Beware! Sabrina, a black widow spider,
No longer has Seymour residing beside her.
“My spouse was a despicable louse
“Who did nothing but grouse!”
Which is why Seymour’s digesting insider her!
I was cleaning the back yard and decided it was time to throw away the old plastic dog house. Technically it was a cat house we put in the back yard in case our outdoor cat got caught in the rain. But our cat died last winter, and my grown daughter told me the cat didn’t even use it as it was a home for spiders. Fortunately I was wearing heavy work gloves when I picked up the plastic roof of the cat house lying on the patio. There it was, an unmistakable black widow spider, with a rotund ebony body marked with a distinctive orange hourglass. I immediately dropped the heavy plastic shell, and stomped on the deadly spider with my boot. Then I got the eebbie geebies. Like most people, I don’t like spiders.
My youngest daughter, however, has arachnophobia, an extreme fear of spiders. Many phobias have a biological basis which arose to protect our primitive ancestors from deadly spiders, snakes, and other dangers. For example, claustrophobia—fear of being trapped in a small enclosed area—prevents us from venturing into areas where we could suffocate due to an insufficient supply of oxygen. Nyctophobia—fear of the dark—protects us from things that go bump in the night.
When I taught college Psychology, I also mentioned xenophobia—fear of anything new and unknown; triskaidekaphobia—fear of the number 13; and Bozophobia—fear of clowns. (For full disclosure, the textbook referred to fear of clowns as coulrophobia, but I took the liberty of renaming it, as the official technical name was too difficult for my students to pronounce, spell, or remember.) Other personal contributions to the list of phobias include slippery-slope-aphobia—an irrational fear of compromise or moderation; and (my favorite) Al-Gore-aphobia—an irrational fear of Democratic candidates who warn of the danger of climate change.
Most phobias are either irrational fears about something scary but benign (like clowns or the number 13), or else exaggerated fears about something dangerous but seldom around (like spiders or snakes). But there is one new phobia that is not only an irrational fear, but the phobia itself, is 200,000 times deadlier than what is feared. I am referring to vaxophobia—an irrational fear of vaccines.
The press calls vaxophobia vaccine hesitancy. This term is too benign. To hesitate is to pause before doing something. People who eschew the Covid vaccine, aren’t hesitant; they are adamantly but irrationally afraid of or adverse to the vaccine. The term anti-vaxxer is more descriptive, but pejorative, implying that those who don’t want to take a vaccine, or allow their children to take a vaccine, are ignorant and stupid.
They might be ignorant and stupid, but not necessarily. Regardless, they are wrong. Dead wrong.
We must remind ourselves that throughout history, good, decent, and otherwise intelligent people, held fast to erroneous ideas, oblivious to the fact that what they believed was wrong.
Good people once believed the world was flat, even after Columbus proved it was round. Good people once believed the sun revolved around the earth, even after scientists proved the earth revolved around the sun. These people weren’t necessarily stupid, but their lack of proper knowledge prevented them from knowing the truth. Today, in our “educated” society, those who ignorantly and irrationally deny scientific findings don’t consider themselves uneducated. Instead they take false information from the internet, Facebook, and Fox, and thinking they are informed, hold fast to irrational conclusions.
On Tuesday, I attended our weekly downtown protest group. I was holding a sign which said on one side, 900,000 AMERICANS DIED FROM COVID. The other side said, ZERO DIED FROM COVID VACCINES. I expected some to protest that the number 900,000 was exaggerated, as the official count is now 605,000 deaths. (An NPR report estimated the actual number was closer to 900,000.) I didn’t expect that so many would dispute the number zero.
Even after the rest of our protest group quit early to get lunch, I was holding my sign and standing beside one other protestor who remained with me. I wanted to join the others for lunch, too; but held fast to the hope that maybe one person might see my sign, get vaccinated, and save their life.
Instead, an old red pick-up truck stopped in front of us on Main Street, and the older white male protested that thousands died from the Covid vaccine. I yelled back I did the research. It didn’t matter what I yelled. Nothing I could say could change his mind. After he was too far away to hear me I finally exclaimed, “Ignorant moron!”
The next day I went to the Y to swim. The lifeguard told me I wasn’t allowed to come to the pool using the back door, and asked me to exit that door, and come into the Y through the front door where I could check in. Rather than argue, I complied. It was the first time I showed up at the Y without a mask. When I came in the front, the lady who knew me well commented she was glad to see my face as I wasn’t wearing a mask. Since we often chatted, I told her about how concerned I was that everyone was complacently acting like Covid was over, whether they got a vaccine or not.
