And now there are three. Swedish-British pharma major AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have created the Covid-19 vaccine AZD1222, adding another rival to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already extant. Now watch Trump simultaneously claim credit for it and whine about it by insisting that its announcement was deliberately withheld until after the election. Whatever, with days to spare, November is turning out to be a positive mensis mirabilis.
Even so, despite this recent embarrassment of vaccine riches, all the vaccines in the world won’t get rid of this bug if people refuse to take it. Like it or not we are faced with that rare thing, an apparently nonpartisan conspiracy theory. That’s right, MAGA hat-wearing cretins aren’t the only science deniers. It turns out that liberals are also well-represented among anti-vaxxers. A whopping 42% of Americans say they will refuse any new Covid-19 vaccine. So once again, science ignorance rules the day.
“So let them refuse it,” I can almost hear you saying. “I and mine will get inoculated. Let Darwin do his usual thing with fools.”
Not so fast. Just as mask-wearing isn’t any good unless a majority of people do it, the same goes for coronavirus inoculation. It turns out that a “95% efficacious” vaccine doesn’t mean that it will make 95% of its recipients immune to coronavirus. It means that the inoculated will become resistant to coronavirus 95% of the time, or one time in 20. So the more you socialize or work with people who haven’t been vaccinated, the likelier it becomes that you will get it anyway. And unless at least 70% of the population are vaccinated, then chances are you will get it, with or without the vaccine.
In other words, in order for America to achieve herd immunity, at least 70% of the population needs to be inoculated. Since 42% of the population are scientifically superstitious, at least as far as the new vaccines are concerned, herd immunity just isn’t going to happen.
Since last I wrote to you 24 hours ago, brothers and sisters, 2,204 Americans have died from coronavirus. This is a real crisis that vaccines won’t solve if many of us refuse to take it. So you need to put aside your fears and charge forward and take the damned thing once it becomes available. It has been adequately tested and shown to be sufficiently safe.
That is a message that’s easier to make to the liberal-minded and well-informed. The much harder task is convincing the constitutionally anti-science, low-information Trump supporter. That is where Trump himself could come in.
In other words, this could be Trump’s last chance to actually do something noble on his way out the door. I would never waste my time trying to appeal to his humanity — he doesn’t have one of those. But I can see it appealing to his inherently selfish instincts. An impassioned appeal to his base to accept the coronavirus vaccine just might be a useful bargaining chip for Trump down the road. Judges listen to evidence of any inherent goodness of defendants, and it can sometimes have an ameliorating effect when a judge decides a sentence.
Now, before you open your mouth and proclaim that you don’t care, you’re not going to get vaccinated no matter what, let me ask you something. On what authority are you making that proclamation? In other words, if science says it’s safe, what special inside knowledge do you possess to contradict it? As Isaac Asimov put it, your ignorance isn’t just as good as their knowledge. At the very least, if you’re going to make such a proclamation then have the minimum of guts to call it what it is — ignorance.
The shame of it is, once again ignorance is going to kill thousands, possibly millions, of people. Once again ignorance is going to carry the day. Ignorance has brought us to the brink of global disaster and near the point of no return with global warming. It’s time to set ignorance aside. Science isn’t perfect, but it’s the closest thing to perfection that we have just now. If you’re going to trust anything then trust science. It’s the best bet we’ve got. 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.