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Saturday, January 15, 2022
How should we deal with the antivaccination crowd?
The divisions are deep, but we have to live together.
January 15, 2022
By Bill TemplemanGuest Columnist
January is a perfect time of reflection. For me, it’s time to examine my relationship with those who refuse the vaccine. How do I want to deal with these people? “These people” are not aliens from outer space; some are my relatives and friends.
I started out in the conversation-over-confrontation camp. I believed the vaccinated needed to persuade the anti-vaxxers. The two sides needed to have “meaningful dialogues,” whatever that meant. If the consequences of catching COVID-19 were minor, as I believed back then, we could have had those dialogues.
Back in March of 2020, I thought that fear of the virus was being overdone. The case numbers and hospitalizations from early COVID were low. This COVID-19 virus shouldn’t be such a big deal, or so I thought. But that was then. Now there is too much at stake; the pandemic has evolved into a far more ominous threat. It took global fascism almost six years to kill 45,400 Canadians in the Second World War. In under 22 months, COVID-19 has killed 30,150 Canadians. That war is over; this pandemic is far from over.
The anti-vaxxers are not a monolithic group. Generalizations are wrong the moment they are spoken. To treat the anti-vaxxers as a monolithic block is to discriminate against them. Seeing the members of any group as being all the same makes stereotyping too easy; these stereotypes are the building blocks of prejudice.
Knowing this didn’t stop me from stereotyping the anti-vaxxers. At first, I believed that they were all scientifically illiterate. The science made sense to me; how could the anti-vaxxers not accept it? Never mind that I hadn’t taken a science course since high school or that my marks were extremely underwhelming. Who was I to stand in judgment of anyone’s understanding of epidemiology and vaccines? But this lack of credentials didn’t stop me from doing precisely that.
This stereotyping led me to make bigoted generalizations such as, “the anti-vaxxers are too stupid to understand.” Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers referred to the provaccine types like me as “spineless sheeple.” Bigotry is usually a two-way street.
My anger with their resistance to reason led me to fantasize about vaccinations by force. I imagined gangs of riot police pounding on doors to demand proof of vaccination, and if no proof was offered, the offenders would be handcuffed, dragged out to waiting vans and vaccinated on the spot. We can't do this in a democracy, but this was my fantasy.
What about the force implied by vaccine mandates? Is it wrong for our choices to have consequences? Choices and consequences go together. But if the consequence impacts not just the person declining to be jabbed but the entire community in which they live, then what?
Patronizing science lectures don’t work. I’ve tried to talk with anti-vaxxers at their weekly rallies. I soon learned that debate was impossible. My assumptions about rational discourse were irrelevant. Instead, I just asked questions and listened.
What I heard was disturbing. I listened to otherwise reasonable people spew vapid conspiracy theories absent of any foundation in fact. The media all work for the politicians. The drug companies own the politicians. Our freedom is at stake with these vaccine mandates. The vaccine boosters will only extend the pandemic. I felt I was in a foreign country trying to converse in a language that was not on Google Translate.
Ridiculing the anti-vaxxers accomplishes nothing. The mutual mockery between pro and anti-vaxxers that festers on social media is a waste of time.
If rational discussion is impossible, where does that leave us? How should I relate to those who refuse to get vaccinated? Where I differ from the anti-vaxxers is in a single behaviour — I am willing to roll up my sleeve for a needle. But beyond that, there are many things we share. I haven’t met an anti-vaxxer yet who wants to be hospitalized or who wants to watch a loved one die. To be antivaccination is not to be pro-transmission.
Instead of looking for answers, might it be more useful to look for better questions? What do anti-vaxxers and I share in common? We live together in this town — anti-vaxxers are my neighbours and colleagues. How can we continue to live, work and share this community? What can we all do to promote resilience and shared responsibility for everyone’s health? What will happen the next time our individual actions have deadly collective consequences?
Perhaps these questions boil down to this: how can we continue to live together in our community so that we can be ready for whatever the future will throw at us next? The pandemic gives us a chance to answer these questions, if only we could stop yelling at each other long enough to listen.
Bill Templeman is a writer, career coach, podcaster and consultant based in Peterborough.