COVID moralism

Almost from the onset of COVID, we have seen both policy and personal choice couched in largely moralistic terms.  Politicians and public health officials who sought to keep us “safe” at whatever cost have deployed to the moral high ground, where they have remained under the protective cover of both social and legacy media.

The pre-vaccination symbol of virtue and compliance with the dictates of public health experts, was of course the face covering. Masks of less than operating room quality were of questionable efficacy in controlling viral spread but made a personal statement.

The mask was the symbolic projection of caring, and a statement of faith in what I like to call the COVID industrial complex.

And with that faith came affirmations of one’s belief in “Science,” as if science were the consensus of public health officials as opposed to a rigorous process of research and experimentation.   Omnipresent yard signs in expensive neighborhoods proclaimed that “Science is Real” and “Water is Life” (maybe these signs should have read “Carbon is Life,” but that’s another issue).

Fortunately, the mask talisman yielded to real rather than symbolic scientific advancement. From the desperation of lockdown orders and grasping for answers came the manna of vaccines. Initially, the professed belief in science and the anticipation of a vaccine were not inextricably linked, since the impetus for vaccine development came from a purportedly unscientific administration. 

But with the new year, skepticism among the elites gave way not just to a warm embrace of vaccines but a public health and governmental offensive to immunize everyone from one to beyond 92.

I should point out that I have both suffered from COVID and been “double vaccinated.” While I think it would be beneficial for most adults to get the injection, I reject the idea that everyone, particularly those who have been previously infected, must be vaccinated -- and especially reject the idea that vaccine resisters should be shamed or labeled as morally deficient.

In some instances, the line between vaccine advocacy and quasi-religious zealotry has been blurred if not crossed.  Newly sworn-in New York Governor Kathy Hochul put it this way: " Yes, I know you're vaccinated. they're (sic) the smart ones, but you know, there are people out there who aren't listening to God and what God wants. you know, this, you know who they are. I need you to be my apostles.”

While delivering her sermon on a Brooklyn mount, Hochul was wearing a necklace that read “Vaccinated.” I have yet to hear of a necklace that proclaims one’s natural immunity from a prior COVID infection, which may confer greater immunity than an actual vaccine.

Like many, Hochul does not seem content to merely receive the vaccine and the resistance that it confers.  She must demonize and castigate those who have made a different decision.

Vaccine virtue signaling is insufferable on its own, but the seeming imperative to shame and marginalize other Americans for a medical decision, however well-reasoned, seems both vindictive and morally ostentatious.  If you have been vaccinated then you are protected from the serious ramifications of COVID (albeit not a minor infection), so why all the vitriol aimed at the unvaccinated?

President Biden, once touted as a voice of conciliation, has also chosen to blame the unvaccinated for whatever COVID harm strikes us in the future. Coming amid the failure of the Afghanistan withdrawal, his “us vs, them” proclamation bears the scent of a politically motivated strategy.

We should be celebrating the fact that approximately 76% of American adults, and 87% of senior citizens, have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.  Those who have gotten the shot are far, far better off than they were last year, despite the vicissitudes of the Delta variant.

If those who have gotten the vaccine want to feel superior, hey, that’s human nature.

But they should resist the urge, despite prompting from politicians and the media, to blame their fellow citizens for making a different choice.

Joe Pearlman is a retired administrative hearing officer for the state of North Carolina.

Image: Jernej Furman

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