Gary Horton | Jumping off the Anti-Vaccine Crazy Train

Gary Horton

From hard-earned personal freedom, I understand better than most the power of cult groupthink and peer indoctrination imposed on individuals. Normally level-headed, critical-thinking folk are convinced to put aside science, doubts, logic, reason – in exchange for acceptance by the group, for a social structure, and importantly, to feel “good” about themselves as they live out their newly adopted life dogma. “Good” becomes how you perform relative to group rules, commandments, norms, hats and slogans. Often, those who go most hardcore rise to highest regard in their adopted groups and affiliations. That’s how extremists become so extreme… 

Extremism and crazy-making has become respectable and laudable in today’s partisan USA. Consider the stunts of Marjorie Taylor Greene, or the Viking helmet Capitol invader, or Proud Boys gun-toters dressed in military garb, or book banners and burners… and now tops in the moment, the COVID anti-vax crowd. 

I’m not quite sure how COVID anti-vaxxing became a political and cultural badge of honor. It’s particularly odd among conservatives, given that President Donald Trump pushed so hard to develop the vaccines in the first place. Yet a switch flipped, and even Trump himself was booed by his audience while mildly encouraging vaccination. 

The choice for vaccination transformed from an easy health care procedure to a terribly misguided “last stand” for personal freedom. “No one can force me to get a shot.” Strangely borrowing from the pro-choice movement, “My body, my choice,” is a rallying call of the new anti-vax subculture permeating America, especially among conservatives. 

As the anti-vax subculture expands through the echo chambers of social media and political structures, the sense of “doing good” or “being free” or even, “defending America itself” is expressed through refusal to vaccinate.  

“My body, my choice.” Can you imagine if our G.I.s had said that during World War II and refused to get on the ship to Europe or Asia?  

My gut tells me those G.I.s would look at anti-vaxxers of today as the least patriotic folks America has produced. “You mean you refuse a vaccine to protect your community and yourself?” Can you imagine the disbelief these soldiers would have at resistance to the small act of vaccination to defeat a public threat?  

There’s no glee in exposing the extent of the craziness in the anti-vax community. But exposing irrationality is a strong weapon against cult and illogical thinking… 

Latest in anti-vax craziness is a self-deceived man from North Carolina. Awaiting a kidney transplant and taking dialysis three times a week, 38-year-old Chad Carswell has been pulled from the organ transplant list due to his refusal to vaccinate. Organ recipients have long been required to be vaccine-current for good medical reasons. But his doctor-required COVID vaccine has become one “doctor’s order” too many for this man otherwise willing to undergo an incredibly invasive kidney transplant with legion of anti-rejection drugs he’ll take the rest of his life. The life he’s now not going to have… 

Said Carswell, “I will die free.” “There is not a situation in this world that I’ll get a vaccine.” “If I’m lying on my deathbed, and they tell me, ‘You have a kidney waiting on you if you get this shot,’ I’ll tell them, “I’ll see you on the other side.”  

It’s as misguided as it sounds. Organ transplants are scarce life-giving gifts, and medical professionals parse them out based on best outcome expectancies. With more patients needing organ transplants than are available, transplants go to those most likely for long-term success. 

But for Carswell, the power of anti-vax rhetoric has supplanted the miraculous benefit of the gift of a new kidney. “Give me liberty or give me death” was never supposed to mean stupidly going to your grave over a proven vaccine that’s been administered to billions, saving millions of lives. Carswell’s logic qualifies him for leadership in Heaven’s Gate… 

Carswell isn’t the only one dying for the anti-vax illogic. Just this past week, popular rocker and anti-vaxxer Meatloaf died from COVID complications. He’d said previously, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.” Weeks before, local prominently vocal anti-vaxxer but otherwise healthy deputy D.A., Kelly Ernby, also needlessly died from COVID complications.  

Yesterday, the New York Times released a statistical study of the COVID vaccine efficacy. The non-vaxxed die from COVID at the rate of 7.8 per 100,000. Fully vaccinated die at 0.6 per 100,000. Folks with booster shots die from COVID at the rate of 0.1 per 100,000.  

Factually, the unvaccinated are at 78 times the risk of dying of COVID as those with booster shots. If you want to put the ultimate COVID risk behind you, get your booster shot! 

What should be a slam-dunk easy medical decision has been group-spun into a warped stand for patriotic liberty. This is what happens when we surrender our personal critical thinking and allow doctrine, dogma, platforms, or political talking points to control us. 

The guy in North Carolina is choosing certain painful death over a vaccine his own doctors require. Hundreds of thousands more have died similarly stubbornly, but in obscurity.  

Most all of us follow “doctor’s orders” willingly. But as for this vaccine, 30% of Americans shout a vehement “Never!” 

Good God, why? 

Do we really want to be so willfully, dogmatically crazy? Truly, it’s OK to leave the crazy train behind on this one. Get vaccinated and get boostered. Your odds to “fight for freedom” another day improve 78 to 1.  

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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