Opinion

Rage against the vaccine? Oh, the humanity.

August 29, 2021 3:33 am

Joann Atchity, a vocal opponent of mask mandates, gives misleading information during a public comment session and accuses the Johnson County Commission of “violating the Nuremberg Codes.” The screen capture is taken from the commission’s video stream of the July 22 meeting. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Rage is a useful emotion if you’re the greatest of ancient Greek warriors — Sing, O Goddess, of the rage of Achilles! — but it has its limitations for those of us not descended from kings and sea nymphs. While justifiable outrage has been instrumental in moving the arrow of history ever closer to justice, such as during the Civil Rights movement, the kind of anger boiling over now, during our second pandemic summer, is irresponsible nonsense.

Just about every school board and county commission across the land has been targeted by the flat earth faction. Those on the receiving end of these broadsides of spittle-flecked hate and misinformation are usually public servants trying their honest best in absurd conditions that, more and more, are the political equivalent of the novel “Catch 22.”

This is the place where I’m supposed to give examples. But, since I’m woozy with my own silent anger at second-hand stupid, let’s jazz it up. Imagine this read in a rapid fire, old-timey radio news voice. You can use Herbert Morrison, if you wish.

Item! A woman in a “Kansans for Health Freedom” shirt tells the Johnson County Commission that COVID vaccines have killed more than 10,000 Americans and accuses the commission of “violating the Nuremberg Codes by this kind of (mask) enforcement.”

Item! During a four-hour public comment section before the Douglas County Commission at Lawrence, Kansas, on a proposed indoor mask mandate for 2- to 11-year-olds, an angry and largely unmasked crowd make comparisons to the Holocaust, the Taliban, and Japanese-American internment camps.

Item! A hospital administrator in Springfield, Missouri, was accosted by a man from Alabama in a parking garage who handed him papers accusing him of “crimes against humanity.” The anti-vaxxer also left a “sworn statement” that vaccines had killed “40,000 to 50,000” people in Alabama.

Item! A new AP-NORC poll says that most unvaccinated Americans are unlikely to be convinced to get the jab. An appalling 80% of those polled said no amount of data could convince them, even though most hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

Oh, the stupidity!

All of this is made the more tragic because we are in the fourth surge of the pandemic, a surge that could have been avoided if more of us had been vaccinated. With the deadlier and more aggressive delta variant burning through the “hesitant,” hospitals in the hardest-hit parts of the country are again stressed to the breaking point. This includes hospitals in northeast Kansas and Wichita.

As of Friday, the virus had killed 5,547 Kansans, according to the state’s department of health. But the true cost of the pandemic will not soon be easily calculated, because the coronavirus was here far earlier than first thought. In fact, the first suspected COVID death in the country is now thought to have occurred Jan. 9, 2020 — in Kansas.

Our continued misery, and the additional deaths of our neighbors, is due to a toxic cocktail of misinformation and political malfeasance. The reason the “Nuremberg Codes” woman and others have been unleashed at local governments in Kansas is because the GOP majority in the Statehouse last year turned their disregard of the public health into law. Senate Bill 40 took emergency powers away from the governor, effectively forcing local jurisdictions to decide and crippling any coordinated statewide response. A district judge in Johnson County last month declared the law unconstitutional, but the Kansas Supreme Court has stayed the ruling, pending an appeal by Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Meanwhile, the angry unmasked continue to demonstrate their willingness to endanger the public health not only by refusing vaccinations, but by repeating the nonsense they’ve seen on social media or heard on right-wing news outlets. Take the Johnson County woman who claimed vaccines have killed more than 10,000. Her source for this was Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a CDC site that gathers reports — from anyone — but does not assign cause of death or judge the accuracy of the reports. Misleading information about VAERS data has been debunked by a number of sources, including Reuters.

And the Nuremberg Codes?

Those were passed in 1947 by an American military tribunal, dealing with war crimes, in response to a lack of international law about human experimentation. This was a response to the sadistic experimentation on unwilling subjects in Nazi death camps. The code established an ethical and legal framework for justifiable and permissible human experimentation. No reasonable person could conclude that the development and emergency deployment of coronavirus vaccines violate the codes, unless one is so detached from reality as to be unable to distinguish fact from fallacy.

How could America become so broken that a significant portion of the population has turned its back on reason and embraced the most outrageous, and patently absurd, conspiracy theories? These individuals hold the rest of us hostage to their unreason, and they are given cover by feckless politicians who cater to their delusions by ignoring science and stressing the sanctity of individual “health freedom.” For years, the state of Kansas has legally monitored, contact traced and provided intervention for venereal disease, without so much as a raised eyebrow. But now? GOP politicians are elbowing one another aside to pass laws safeguarding your freedom to make others sick.

And, it isn’t just politicians spewing toxic information.

Facebook, which touts itself as the most transparent of social media platforms, buried a report that its most-shared post was about an article with a headline wrongly suggesting that the death of a Florida doctor was due to the coronavirus vaccine.

“The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021,” according to the New York Times.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past few months about how to reach those who are hesitant to get the vaccine. Some vulnerable minority populations have been treated poorly by the predominantly white medical community in the past, and their reluctance is understandable. They should be reassured the vaccines are safe, effective and benefit everyone. But these populations, by and large, are not the demographics we’re seeing at those angry protests at county commission and school board meetings. The rage is coming from conservative white Americans who, despite having lived privileged lives, see themselves as the victims of a global conspiracy.

But, at the same time, they also see themselves as the heroes of the story.

Sing, O Misinformed Muse, of the rage of the Karens! And of the Kens!

They demand to speak to your school board.

It’s time we stopped trying to persuade the selfish, the culpable, and the willfully ignorant to do the right thing. If someone is genuinely confused, you should absolutely explain patiently all the reasons to get the vaccine. But those who show up and accuse our local school board members, county commissioners, and hospital administrators of committing crimes against humanity?

Save your breath. You might need it.

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Max McCoy
Max McCoy

Max McCoy is an award-winning author and journalist. A native Kansan, he started his career at the Pittsburg Morning Sun and was soon writing for national magazines. His investigative stories on unsolved murders, serial killers and hate groups earned him first-place awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors and other organizations. McCoy has also written more than 20 books, the most recent of which is "Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River," named a Kansas Notable Book by the state library. "Elevations" also won the National Outdoor Book Award, in the history/biography category. Max teaches journalism at Emporia State University.

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