Michelle Wu, 17, receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at Pui Tak Center in Chinatown last month. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
Legions of the “vaccine resistant” have ready access to the shot. But instead of listening to public health experts who know best, they choose to believe dangerous anti-vaccine nonsense.
A thought occurred to us as we read the latest news on vaccination and COVID-19: No city, state or country is an island.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world are begging for more vaccines. Yet millions of Americans continue, against all reason and the best scientific evidence, to refuse the shot — and make it that much harder to end this pandemic, for good.
These legions of the “vaccine resistant” have ready access to the shot. But instead of listening to public health experts who know best, they choose to believe dangerous anti-vaccine nonsense spread by Fox News anchors and QAnon conspiracists such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene, among the most unhinged of her party — which is saying something these days — would have her Twitter followers believe President Biden and “the Dems” want to go door-to-door to force-vaccinate people.
We’re only surprised that Greene is not — at least, not yet — one of the 1 in 5 Americans who believe the idiotic notion that microchips are being implanted with vaccine doses so that Microsoft founder Bill Gates can conduct surveillance on us.
As if such lunacy were not enough, there’s the notion that vaccines alter our DNA or make us Bluetooth-connectable.
The conspiracists who believe this garbage are not only endangering their own lives and driving up new infections, 99% of which occur among those who have not gotten the shot.
In various ways, they’re endangering the rest of us too.
Conspiracists are also putting at risk the lives and health of those individuals who, for medical reasons, may not be able to be vaccinated.
They’re risking the lives and health of children under the age of 12, for whom vaccines have not yet been approved.
Conspiracists are helping to drive up COVID-19 hospitalization rates, which rose by 36% last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. More hospitalizations, in turn, put a strain on the health care system. If hospitalizations spike high enough, as they did during the worst of the pandemic last year, that could have a negative impact on health access by patients with other illnesses.
Conspiracists also pose a threat to the nation’s economic recovery, as evidenced by Monday’s steep stock market decline. Seeing the Dow Jones average plummet by more than 900 points, analysts immediately cited investors’ concerns about the economic impact of the more contagious Delta variant, which has sent COVID-19 cases soaring by more than 30,000 new infections a day.
Has herd immunity become a pipe dream?
Worst of all, conspiracists threaten to keep us from achieving herd immunity, which occurs when vaccination rates are high enough to protect the population as a whole from the potentially deadly virus.
Scientists initially estimated that the country could reach herd immunity with a 70% vaccination rate. But because of the Delta variant, some estimates now peg that number at 85%.
“More variants will emerge with time — we will see homegrown variants and imports from other parts of the world — and the concern is that, at some point, the vaccines may not be as effective against these variants,” as Dr. Ellen Foxman of Yale University says.
We’re far from that 85%, no doubt. In Chicago and across the country, about half of us are fully vaccinated. Vaccinations are lagging in poor communities of color that have less access to the vaccine, and in conservative Republican areas that are among the most vaccine-resistant.
Clearly, every shot counts.
Public health officials still have much work to do. Part of that work involves getting more vaccine doses to communities that lack access here. Part of the job involves getting hundreds of millions more doses to countries in Asia and Africa, where vaccination rates are often in the single digits.
Getting through to the vaccine-resistant could be the toughest part of the task.
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