I Get It. You’re Scared.
I had a most interesting encounter with a dude on Facebook. Said dude decided that a few hundred deaths from COVID-19 each day are acceptable for several reasons, the most important of which — in his opinion — was that we could not lose our freedoms for the sake of saving the lives of people who are going to die anyway… Or the people who lived lifestyles that lead to their demise.
Just for the record, we’re all going to die. My job in public health is to delay that death as long as possible while maintaining the health and productivity of populations as we all march together toward the inevitable.
When I asked him why so many preventable deaths were acceptable if they were preventable, he responded with foul language and accusatory “questions.” He wanted to know why I was worried about COVID-19 deaths and not worried — in his opinion — about deaths from things like Alzheimer’s or heart disease.
Now, the answer to that is easy. I’m also worried about those things, but few of them are as preventable as COVID-19. Two doses of the mRNA vaccine or one of the viral vector vaccine, and your risk of dying from COVID-19 plummets to near zero. That’s it. You don’t need to do much other than get the vaccine, and the vaccine is safe. Period. End of story.
To get rid of deaths from the chronic and acute conditions the dude asked about requires more work. Alzheimer’s itself is still quite the mystery, and the medications available for it right now are no where as effective against it as the vaccines are against COVID-19. Preventing Alzheimer’s is quite a task that involves modulation of genetic and environmental components.
It’s not like I wake up in the morning and rank the top ten reasons people die and then decide what to attack. Instead, I go through my personal and professional life weighing risk as best as I can. Right now, avoiding COVID-19 is my top priority because the risk to myself is huge. With my overweight/obesity and history of asthma, catching COVID-19 could kill me. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I can still catch it and give it to my unvaccinated daughter, or to someone who could really get sick and even die from it. Multiply this to the population level, and you can see why I’m so goddamned worried about it.
I mean, if we could all get vaccinated in the next year, then I could worry about Alzheimer’s in 2023, maybe.
But I get it: the dude is scared. He is scared because he seems to know very little if anything about biology and science, and not knowing those things right now makes the flood of information (and misinformation) on COVID-19 too much to handle. It’s like people running around with fire extinguishers during a house fire and leaving you in the middle of a room while telling you not to catch on fire, or go towards the fire, or go away from the fire. Just stand there. It’s scary.
He is also apparently scared that the interventions being put into place will somehow erode the freedoms he has been privileged to have as a white, straight, American male. Things like putting on the mask or not going to crowded places are scary to him because he’s never had to do it before. (And, from his ad hominem attacks and apparently allergic reactions to any kind of request to be civil, it must also be scary to be nice.)
I’ve seen this before in people who believe that everything is a zero-sum game. They feel that if someone gains something, they must be losing something by default. Give people a chance at surviving the pandemic? Well, that must mean that they are having some of their chance of surviving being taken away. And that is scary.
Tell them to put on a mask, and that must mean that someone less worthy than them is not wearing a mask, so why should they wear one?
No, don’t try to reason with it. It’s that unreasonable. It’s really that weird.
So, what do we do? We ignore. We block on social media and ignore in real life. Some people are too far gone to be dealt with in any kind of way. They move goalposts. They launch personal attacks. They go to your social media accounts and make intimidating comments. But you ignore them, and then life rent-free in their heads for years.Header image by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash