Saturday, August 21, 2021

An Artificial Pandemic

I am reporting to you from inside the covid pandemic in America in 2021. Back in 2020, when we had mask mandates, the number of covid cases began to decline a little, then steeply declined in 2021 because of widespread vaccination. By early summer 2021, it seemed to most of us that the end of the pandemic was in sight.

But only a couple of months later, the pandemic had come back. There were as many people sick from covid (though fewer dying) as during the previous surge. The differences this time:

  • The vaccine (from whichever company) proved remarkably effective. “Breakthrough” cases, in which fully vaccinated people became ill, were very rare. Almost all of the covid cases were unvaccinated people. It is a pandemic primarily of the unvaccinated.
  • In many southern, conservative states, vaccination rates are very low. In Oklahoma, only about one-third of the people are even partially vaccinated. The main, though not the only, reason for this is that the extremely right-wing people think that the government, at any level, has no right to require vaccination or masks.
  • Right-wing politicians rammed through an agenda of blocking mask requirements. In some states, such as Texas and Florida, Republican governors issued executive orders prohibiting mask mandates, even at schools and hospitals. In Oklahoma, not only did Governor Kevin Stitt issue an executive order, but the state legislature passed a law, prohibiting mask mandates. It is illegal for me, or the university at which I work in Oklahoma, to require students to wear masks.

The result is many thousands of people who are sick from, and many more thousands are carriers of, the coronavirus. That is, Oklahoma and other states have a huge population of viruses lurking inside the bodies of humans.

In many other countries, large numbers of people are sick from covid because of limited access to vaccines. But in America, it is because the majority of people refuse the vaccines that are freely available to them—even when incentives are offered. At my university, you can get $100 for getting the vaccine.

And from there, evolution runs the show. Here’s how:

  • Mutations occur all the time. The result is mutant viruses. Not all of them, but just a few.
  • The greater the population of viruses, the more chance there is that a dangerous mutation will occur. This is where the delta variant came from. This is a matter of probability. If there had been fewer sick people, the population of viruses would have been smaller, and this particular variant might not have occurred. If you have ten times as many sick people, the mutation is ten times more likely to occur. This is exactly what happened as a result of people refusing vaccination.
  • If the mutation enhances the ability of the virus to spread to other people, natural selection will favor it. If a mutant strain of virus can infect ten times as many people as a previous strain, it will spread ten times as fast. Soon it will become the dominant, or maybe the exclusive, strain of virus. This is exactly what happened with the delta variant, which is almost the only strain of covid now in the United States.
  • Evolution cannot be stopped, even if the majority of Oklahomans reject evolution. It happens anyway.

If you have refused vaccination for reasons other than a health condition, you have helped to create an artificial pandemic. The pandemic would have “burned itself out” and our population might have reached “herd immunity,” to use popular phrases, if almost everyone had been vaccinated. If you refused vaccination, you have contributed to the illness of hundreds of thousands of people and the deaths of hundreds.

If you decided to not get vaccinated, it is not just a personal decision, but one that you have foisted on everybody. On me, for example. I am required to teach in-person classes at my university. Even if I wear a mask, there is at least a slight risk that I will get infected by the virus. The risk is cumulative. If my odds of getting infected in a typical laboratory session are one in a hundred thousand, by the end of the semester with 50 lab meetings, my odds will have increased to one in two thousand. Is this a risk I am willing to take? I should make this decision, but in Oklahoma, that decision has been made for me by the governor, the legislature, and the seventy percent of people who have refused vaccination. Unvaccinated people hold the power of life or death over me. Even if I do not die, I could bring the virus home to infect my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and/or two grandchildren.

Therefore, in Oklahoma, a majority of the people believe that “I have an absolute, God-given right to spread germs to other people, and maybe kill them.” Their right to be free from societal responsibility is more important than the right of other people to live.

The huge number of covid victims, nearly all of them unvaccinated, has clogged our health care system. Health administrators in Oklahoma have repeatedly warned that the system is on the brink of collapse. In some places, covid patients have to wait in the ER for admission to the hospital. In other states, patients are being put in beds in the cafeteria. This is almost all due to people refusing vaccination. Thanks a lot, right-wingers!

In one state, Arkansas, the Republican governor (Asa Hutchinson) issued an executive order banning mask mandates. The order was struck down in court. Hutchinson’s response was to say he had reconsidered, and that his order against mask mandates had been wrong. He welcomed the court’s decision. As far as I am aware, he is the only prominent Republican who has had this change of heart.

The pandemic will probably never stop. The reason is evolution. There will be new variants, and they will spread, even if the delta variant eventually dies out. Thanks to right-wing extremists, who will continue to refuse vaccination, the covid pandemic will become a permanent aspect of our culture forever into the future. I hope events will prove me wrong, but the facts and the reasoning above seem indisputable. That is, unless, maybe, the virus kills most of the right-wingers. But this will probably not happen. They will just remain a permanent strain on our health care system, and continue to add billions of dollars to our collective debt.

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