The next thing I realize is that she is telling me about all the people who died from taking the vaccine. I should have just nodded and headed to the pool. Instead I foolishly told her that wasn’t true. She became annoyed and told me she personally knew someone who died after getting the vaccine and stated the vaccine killed him. This time I was wise enough to say nothing more. By the time I got to the pool, all the swimming lanes which were vacant before, were now filled. So I went home. Not only did I fail to change anyone’s mind, I didn’t even get to swim.
Back home I headed to my computer. Could I have been wrong? Yes. I found the following:
There are three deaths that appear to be linked to blood clots that occurred after people got the J&J vaccine. Since we now know how to correctly treat people who develop these blood clots, future deaths related to this very rare side effect can be prevented.
Three is more than zero, but much less than even the official tally of 605,000. Put it another way. Over 605,000 people died because they didn’t get the vaccine. Three died because they did.
This reminds me of the time an alcoholic client told me that not wearing a seat belt saved his life. As he related in his story, he was driving drunk when he lost control of his car and it flipped over about seventeen times. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and his window was open. He said he was thrown out of the car though the window, saving his life.
“How do you account for the fact that you are interviewing me now?” he asked.
“Very simply,” I replied. “We aren’t allowed to interview all those alcoholics whose drinking already killed them.”
Fortunately, the vast majority of people realize that seat belts save lives; even if in extremely rare circumstances they increase rather than decrease risk of death. But getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect you; getting vaccinated protects other people from you giving the disease to them.
Fear of vaccines, vaxophobia, isn’t new. When the vaccine for deadly smallpox was first developed by a country doctor in England in 1796, not everyone appreciated his lifesaving discovery. In 1802, James Gillray, the Tucker Carson of his day, spread fake news with a cartoon showing those who got the “cowpox” vaccine would have cows come out of their bodies.
Concerned that too many people weren’t getting vaccinated, the British Parliament made small pox vaccinations mandatory in 1853.
In 1885, over 80,000 vaccine dissenters marched through Leicester carrying banners, a child’s coffin and an effigy of Jenner. Dissent spread to the US and Canada.
Usually when people have a phobia, they appreciate their fear is far greater than the actual danger. But with vaxophobia, the holder of the irrational fear is unable to realize the danger they fear is minimal. Instead, the person having vaxophobia ubiquitously believes the fear is rational. It takes scientific scrutiny to perceive otherwise. Just because event B happens after event A, doesn’t mean event A caused event B. For instance, if you rub a “lucky” rabbit foot, and then are dealt three Aces in a poker game, this doesn’t mean rubbing the rabbit foot (A) caused you to get three Aces (B). Although this example seems obvious, in many cases correlation is misinterpreted as causation.
This was one reason the myth emerged that vaccinations led to autism, as autism was able to be detected in children about the same time children received vaccinations. On top of this, an unscrupulous “researcher” wrote a medical paper in The Lancet claiming vaccines contributed to autism. The “researcher” had an obvious conflict of interest as he was involved in a court case claiming vaccines were dangerous. Even though this research was debunked, and valid scientific studies confirmed vaccines can’t cause autism, vaxophobia has persisted from then until the development of Covid vaccines. But as FDR warned, what we have to fear is fear itself. Vaxophobia could easily kill another 100,000 people, now that the Delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading and is even more contagious.
I do not doubt that the lady at the Y knew someone who died after getting a vaccine. Yet it would have been futile to try to convince her he died from other causes. People believe what they want to believe, rational or not.
But Vaxophobia isn’t the only culprit. So is complacency. Less than half of South Carolina residents have been vaccinated, but everyone is walking around here like the epidemic has completely gone away. Yes, now that many people have been vaccinated, one’s risk of getting the disease has decreased, as well as one’s risk of death. But we are not out of the woods yet, not by a longshot.
Yet the country’s focus has shifted to other things. In Florida, a building collapsed killing about 150 people. It is a senseless tragedy. The search for survivors continues even as hope of finding anyone else alive decreases. Biden went to Florida and investigations are being done. People should feel safe in their homes. Yet every day as they search for more bodies in the rubble, 300 people across the country die from Covid. But Covid deaths are yesterday’s news. America, like a toddler, has a short attention span, and we are tired of worrying about Covid.
I wonder if anyone is listening to Dr. Fauci who warns everyone should be vaccinated to keep the new deadly Delta variant at bay. He says, “The virus doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from.” The virus also doesn’t care if you have vaxophobia, or not.