Vaccine holdouts undermine COVID-19 battle

Why are they risking not only their own lives but those of others by shunning the jab?

By Dan Walters


As a high school quarterback in Chico who later played for Butte College and starred for the University of California, Aaron Rodgers yearned to be drafted by his favorite pro team, the San Francisco 49ers.

However, the 49ers opted for Alex Smith in the 2005 draft and Rodgers went, instead, to the Green Bay Packers.

The rest is football legend. Rodgers became one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time and at 37, the gray-bearded Rodgers is still playing winning football as the Packers dominate their division with one of the league’s best records.

However, Rodgers didn’t play Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs because he tested positive for COVID-19 and had to go into quarantine.

That would appear to be just an unfortunate turn of fate. In fact the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, also tested positive while attending a global climate change conference in Glasgow and also was confined in quarantine.

However, Garcetti had been vaccinated against the disease while Rodgers had not, even though in August, he responded to a reporter’s question by saying, “I’ve been immunized.”

Technically, it may not have been a lie, but it was certainly misleading, particularly since he added, “There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys.”

The phrase “those guys” implied that he was not one of the unvaccinated players when he was one of them. It also turned out that Rodgers had asked the NFL Players Association to grant him vaccinated status because his personal homeopathic doctor had administered treatments to raise his antibody levels.

For months, then, Rodgers was living a lie and putting others at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. He’s a high-profile example of the vaccine refusniks who undermine humankind’s best hope of taming a pandemic that’s already claimed 750,000 lives in the U.S. and 5 million worldwide.

What gives with these people, anyway? Why are they risking not only their own lives but those of others by shunning the jab?

Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that about 20% of adults say they definitely will not get vaccinated unless required by their employers, and about 30% of parents say they won’t have their children vaccinated.

There’s no single reason why tens of millions of Americans evade opportunities to be vaccinated. For some it’s political; if Democrats advocate vaccination, some Republicans believe it’s their duty to resist. In fact, a much higher percentage of Democrats are vaccinated than Republicans.

For other holdouts, it may be a fear of the needle, a false belief that the vaccine is dangerous, as some social media pundits proclaim, or simple footdragging.

The unvaccinated, however, are feeling the squeeze as employers increasingly threaten to fire workers who lack proof of vaccination. One of the odder phenomena is the refusal of many public safety workers such as police officers, firefighters, prison guards and even nurses to be vaccinated.

Bizarrely, when a federal judge ordered that prison workers be vaccinated to protect inmates’ health, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration opposed the order even as the governor was personally promoting universal vaccination.

If the vaccine holdouts continue to hold out, and thus endanger themselves and their families, we will soon see a kind of apartheid in which they cannot work, cannot enter restaurants or other businesses and will disproportionately be stricken with COVID-19 and hospitalized.

Frankly, they won’t deserve sympathy from the rest of us. As the Bible says, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers.

CalMatters is a nonprofit newsroom committed to explaining California politics and policy.

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