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Opinion: If you’re not vaccinated and think you’re winning, think again

Far too many Americans are choosing not to arm themselves and protect their fellow Americans

A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a Utah County Health clinic.
A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a Utah County Health clinic at Equestrian Park in Highland on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It can be easy to become numbed to the magnitude of the losses that COVID-19 has wrought. But we must not.

Officially, over 734,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 — more Americans than the military fatalities in WWI, WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam combined. In another grim milestone, American deaths from COVID-19 now exceed American deaths due to the influenza pandemic of 1918 (675,000 deaths). The true number of deaths is likely even higher.

In Utah, 3,128 have died of COVID-19. This exceeds the 2,977 Americans who died in the most horrific terrorist attack in American history, 9/11. That attack on our homeland rallied an overwhelming majority of Americans to our country’s defense and commenced a 20-year war on terror.

Now we face an even more deadly invisible enemy. The weapon of choice is vaccination. And yet, still far too many Americans are choosing not to arm themselves and protect their fellow Americans.

In parts of the country, ICU beds are full due to COVID-19 patients. In some states this has led to crisis standards of care in which physicians must decide which patients receive care and which patients will not. Across the nation, caring for patients with COVID-19 delays other people from getting much needed care (e.g., receiving a joint replacement or urgent treatment for cancer). The stress from the pandemic is causing burnout in health care workers and unprecedented hospital staffing shortages, particularly for nurses and aides.

In past op-eds, I have tried to describe the foolishness inherent in opposing mask-wearing and vaccination. I cautioned against taking too seriously Donald Trump’s words as he catastrophically downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, I recommended to his admirers to follow his action, which was to quietly get vaccinated himself.

I recommended copying the behavior of physicians. Physicians are constantly evaluating the risks and benefits of medications/vaccines in light of their patients’ diagnoses, age, sex, other health conditions and medications. Physicians know that the evidence supporting getting vaccinated is overwhelming. Accordingly, over 96% of physicians have been vaccinated.

I also tried to address the most frequent questions vaccine-hesitant individuals had, and recommended trusted websites where they could find answers to questions I didn’t address: Utah coronavirus website, New York Times Q & A website, John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The summer has brought more reasons to get vaccinated. On July 9, the CDC reported that 99.5% of American citizens who die of COVID-19 are not vaccinated. In other words, 199 out of every 200 American deaths from COVID-19 now occur in citizens who are not vaccinated.

The delta variant is no longer merely preying on the elderly. In August, every age group under 55 had its highest death toll of the pandemic.

To its credit, on Aug. 12, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent the following message to church members around the world … “To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated.”

Any way one slices it, Republican vaccination rates are lagging. In self-reporting polls, 55% of Republicans say they’ve been vaccinated, compared with 88% of Democrats. If one looks at per capita death rates, 95 of the 100 worst-hit counties are in states Trump won in 2016. What’s going on?

Republicans’ philosophical resistance to mandates means people need to be persuaded to take the vaccine. But as Sonny Bunch, columnist for The Washington Post notes, “it’s hard to persuade people when they have already been persuaded by the websites they read and the talk show hosts they listen to that the people arguing in favor of vaccination are wicked.”

No one wants to be told that their worldview may kill them. But the evidence suggests it may. Furthermore, unvaccinated individuals must understand that vaccination is the best way of protecting their friends, their loved ones, their fellow citizens and the physicians and hospital staff that take care of us. Vaccination against COVID-19 accomplishes all these goals.

But if these mainstream arguments aren’t persuasive, think about this from the far-right Breitbart News:

“Right now, a countless number of Trump supporters believe they are owning the left by refusing to take a life-saving vaccine — a vaccine, by the way, everyone on the left has taken. Oh, and so has Trump … And if the left is all vaccinated and we’re not, who’s winning?”

Good question. So, if you are not vaccinated, consider all the reasons from all the varying vantage points supporting vaccination. And then seriously ask yourself: What are you waiting for?

Dr. Justin Thulin is a retired physician who practiced in Salt Lake City.