Conservative talk radio show host Phil Valentine certainly stood his ground. After he announced testing positive for Covid-19 on July 11th he said he was “doing my patriotic duty for natural herd immunity.” Phil’s idea was that he was going to acquire natural immunity by acquiring antibodies the old-fashioned way. Once he had the disease, his theory went, his body would create its own vaccine. He taught his listeners to mistrust the “artificial” vaccines and follow his “patriotic” example.
Phil died on Saturday of Covid-19, aged 61. Valentine, whose nationally syndicated “Phil Valentine Show” aired on 100 stations from 2007 to 2019, recently questioned the efficacy of vaccines on his Nashville, Tennessee show aired on SuperTalk 99.7 WTN and online, where he mocked America’s inoculation campaign in the song “Vaxman,” a parody of the Beatles’ “Taxman.” “I certainly am not getting the vax now,” he replied to a commenter on Facebook on July 14th. “I have full immunity.” And it worked, too, except the part about being dead, of course.
Phil encouraged treatment over prevention. “You need to have a plan in case you get COVID,” Valentine wrote. “Make SURE you get your vitamin D3 level checked … And then have a doctor on speed dial who will write you a prescription for ivermectin.” How exactly some of his poorer Tennessee listeners who didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford to “have a doctor on speed dial” were supposed to do this Valentine didn’t say. As in the other 49 states, on the other hand, the Covid-19 vaccine is free and readily available in Tennessee.
“[Phil] wishes he could do it over,” Valentine’s brother Mark told Nashville public radio station WPLN in a late July interview. “His regret [was] ‘I made the decision [not to get vaccinated] based on my situation, but I know now that a lot of people didn’t get the vaccine because I didn’t get the vaccine. And that is what I would like to correct.’”
It is doubtful Phil’s too-little-too-late message will carry much weight. For some reason victims of the anti-vaxxer movement have to find out for themselves how bad Covid is before they change their minds about the vaccine, if they do at all. By that time many of them have “infected” other people with their ignorant opinions. By that time many of them are dead.
So why are many conservatives so slow to learn from the experiences of others? Lack of empathy. Just as the “[expletive] your feelings” crowd sees no irony in their over-the-top emotional response to Donald Trump losing the 2020 election, many are incapable of understanding what’s so bad about Covid-19. Until they get it themselves, of course.
How many times have we seen Republican politicians take inflexible stands against the rights of the LGBT community until they find out their son is gay or their granddaughter is trans? How many times have we seen Republicans, who arrogantly make decisions about a woman’s right to choose, become all about “my body my choice” when told they must wear a mask?
Until an issue becomes important to them personally Republicans cannot see past their own selfish little universe. So the Phil Valentines of the world will continue to have little impact on them. They must get sick and die first, or someone close to them must get sick and die and take others with them, before any lesson is learned. And by then, of course, it’s too late.
The tide is turning, however, and more and more Republicans are finally coming around to understanding the dangers of the Covid threat and the efficacy of the vaccine. But the delay comes at a price so terrible that their final surrender to the inexorable logic of science may be too late and make no difference at all. Thanks to them and their ignorance, it’s now become a possibility that the pandemic will never end. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.