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Opinion | Understanding the Unvaccinated

To the Editor:

Re “The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think They Are,” by Zeynep Tufekci (column, Oct. 16):

Enough! Yet another piece that reads like an apology for those who have failed to get vaccinated. So many lame excuses. No health insurance? It’s free. No primary care doctor? The best physicians and epidemiologists in the country — in the world, really — have studied the vaccines and given their strong approval. A person of color aware of past mistreatment and gruesome experimentation? There is no nexus between that and this. Period. Full stop.

Afraid of needles? Yeah, many people are. We somehow managed to vaccinate everybody against polio and many other diseases. Not an excuse.

Side effects? Yup, but minimal, especially as compared with lying in bed on a ventilator. Underlying health condition? There are very few that would militate against vaccination, and they are well documented and publicized.

Why give oxygen to irrational doubts about vaccination? This “hesitancy” ranges from poorly thought out to delusional. Efforts at persuasion are nonproductive.

Mandates work. They work well. They overcome ignorance with science. They save lives. So, time to stop wasting time on tolerance and understanding reluctance and gentle persuasion. There is no more room for discussion and debate and opinion. Get the shot.

Dirk Durstein
Wilmington, Del.

To the Editor:

I would like to thank you for publishing Zeynep Tufekci’s incredibly comprehensive and refreshingly fair essay. I have been vaccinated since April and vote a straight Democratic ticket, yet I have felt very uncomfortable with the way people in my social circle, my political party and my social media feed speak about the unvaccinated as a monolithic bloc of right-wing selfish idiots.

My husband and I both work for nonprofits in Atlanta that have diverse staffs and serve predominantly Black low-income populations. The reality around us aligns much more closely with Dr. Tufekci’s reporting of the unvaccinated as a diverse group, not only in their reasoning and degree of hesitancy but also in their voting habits, race and income level than it does with some of the media’s reporting of the unvaccinated as “all Trumpers.”

Opinion Conversation
Questions surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine and its rollout.

When I try to share my view that the unvaccinated (although perhaps not the outspoken anti-vaxxers) are not all stupid and selfish, it’s an unpopular view in my circles. Thank you for being willing to share views that might not fall in line with a “side,” especially since the politicization of this virus has led to so much confusion and anger in this country already.

Lindsay Hill

To the Editor:

I have practiced family medicine for over 30 years. Some of the most disheartening conversations of my career have been with patients, many of whom I have known for a long time, who have yet to receive the Covid vaccine and remain unconvinced by my conversations with them to do so.

Zeynep Tufekci’s thoughtful, perceptive column is a helpful reminder to me that these decisions often reflect a complex mix of personal belief, fear, misinformation, mistrust and structural disadvantage that is not easily resolvable.

What works? Clearly vaccine mandates work, as Dr. Tufekci notes, not just because of the consequences to the unvaccinated but also because of the face-saving way they allow the previously hesitant to receive the vaccine. Paid sick leave works, so that people do not have to fear losing their job or income because of vaccine side effects. Addressing structural racism in health care works.

Access to primary medical care also works, but not in isolation from the factors above. Thanks to Dr. Tufekci, I will remind myself of this as I continue to have these challenging conversations with my patients.

James Misak

To the Editor:

An interesting article with interesting data. However, the number of people who think Covid is a hoax or who are conspiracy theorists is clearly not tiny. Otherwise I would not know so many.

I want to point out something more important. Here in Arizona we have a large Native American population. If any population has as much reason to distrust the government as Black people, it is Native Americans. They suffered terribly from Covid before the vaccine. I have been told that they have contempt for the Indian Health Service.

But they have an extremely high rate of vaccination. That came about both from leadership by tribal governments and a sense of caring for fellow tribe members.

I think this last factor is what’s missing for some of us. Too many Americans care nothing for others. The mandates are not there to save the individual. The reason for the mandates is that if you get Covid you are likely to give it to other people as well. That is what we must prevent.

Bob Carlson
Tucson, Ariz.

To the Editor:

Zeynep Tufekci’s column on the unvaccinated was a masterpiece of humane, scientific thinking that our pluralistic society desperately needs — and not just for dealing with this pandemic. Reading it made me ashamed of my own prior responses to the unvaccinated, which mixed anger and disdain.

Her comprehensive survey of reasons for vaccine hesitancy, including (finally!) a recognition that fear of needles is part of the mix, is the method that scientists, including social scientists, take for granted in our research, but may forget to apply in our daily lives.

Science is finding ways to lessen our societal ills, but as with cures for organic diseases, we are still grappling with how to get people to take the medicines.

Jeffrey J. Wine
Palo Alto, Calif.
The writer is emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford University.

To the Editor:

We should keep in mind an important point about the unvaccinated, and that is mortality statistics. About 95 percent of the elderly in the United States have been vaccinated because the mortality rate is high for that demographic, and they don’t want to die. But the mortality rate is very low for a large segment of the population.

Younger, healthy people are very unlikely to die or even have severe symptoms from Covid-19. Their calculations about risk and reward are therefore quite different. If the mortality rate were as high as 30 percent, as with smallpox, we wouldn’t be talking about vaccine hesitancy.

Mike Manuche
Reno, Nev.

To the Editor:

Zeynep Tufekci compellingly details the multiple reasons a substantial minority of Americans have declined to be vaccinated against Covid-19. She shows that we must be much more careful and specific about those who have been reluctant to seek vaccinations, if we are to successfully promote vaccination.

When we use the term “the unvaccinated” we encourage the view that those who are unvaccinated are a single, homogeneous group. This assumption undermines public health efforts to encourage vaccination by stereotyping and stigmatizing those who are currently unvaccinated. When we speak of “the unvaccinated” we are unwittingly “othering” the very individuals we would like to encourage and support in seeking vaccination.

Allan M. Brandt
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is a professor of the history of medicine at Harvard University.

To the Editor:

A possible reason that the most-vaccinated group is those over 65 is that the older cohort of this segment of society may have had personal experience of a time when many of our vaccines did not exist, and therefore they suffered from the childhood illnesses that could not be easily prevented. They may also remember the relief and joy of their parents when the polio vaccine, for example, became available.

As a member of that age group, l grew up when adults respected, and enthusiastically expressed gratitude for, the wonders of modern medicine.

Susan Wilgus
Frankfort, Mich.

To the Editor:

While there are some vaccine refusers who do so out of ignorance, perceived political loyalty or misplaced fear, I believe that the great majority just object to being told what to do. This sentiment harkens back to Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.” The problem, of course, is that your liberty may contribute to my death.

I’m fed up with their ridiculous behavior.

Michael Kaplan
Princeton, N.J.

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