Back in September I got Covid, and got it bad. For two weeks I was too sick to work or do much of anything except sit on the couch or lie down in bed. The initial (and very intense) flu-like symptoms turned into a bad cough, which slowly faded into persistent fatigue and what many have described as a kind of Covid “brain fog.” It was nearly a month before I had recovered enough to work out and resume a normal schedule.
For all that, though, I was relieved. Having contracted Covid and recovered from what was by no means a mild case, I knew that my natural immunity conferred longer lasting and stronger protection against future infection and illness than the immunity I could get from any of the Covid vaccines.
But I was also relieved because it irrevocably settled a question for me: No matter what else happens in this pandemic, I’m never going to get a Covid vaccine. Ever. I’m one of the “unvaccinated,” and I’m going to stay that way.
A lot of people, upon hearing this, won’t want to listen to anything else I have to say. They’ll conclude I’m a crank and a conspiracy theorist — or just a blithering idiot. The unvaccinated, for too many Americans, are nothing more than selfish rabble whose continued intransigence is, at best, needlessly putting the vulnerable at risk and, at worst, outright killing people.
If anyone is to blame for the terrible toll of Covid, their thinking goes, it’s people like me, who are perpetuating what President Biden has repeatedly called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” We’re so awful, according to Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, that although it might be ghoulish to mock us if we die of Covid, it’s necessary. After all, we’re just getting what we deserve.
Yet at least 40 percent of the country remains unvaccinated. You can’t just write off 130 million Americans as conspiracy theory-addled rubes, or decide it’s okay to dance on their graves if they die of Covid. That’s a recipe for a poisoned public discourse, and it’s fundamentally un-American.
Besides, one thing the omicron variant has made clear is that we’re going to have to learn to live with Covid, at least for a while. So it’s time for the vaccinated to try to understand the motivations of the unvaccinated, and learn to live with them, too, instead of incessantly scapegoating and demonizing them.
Why I Chose Not To Get A Vaccine — And Don’t Regret It
Like millions of other Americans, I chose not to get a Covid vaccine for a variety of reasons. Before I caught Covid, I knew that my age, fitness level, and medical history all put me in a very low-risk category for severe illness or hospitalization.
I also knew that, because the Covid vaccines have only been around for about a year, we don’t have any data on their long-term effects — but we do know about some of the risks they pose, especially to young people. In short, I concluded that the unknown risks of taking the vaccine were, in my case, greater than the known risks of catching Covid. That risk-benefit analysis will be different for everyone, but everyone needs to do it and come to his or her own decision.
Another factor for me was the contradictory and ever-shifting messaging about masks and lockdowns throughout 2020 that led me to question the honesty and competence of our public health experts and the pharmaceutical industrial complex. When the vaccines came out, the credibility of our experts was already in serious jeopardy. Things have since gotten much worse.
After I recovered from Covid, I was even more confident in my decision not to get a vaccine. Like the vast majority of healthy Americans who survive Covid, I gained natural antibodies that conferred a level of protection from future infection I otherwise couldn’t get, not even with two doses of the vaccine and a booster shot.
Here, too, the experts’ unwillingness to discuss or even acknowledge the existence of natural immunity made me deeply suspicious. Some 60 million Americans have now contracted Covid. Fewer than a million have died from it. That means, at a minimum, tens of millions of Americans have some level of natural immunity. Why isn’t that part of the conversation? Why doesn’t that seem to factor into any policy decisions, especially drastic ones that affect people’s livelihoods, like employer vaccine mandates?
Now we have the omicron variant, and everything we’ve learned about it thus far has confirmed my decision, along with tens of millions of other Americans, not to get vaccinated. It turns out Covid vaccines are not very effective against omicron, and whatever protection they do offer seems to drop sharply as vaccine-generated antibodies wane. Case numbers worldwide right now are at record levels, despite mass vaccination efforts across the globe and ever-increasing numbers of the vaccinated.
Indeed, omicron is now tearing through countries that have vaccination rates of 90 percent or more. The data so far suggest the best protection against omicron isn’t vaccination at all, but natural immunity from a previous infection.
One study in Qatar found that previous infection offered about 90 percent protection from symptomatic reinfection by earlier strains of Covid, and about 60 percent protection against reinfection from omicron. That’s far higher than the 37 percent effectiveness against omicron from two doses of an mRNA vaccine and a booster shot, according to a separate study in Ontario.
I hesitate, though, even to cite studies to support my argument, because in online Covid-world anyone can dig up counterfactual data or some other study (however shoddy or underpowered) to dispute any assertion about vaccine efficacy. As Cory Zue wrote in a long blog post last week, one of the problems with our Covid discourse right now is that science and data about the vaccines are “being used to affirm our previously-held beliefs, rather than help us see truth.”
And the truth is, every one of us has to make our own decision about the Covid vaccine, about what’s right for us and our families, assessing the risks and rewards for ourselves.
But whatever one believes about the vaccine, it’s getting hard now to maintain the position that the “way out” of the pandemic is through mass vaccination. In fact, mass vaccination might even prolong the pandemic, depending on how future variants react to fully-vaxxed immune systems that have had multiple booster shots in a relatively short timeframe.
If you want to get a vaccine and multiple booster shots, go ahead. That’s your decision. But I’ll never do it, especially now that I’ve had Covid. There are tens of millions of Americans like me, and we’re never going to change our minds. That’s something the rest of the country, at this point, is just going to have to accept.