In a Plague-Time Extended: Vaccine Mandates, Dammit!

Twenty-first in an ongoing series, Notes from a Plague-Time

Persuasion hasn’t worked. Pleading hasn’t worked. “Respectful listening” hasn’t worked. Nor have education campaigns or public-service announcements delivered by pop culture icons.

Enough! As we enter Year Three of a vicious pandemic that’s now killed 800,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide; as the Omicron variant now heading to America bodes to bring “brutal” lethality; and as this crisis in the U.S. has become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” we the conscientious vaccinated are done with negotiating with the “vaccine-resistant.”

Mandates — making vaccination required for all Americans — are now called for. ASAP.

Selfish to a lethal degree, the vaccine-resistant keep yipping about their “personal freedom.” But: As any Constitutional law expert will tell you, your right to exercise your freedom ends at the tip of my nose — entry point of the virus — and most emphatically when it threatens my precious life. And, with Omicron, the threat to my life — to all our lives — goes up radically.

How “brutal” can Omicron become? Those of us fully vaccinated (two doses) and boosted will be vulnerable to “breakthrough” infections (relapses) at higher rates than with earlier variants, meaning: Through no fault of our own but solelythe fault of the vaccine-resistant, we risk severe illness, even death. The frail, the chronically ill, and those 65 and older are especially vulnerable. To set your hair properly on fire, read Atlantic’s Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter Ed Yong’s latest, “America Is Not Ready for Omicron.”

But what alarmed was a Washington Post article this weekend filed from Denmark, a country universally admired for its high vaccination rate and its virus-tracking. “Omicron positives are doubling nearly every two days. The country is setting one daily case record after another… And scientists say the surge is just beginning… [P]eople with two doses [are] as vulnerable to omicron infection as the unvaccinated.” And, that 3 in 4 Danes have yet to get boosted makes “the majority of the country vulnerable.” “That dynamic, coupled with a variant far more transmissible than the first…means any Danish person is now dramatically more likely to come in contact with the virus.”

But what truly alarmed is this: Expressing awe at this “incredibly fit virus” — Omicron “accounted for 26.8 percent of new cases, while a week earlier its share was 4.9 percent”(!) — one scientist said: “I can’t help but have a fatalistic opinion: that we’re all going to get this” (all italics mine). One has to wonder: With each variant mutating into something more virulent, and this more virulent virus soon everywhere — “We’re all going to get this” — will this become the modern-day Black Death, the plague that killed one-third of all Europe in the 14th century…?

I forwarded this article to a former doctor of mine. (She diagnosed my cancer 16 years ago; we have since become friends.) Her long response began: “I have to say, we’re rethinking everything, as everyone should be. We’ll learn more over the next month about Omicron, but the Danish example is scary.” Coming from someone normally more clinical, this note of alarm (“scary”) is notable. She also hinted strongly we should cancel our family Holiday gathering: “I know Dr. [Anthony] Fauci said yesterday on CNN that if everyone is vaccinated and boosted, wears a mask and gets a PCR test 1–2 days before coming, an indoor event is probably fine. They wouldn’t say that at this point in Denmark, would they?” Alluding to her own serious illness, she added: “You have cancer, but you’re not really immuno-compromised as I am” (perhaps the deeper reason for her alarm). Closing, she wrote: “I’m as sick of this as you are.”

And now, with the breaking news that all vaccines except Moderna and Pfizer are proving ineffective against Omicron: This doctor adds, “It feels as though an evil wizard is plotting to destroy us; the virus is busy getting a step ahead of us.” O.K.: Mandate Moderna and Pfizer.

Hospitals, to prevent collapse from an overload of new cases, now take out ads begging people to get vaccinated.

Doctors, science, the Black Death, History, Reality: The vaccine-resistant disdain all this, as “elitist” and condescending. And in a democracy during non-pandemic times, such disdain would be tolerated, as the normal expression of personal freedom. But again: Not at the peril of causing mass death, mass suffering, even mass extinction. Most respectfully, I say: Enough with the homicidal and selfish I-gotta-be-free-but-hey-I’m-O.K.-with-your-death vaccine-resistant, of whom there are 50 million in the U.S.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wondered how the world would end: Because of stupidity or evil? But: What if the former (cough, cough) mutates into the latter…? (If “stupidity” sounds condescending, substitute “ignorance”: We all can be ignorant of something.)

Tomorrow (Tues.), President Joe Biden will address the nation on the status of the pandemic crisis in the U.S. Speaking of Mr. Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “He will remind Americans that they can protect themselves from severe illness….by getting vaccinated and getting their booster shot — ” Oy, the heart sinks.

Enough with the “reminding,” which, again, has not worked with the vaccine-resistant. Vaccine mandates, Mr. President, vaccine mandates!

To track new information on Omicron from medical experts, see: Dr. Anthony Fauci; Dr. Michael Osterholm; Dr. Ashish Jha; Dr. Rochelle Walensky (dir., CDC); STATnews.com; and UCSF Friday COVID Grand Rounds.

Image: Plague doctor, circa 1656, during bubonic plague, Rome.