It is not over yet
With vaccination rates dwindling in the U.S., and parts of the country being ravaged by the virus, it’s clear that despite the enormous success the U.S. has had with combating the virus in the last few months the pandemic is not over for many people. Children are yet to be vaccinated, the immunocompromised and the elderly are still vulnerable, and the resistance to vaccination is still prevalent, even on my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. So while the vaccinated may feel a little freer now, it’s important to know that the pandemic isn’t over, and to stop acting like it. That’s why I keep wearing my mask indoors, even though I am vaccinated. A symbol of solidarity, and also some added protection against the Delta variant.
This sort of perspective helps me contextualize and remember the need for our year-and-half long period of quarantining. The pandemic was difficult to endure, but the difficulty of it was not just in our isolation as painful as it was, but it was in the threat of death that was in the very air we breathed. This enemy killed millions of people around the world, hospitalized millions more, and brought tremendous horror to us. I think when we recall the pain of the pandemic, our focus must be on this dread that is wrought upon us all.
We made death an enemy
In isolation, our relationships frayed, our faith may been weakened, our anxiety and anger increased, but this pain and difficulty pales in comparison to losing a parent or a grandparent, a fate I was lucky to avoid, but one that so many people didn’t. We must lament and grieve death wherever we see it; and as Christians, we need to make death our enemy. The pandemic restrictions were all about resisting death and living fully into life.
It is counterintuitive though to stay shuttered in and not relate intimately with our loved ones in the spirit of defying death, but that is what we needed to do to make death our enemy. Christians make death their enemy; so every time you logged onto Zoom instead of meeting in person, or wore a mask when you didn’t feel like it, or simply submitted to the leaders of your church despite the difficulty of the circumstance, you fought death. And Christians specialize in fighting death.
I am thankful that we are moving out the pandemic and we can live more freely. But more than that, I am grateful that the vulnerable are increasingly protected and less people are dying. The quarantine was grueling, but it doesn’t compare to the horror of losing 600,000.
Getting vaccinated is a way to give life
Truly, though, it is a relief then to be vaccinated and freer of the restrictions, but not just for the sake of our personal liberty and freedom, but because death no longer looms. This is what we must celebrate as we slowly gain victory over death. Every shot in the arm is a blow to death as well. When we get vaccinated, we are joining a collective effort to put an end to this scourge that has plagued us.
The U.S. has seen a 200 percent increase of cases in the last two weeks. The worst outbreaks are in areas with low vaccination rates. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to revert to restrictions (although other countries have!) even with rising cases, and so the best solution to combating the virus is to get vaccinated.
Getting vaccinated allows us to continue to participate in the beautiful mutuality that we demonstrated during the pandemic. We found that beauty in the cooperation of humankind to keep death from our homes and our loved ones. We succeeded in many ways. We demonstrated the ability to work together for the common good. And even though we still witnessed the most selfish of behaviors around us, I am grateful that it was not the majority of humans that behaved in this disgraceful way.
Still we see this disgrace around us today: willful ignorance of science and safety precaution, TV hosts spreading lies and rumors about the dangers of the vaccine, fabrication of stories about its origins. And as frustrating as it is to see people not getting the vaccine or taking any safety precautions, I am grateful that many people have allowed common sense and common good to take hold. We aren’t where we need to be, but a lot of good people have gotten us to where we are.
How do you convince the unvaccinated to get a shot?
How to respond to people who refuse the vaccine is still a mystery to me. I am doubtful of the efficacy of personal relationships and conversations—a popular notion among well-meaning, polite Christians. The unvaccinated’s choice, though it is varied in its rationale, is ultimately rooted in their own liberty, and that changes the mutuality that we share. And it is challenging to combat with so much misinformation informing it. Here’s Catherine Rampall of the Washington Post:
Roughly 90 percent of Americans who don’t plan to get vaccinated say they fear possible side effects from the shot more than they fear covid-19 itself, a recent YouGov poll found. Roughly half of those who reject the vaccine believe the U.S. government is using the vaccine to microchip the population.
Kate Cohen argues that perhaps we simply need to broadcast deaths by covid-19 for the vaccinated and unvaccinated, since the numbers are truly incomparable:
I propose a running tally in bold type: covid deaths among unvaccinated vs. vaccinated citizens. Two numbers, side by side. Every newspaper’s front page, every state and federal website, the crawl at the bottom of every cable television news broadcast.
Perhaps the state should take misinformation into its own hands and discipline Facebook or Fox News for allowing it to flourish. But hesitation and resistance is all over the political spectrum, sadly. Here’s Ross Douthat:
On the one hand, there is clearly a hard core of vaccine resistance, based around tribal right-wing identity, that’s being nourished by both online conspiracy theories and the bad arguments and arguers that some Fox News hosts and right-wing personalities have elevated.
On the other hand, the ranks of the unvaccinated are much larger than the audience for any vaccine-skeptical information source and far more varied than the stereotype of Trump voters drinking up QAnon-style conspiracies. The vaxxed-unvaxxed divide is widest between Democrats and Republicans, but it’s also an education divide, an age divide, a gender divide, a racial divide, an urban-rural divide, an insured-uninsured divide and more.
But regardless, we sadly now take the vaccine just to protect ourselves, instead of taking it to collectively defeat the virus. And as a result we put the elderly, the immunocompromised, and children at risk. We need to achieve herd immunity if we want to protect everyone; getting vaccinated is the way there. And the choice to not get vaccinated is selfish and dangerous.
An assault on truth and community; but an opportunity for life!
To add to the frustration, we have nefarious actors taking advantage of our polarized time to put people in harm’s way. Taking a vaccine is dismissed as sheepish, cowardly, and coercive behavior. People are more committed to their liberty than they are to staying alive. Being free and dead is a game you play with the devil. There’s no freedom in willfully accepting and spreading a deadly virus. That sort of enslavement to liberty contradicts the notion of freedom on its own.
These bad actors not only assaulted our common good, they assaulted the truth. Now, taking a principled stance for vaccination is seen as a polarizing and political behavior. It is maddening how every action has become political by talk show hosts whose grift depends on that very politicization. And this mentality invades our churches too, where we even try to find a “third way” when a plain moral is obvious. Yes, getting vaccinated is a good thing. I won’t submit to a philosophy that allows that obvious good to be questioned. And neither should any truth-loving Christian.
But as we pray for the unvaccinated to change their minds or be compelled in another way, there is reason to celebrate our immediate victory over death. A lot of good has been done over the last year-and-a-half. Many of us were disciplined in quarantine, kept our masks off, and got vaccinated when we could. Any victory over death is one that God celebrates, as God is the ultimate victor over death. When we defy death, when we defeat death, when life prevails, God is worshiped!