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Millions of unvaccinated Americans are becoming ill. How will a brilliantly lit fire under resistance be ignited?
On January 27, 2022, STAT reported that those identified as “vaccine hesitant” are “all-in” for taking medication (if ill, of course) for the treatment of COVID-19.1 What irony: Those resisting prevention from COVID-19 with a highly effective (if not lasting) vaccine that has been given safely to millions are ready for COVID-19 treatment with pills. Standing tall for pills—but not the vaccine—is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an anti-vax champion who has erroneously claimed that vaccines cause sterility.2
Irony2 (squared): Choosing pills without proven effectiveness and with unknown adverse effects, instead of taking a vaccine given safely to many people. In the United States alone, more than 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered since its United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in December 2020.3
Yet, 200 million doses are not enough evidence to sway many a vaccine refuser, including the Florida governor. Instead, tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans—not strangers, but family, friends, and coworkers—are becoming ill. When will a brilliantly lit fire under resistance be ignited? Stoked because resisters are significantly sicker with COVID-19 than those who were vaccinated (and boosted). Their illness is much more likely to require hospital care and disproportionably fill the hospital morgue. These are our relatives, friends, and coworkers—not strangers—who are overloading our hospitals and overwhelming our doctors and nurses. Yet they will be eligible to receive COVID-19 treatment medication: “all in” to receive a largely unproven, perhaps unsafe, vial of tablets or capsules.
Yet, what if this is the Trojan Horse moment in the COVID-19 vaccination siege (see Brad Pitt’s film credits; otherwise see Homer, then Virgil) where COVID-19 treatment serves as a Trojan Horse that can enter the heretofore unassailable, closed doors (and minds) of the vaccine hesitant? The timing may be right: Might COVID-19’s protracted impact, now more than 2 years of raining economic misery and killing over 800,00 Americans,4 unlatch the doors now closed to vaccination? Soften calcified opinions?
We know that people change their minds (and behaviors) all the time—about what to wear, what to eat, close relationships, where to go or live, cigarette smoking, and dying by suicide. Every person has the inherent capacity to change their mind, with time and when circumstances change. Change is the rule more than the exception.
Estimates are that 2.4 billion pills are ingested every year in the United States.5 Americans love pills! A handy fact, as COVID-19 continues to destroy.
I do not imagine a drift to prevention will engage many of those prone to storm US government institutions, or the rioters in the known to be civil country of Canada. Baked-in mis- and disinformation and a “live free or die” ideology generate stubbornly held convictions. These are high walls to scale, which make the United States a poor performer on the world stage of citizens vaccinated. Recall, however, that minds—and habits—were changed about tobacco when disinformation was replaced with the truth that smoking kills.
We do not need to bat 1000, nor could we. But what about a US vaccination batting average of 800 (80% who get 2 shots, plus booster). Might that goal be oiled by unanimity of mind for treatment? Not so big a step from prevention.
How many lives would be saved? Family health and financial suffering diminished? Business recovery made possible, all by prevention—before illness? Being able to keep open our favorite local restaurants, bodegas, cleaners, and car washes, and restoring zest to the entertainment industry?
“Take your pills!” say caregivers—everywhere, every day. But not shots? The Trojan Horse, with its army of influencers, is about to broach the gates of the fortress that heretofore has said, “no” to COVID-19 vaccination. People do change their minds. A lot has happened in these past 2 years to kindle change. Will treatment strike the match that will kindle the fires of prevention? As has been said by many a foe to our country, “Americans may be stubborn, but they are not stupid.”
I learned in medical school to meet individuals where they are and help them go where they fear going. Bring on the pills! Let’s see how far pills might change public opinion—especially about the COVID-19 shots.
Dr Sederer is a psychiatrist, public health doctor, and nonfiction writer.
1. Facher L. Some Americans are hesitant about Covid vaccines. But they’re all-in on unproven treatments. STAT. January 27, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.statnews.com/2022/01/27/some-americans-are-hesitant-about-covid-vaccines-but-theyre-all-in-on-unproven-treatments/
2. Jeong A. DeSantis suggests vaccines hurt fertility. A study indicates otherwise—but says catching coronavirus might. The Washington Post. January 21, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/01/21/covid-vaccine-infertility-pregnancy-desantis/
3. Perrone M. US gives full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Associated Press. January 31, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-moderna-vaccine-approved-dc6f5ac9eeb31667d5a28f0954335b65
4. Adam D. The pandemic’s true death toll: millions more than official counts. Nature. January 18, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00104-8
5. Preidt R. Americans taking more prescription drugs than ever. WebMD. August 3, 2017. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiU84Oxrvr1AhVfjokEHeZdCRUQFnoECAIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.webmd.com%2Fdrug-medication%2Fnews%2F20170803%2Famericans-taking-more-prescription-drugs-than-ever-survey&usg=AOvVaw1ET-1IJzYVG9YJ2Yr5JinK