Ignorance Or Mistrust?
In his column in The New York Times on May 7, David Brooks makes the case that the failure of the United States to achieve herd immunity from the novel coronavirus despite having more than enough vaccine for everyone and many places to get inoculated, bodes poorly for America’s ability to triumph in the world.
The America that emerged from the Great Depression and won the Second World War was a nation of sacrificers—people willing to do what’s best for their country, even if that meant crossing an ocean and dying. Are we that people any more? As Brooks says, “we’re not asking you to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima: we’re asking you to walk into a damn CVS.”
What is the explanation for vaccine hesitancy? Is it what Brooks writes—a mistrust in government, medicine and all of our formerly trustworthy institutions? If so, it is the gift of the Baby Boomers who gave you Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Afghanistan and Iraq. How is it possible that the United States suffered so badly from the coronavirus and even today has not reached half of the total adult population being fully vaccinated? Brooks’ explanation of mistrust in institutions that is well-earned is one possible reason America has failed so badly when we should have reached herd immunity by now as Israel is nearing.
That’s not my choice of explanation although I agree with Brooks that mistrust of institutions is rampant in America and this trust has eroded over at least two generations now since WWII.
I am going to posit that there is a better explanation. Most people may not be sufficiently educated or intellectually developed to make a logical choice when presented with the possibility of not dying. I know, I know. That’s pretty harsh, but how can you explain the miracle of these novel vaccines born of the scientific progress of years of NIH research funding and pharmaceutical house development, being simply ignored by half of the adults in the country. Only 29% of the citizens of Wyoming are fully vaccinated and this paucity of vaccination seems to be more prominent in Red States. This is not a political issue. Neither are masks, social distancing, and zoom meetings. In early 2020, public health officials were trying to keep Americans alive until the vaccines were available. Instead, Fox News and the GOP turned these scientific issues into political ones. Mistrust? Maybe. I’m going with ignorance.
Now when I say ignorance, I do not mean stupidity although there’s more than enough of that to go around. What I mean is the process of ignoring facts and mistrusting science, not because of politics, but because people don’t know any better. Most were never taught what the immune system does, how vaccines work or what mRNA is. Is that their fault? Not solely. The education system has not prepared Americans to be discriminating consumers of the flood of information coming at them on the Internet. No wonder stupid rumors go viral on the web. The readers of the rumors cannot tell the difference between something that makes sense (get the vaccine) and something that doesn’t (I can’t get the virus because I don’t drink Corona beer). This last point was a real post from a young woman in Jacksonville early in the pandemic.
President Biden should attack this issue of under education but do so apart from the infrastructure investment bill. This is a serious problem and is really putting us behind the eight ball as a country. China doesn’t have this problem. Their best and brightest students (and there are more of the best and brightest Chinese than there are total students in the U.S.) are ready to get vaccinated and even if they’re not, the government says they are.
We are not an autocracy nor do we wish to be. But that means that we must guarantee to the greatest extent possible the education of our people so that they can become discriminating consumers of the flood of data coming at them and knowledgeably make good life decisions. That we will not get to herd immunity suggests that we have a long way to go.
People are making decisions that are bad for them. Mistrust in government is the reason? I think not. Ignorance is more logical.