vaccine are reckless and causing great harm.” In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has traveled the state to combat the idea that the shots are a “bioweapon.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is preparing ads to run on more than 100 radio stations in his home state of Kentucky.
“These shots need to get in everybody’s arms as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for-- that we went through last year,” McConnell has said. “This is not complicated.”
Wall Street Journal reporter Arian Campo-Flores wrote a similar piece: Delta Variant Fears Spur Some Americans to Get Covid-19 Vaccine. He wrote that "Growing numbers of people are getting vaccinated in areas hit hard by the Delta variant, offering a glimmer of hope but still falling far short of what is needed to fight Covid-19, public-health officials say. Several factors are driving the increase in vaccinations, including worries about the infectiousness and severity of the Delta variant, growing confidence in the safety of vaccines and the influence of family and friends, health officials and residents say. More employers are implementing vaccine mandates, including a Walmart Inc.requirement for corporate staff announced Friday. Some states with soaring case counts and hospitalizations have logged upticks in their low vaccination rates. In Alabama, where 35% of people are fully vaccinated, the seven-day average of daily vaccinations reached 10,732 on July 28, more than double the figure on July 7, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In Arkansas, where 37% are fully vaccinated, the seven-day average more than doubled to 8,676 over that period, and in Missouri, where 41% are fully vaccinated, it more than doubled to 13,103."
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote yesterday that In a free society, once everyone has access to a vaccine that overwhelmingly prevents serious sickness and death, there is no reason to enforce lockdowns again, or mask mandates, or social distancing any longer. In fact, there’s every reason not to. We are at a stage in this pandemic when we are trying to persuade the hold-outs-- disproportionately white Republicans/evangelicals and urban African-Americans-- to get vaccinated. How do we best do this? Endless, condescending nagging won’t help. Coercion is not an option in a free country. Since the vaccinated appear to be able to transmit the virus as well, vaccine passports lose their power to remove all risk. Forcing all the responsible people to go back to constraining their everyday lives for the sake of the vaccine-averse is both unfair and actually weakens the incentive to get a vaccine, because it lowers the general risk of getting it in the broader society. So the obviously correct public policy is to let mounting sickness and rising deaths concentrate the minds of the recalcitrant. Let reality persuade the delusional and deranged. It has a pretty solid record of doing just that. The government cannot be held responsible for sickness and death it has already provided the means to avoid. People are responsible for their own lives. The government can do some things-- like making vaccination mandatory for federal workers and contractors, and especially in the military as George Washington did in the Revolutionary War for smallpox. It could offer money-- or entry into a lottery, as many states are doing. All good. But the most potent incentive for vaccination is, to be brutally frank, a sharp rise in mortality rates. The more people who know someone who has suffered and died the likelier they will see the logic of taking measures to avoid the same fate. In other words: if people recklessly refuse to face reality, call their bluff. So let it rip."
One more opinion, if I may: Kathleen Parker's-- Will The Delta Variant Turn americans Against One Another? He concern is a war pitting the vaccinated against the unvaccinated. "There is little goodwill between warring factions," she noted yesterday. "People who don’t want the vaccine argue that it’s still categorized as an emergency-use concoction, the full effects of which remain unknown. This would be a reasonable enough argument were it not for the fact that covid and its mutations pose an emergency that can be contained only by vaccinating as many people as possible."
I am not unmindful of what this might do to us. The circumstances in which we find ourselves remind me of the worst sectarian fighting during the Iraq War, when former friends would cross the street rather than share a sidewalk with someone who supported or opposed the U.S.-led invasion. Divided families could barely discuss the subject with each other, making holidays and reunions impossible. Relationships dissolved. Bitterness reigned.
Those days seem like a picnic compared with what could happen if almost half the U.S. population, already riven by political discord, persists in making life miserable for the other half. This time the battleground isn’t far away, but in our front yards, schools and workplaces.
The pandemic changed us, we’ve said over and over. But as we measure our progress, it seems reasonable to wonder: Could the next pandemic ruin us? Does any vaccinated person want to be around an unvaccinated person? How will we know who’s who? Will we soon be wearing ID bracelets? Such questions raise another frightening prospect to all of this: With the decisions being made to now wage war on the unvaccinated, are we laying the groundwork for even greater distrust in an already convulsive time?
Cures are sometimes worse than the disease, we’ve heard. I fully support the measures mentioned here, but I also fear we’re about to test that hypothesis in ways never before imagined.
Back to good news, this time from the COVID States Project, which found that "overall, public support for federal, state, and local governments requiring that everyone be vaccinated remains very strong, ranging from 61% to 70%, depending on the specific type of mandate. Public support for such mandates has increased since April/May, both overall and in specific circumstances, like for getting on an airplane and returning to school or a university."
This is how that breaks down by state-- again people who approve of government mandating that everyone be vaccinated-- from the most primitive states like Wyoming and the Dakotas-- which should be combined into one state with 2 senators-- to most evolved states, like Massachusetts and New York:
South Dakota- 49.5%
North Dakota- 49.8%
New Mexico- 57.3%
South Carolina- 57.4%
West Virginia- 57.4%
New Hampshire- 62.5%
North Carolina- 65.3%
New Jersey- 72.7%
Rhode Island- 73.9%
New York- 76.8%