By Petula Dvorak / The Washington Post
The coronavirus vaccine seems to be making our nation weirder.
No, not like a side effect after the injection. I mean, our behavior around the vaccine is making some Americans act in bizarre and irrational ways, whether it is even in our bodies.
The nation stopped to give a Memorial Day salute and to honor the Americans who sacrificed their lives for our country this week. Yet nearly half of their fellow citizens won’t get a needle in their arms; for our country.
Just two months ago, we were road-tripping, lying, cheating, flying and conspiring to get appointments for a shot of a coronavirus vaccine.
Now, we’re giving away doughnuts, dinners, a pound of crawfish (Louisiana, of course), baseball and theater tickets, a college scholarship or even a chance to win a million bucks to try to get the unvaccinated parts of the nation to please, please, pretty please get the shots.
How can we be a unified and patriotic nation if we don’t want to help protect each other?
At a Walmart on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where the pharmacy clerks used to answer the phone with “hello, we have no vaccine appointments” when I called earlier this spring, they made loudspeaker announcements three times in less than an hour this past Saturday encouraging their shoppers to “walk on over and get the vaccine! No waiting!”
The pharmacy was quiet. No takers.
The only action was a squabble over the last kayak on sale.
A little more than 50 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, a number that is very slowly inching toward President Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of Americans reach that vaccine status by July 4.
It shouldn’t be that hard in a so-called nation of patriots.
Back in 1955, when the team led by Jonas Salk released a polio vaccine, church bells rang, a nation rejoiced and pools and parks opened back up. Children lined up to get the shot to prevent a crippling illness that killed 3,145 in its worst year (1952), with little resistance.
Nearly 600,000 Americans have died of covid-19, so it would make sense that a church bell or two would keep ringing and that lines would still be forming.
I spoke with a man last week who said he’s simply not going to get vaccinated because he’s healthy and never tested positive for the coronavirus. “I don’t believe in it,” he told me.
I wonder if reading nearly 600,000 obituaries would change his mind.
There is a small group of Americans who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons. These aren’t the people I’m talking about. These are the people we’re trying to save.
Instead of unity and nationwide celebration, we have members of Congress who refuse to get vaccinated. One of them, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., actually compared a supermarket’s mask policy to the Nazi practice of labeling Jews with the Star of David.
And quickly after that, a business in Tennessee dabbled in creating yellow Star of David badges declaring their wearers “NOT VACCINATED.”
The vaccination divide is partially about partisanship. Data show that vaccine rates closely align with votes in the presidential election. White Republicans are the most resistant to vaccination, with rural white Republican men the most resistant of all.
So we’re making something that can prevent illness and even death another Molotov cocktail to lob in our ongoing culture war.
But it’s not a problem that’s strictly limited to red, white and blue factors.
Communities of color are bearing the brunt of this pandemic. And leaders in Washington, D.C., are fighting to convince more of them to buy into the vaccine, too.
“I got a troubling statistic … today that the percent of people of color — Black and Brown people — who are getting covid has gone up,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) told residents on a Zoom call with the Anacostia Coordinating Council last week. “And that is a direct function of vaccination.”
She told them to get vaccinated.
“You’re putting yourself at risk and you’re putting the city at risk, because if this virus kicks up again, among unvaccinated communities, it could drive our numbers up and shut us down, and none of us wants that,” Bowser said.
It’s hard to tell Black Americans to trust anyone as the nation finally begins to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the government-sanctioned massacre of as many as 300 Black people in Tulsa, Okla., or as the nation reckons with the horrible medical experiments performed on men in a disgraced study in Tuskegee, Ala.
Tuskegee always comes up when anyone talks about vaccine and government medications, said Reed Tuckson, a doctor who has worked in D.C. for years and founded the Black Coalition Against Covid-19.
But in this case, the vaccine is color blind. The exact same medication goes into your arm, whether you’re red or blue, white or Black.
“I am terrified that this thing could become a Black and Brown disease, and that it will stay in our community for a long, long time,” Tuckson said in that Zoom call with Bowser. “If we don’t get our vaccination rates up, we’re going to be in a tough situation.”
This is true for the entire nation. By July 4, we have a chance to show how much we care about each other, about the health and wealth of the nation, to show how patriotic we really are.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Post’s local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. Before coming to The Post, she covered social issues, crime and courts.