When anti-vaxxers get Covid

by Brian on August 15, 2021

in Cancer,Covid-19,In the News,Politics,Science

Is it OK to have schadenfreude (the German expression for “pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune”) when an anti-vaxxer contracts Covid-19? The Internet seems to think so. 

Every day in my U.S. news feed, I’m sent stories about some vaccine denier who caught the virus, is now fighting for his or her life, and who in many cases has had a very public change of heart, to the point of urging friends and family to get vaccinated ASAP.

One of the most prominent examples in recent weeks was Phil Valentine

A conservative talk show radio host from Nashville, Tennessee, Valentine repeatedly spread misinformation about Covid-19 and even mocked vaccines, turning a Beatles hit into an anti-vax ditty he dubbed the “Vaxman.”

“Let me tell you how it will be,” he sang on-air. â€œAnd I don’t care if you agree. â€˜Cause I’m the Vaxman, yeah I’m the Vaxman. If you don’t like me coming round, be thankful I don’t hold you down.”

Even after Valentine was diagnosed in June, he retained the anti-vax mantle. â€œUnfortunately for the haters out there, it looks like I’m going to make it,” he wrote with no small amount of snark.

Two weeks later, he was hospitalized in critical condition.

Valentine hasn’t yet come out vocally to promote vaccines (he’s hooked up to a ventilator), but in neighboring Alabama, Christy Carpenter told The Washington Post that her anti-vax family was now urging others to get the shot after her unvaccinated son died of Covid-19.

“If Curt were here today, he would make it his mission to encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Christy said. “If we can help keep people healthier and possibly save lives by encouraging others to take the vaccine, then Curt’s death was not in vain. We did not get vaccinated when we had the opportunity and we regret that so much now.”

Danny Reeves is an unvaccinated pastor from Texas who, after contracting Covid, was told he might need a lung transplant. “I didn’t mean to be cavalier,” he said, after two touch-and-go days in the ICU. “But there’s a lot of people just like me that haven’t gotten the vaccine. I’ve been taught a lesson and I’m big enough and humble enough to say I was wrong.”

Another conservative radio host, Dick Farrel, caught Covid. He texted a friend two words from the hospital regarding the vaccine: “Get it.” He died shortly afterward.

The more I read these stories, the more I am confronted with an ugly feeling inside, one which I try my best to tamp down because it seems so wrong:

These anti-vaxxers should get a taste of the “fake news” they’ve been peddling.

So they know that, no, it’s not “just” a flu. 

That no, you don’t have an innately strong immune system that can easily fight this off without assistance from a vaccine. 

That no, being young or strong or healthy won’t save you nor will faith in a supernatural deity (unless that deity’s last name happens to be Bourla or Bancel, the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna, respectively).

So, when anti-vaxxers get Covid, my schadenfreude-leaning self wants to say, “Ha, they brought this on themselves. Let them get a tough case. Not one that sends them to the hospital or kills them, but enough that they’ll get scared straight and start talking sense to their unvaccinated followers.”

And then I feel terribly guilty that I ever had such inhumane feelings.

That hasn’t stopped other people from expressing similar sentiments – or getting angry like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey who commented that it’s “the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down [not to mention] choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”

Others are less restrained. “It makes you want to smack people upside the head,” vaccinated 66-year-old Elise Power told NBC News.

But what else can you do? Over the course of the pandemic, it’s become clear that trying to change people’s opinions about getting the vaccine is as futile as convincing Donald Trump he’s no longer president. No amount of persuasion gets through. Only action seems to make the difference – and getting Covid is as big an unfortunate action as you can imagine. 

Indeed, vaccine skepticism evaporates once one has experienced time in intensive care“You can see it dawn on patients that they potentially made the biggest mistake of their lives,” Dr. Samantha Batt-Rawden told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

An anti-vax movement certainly exists in Israel but it’s less intense than in other parts of the world given that the vast majority of the adult population here (90% of those over 50) – and nearly everyone who’s most at-risk – has gotten their jab. We’re even giving third booster doses now, something I happily went for even before they were offered to the general public. (Blood cancers like mine make it difficult for the body to produce the same level of antibodies as a healthy person.)

Mark Valentine, brother of radio talk show host Phil, was shaken to the core by what he experienced.

“Having seen this up close and personal, I’d encourage ALL of you to put politics and other concerns aside and get it,” he said, referring to the vaccine.

Phil Valentine’s diagnosis has already made an impact: Listeners have reported they went ahead and got the vaccine.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” added Mark, who got inoculated the same day that his famous brother was admitted to the hospital. “Maybe this happened so Phil could talk to people and make sure that more people don’t die.”

Said with entirely no schadenfreude.

I first asked the difficult questions in this article at The Jerusalem Post.

Photo by Trey Musk on Unsplash

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