Sarah DeVries
Health workers being vaccinated in Guadalajara earlier this month. Health workers being vaccinated in Guadalajara earlier this month.

Please accept your vaccine so all our lives can go back to normal

Inoculation is our communities’ pathway out of this pandemic

The vaccines are here!

Well, the vaccines are coming, still, in fits and spurts. But hey, I’ll take it — better than nothing, right?

During a period in which nearly every country has been criticized for its handling of the pandemic, Mexico has unfortunately come out as one of the lowest-performing countries of them all. The country’s lack of testing and contact tracing are surely partly to blame for the incredibly high infection and death rate.

And while the “official” numbers are already quite high at 2 million cases, researchers from the National Autonomous University of México estimate that it’s likely closer to 17.81 million, and possibly as high as 53.43 million, which is a sizable percentage of the overall population of nearly 130 million.

I’d add that a nonchalant attitude about the pandemic from President López Obrador and absolutely zero meaningful economic help in Mexico to the many who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own are to blame as well. After all, most people cannot afford to simply “stay home” indefinitely. Rent, bills, food — they all still cost money, and no one has been relieved of their responsibility to pay them.

But the arrival of vaccines, even if there are fewer than we’d expected later than we’d expected, is good news. The country seems to have arranged as well for the next in line to be older adults in marginalized rural communities. This makes sense. Given the number of vaccines available right now, we can get those without much access to health care vaccinated first. Good plan, Mexico.

In the meantime, many of my older paisanos, many in larger urban communities, are anxiously awaiting their own appointments to be vaccinated. I was happy to read about this in my various WhatsApp groups but started to feel nervous when some others stated that they wouldn’t be getting a vaccine even if given the chance.

That’s when I remembered: not everyone wants them. And that scares me.

Individuals, of course, have a choice about whether or not to be administered a vaccine. On their side of the argument is personal autonomy: no one has the right to force them to do something with their body that they don’t want to do. OK, fine.

But vaccines aren’t just about individual bodies. By their very nature, vaccines are about public health. One person deciding not to get a vaccine will probably not affect others all that much. Indeed, some people truly cannot have vaccines because of health issues.

Both of those groups who don’t receive them depend on the herd immunity (on a medical level, anyway) of the rest of the population in order to avoid illness. But only one of those groups depends on herd immunity because they must. And if over 40% of the people in these combined groups — and it likely only needs to be a much lower percentage — wind up not getting the vaccine, we might as well all hunker down into our current way of life for years because we won’t have enough herd immunity to not be overtaken by the coronavirus in its current form, as well as all the variants that will be given free rein. When we’re not hunkering down, perhaps we could start digging more graves; we’d need them.

Though I’ve asked, I still don’t quite understand the arguments that individuals have for refusing vaccines, especially when we’re facing a global pandemic that has turned our world upside down. Usually, something is said about not wanting certain harmful chemicals in their bodies. I’ve also heard many who feel wary about the “vested interests” that vaccine promoters have in “big pharma,” to which I say, “Are we really that cynical now?”

I know the answer is yes, but yikes. Apparently, the degree to which these arguments have been debunked (there are many currently regarding Dr. Anthony Fauci, medical advisor to the U.S. president) is unimportant, as average citizens “do their own research,” a phrase that indicates that the speaker believes in some grand conspiracy; that sends my contempt through the roof.

You know who really does their own research? Doctors, in medical school, for many years. Following Facebook-meme rabbit holes down to their increasingly wild “sources” does not count as “doing research,” OK?

What would it take for people to trust again?

I won’t lie. I just hate that the antivaccine movement is considered an equally reasonable point of view. If the safety of vaccines were truly up for debate, there would be plenty of doctors speaking out against them, unless you believe that all doctors are cynics who are just in medicine for the money and who don’t believe in helping people at all.

Also, we have processes in place specifically to address safety concerns to ensure that vaccines are as safe as possible and do their job to protect people — individually and collectively — from disease. Again, some people cannot get them, and that’s fine. But when people refuse to get them because they’re focusing on the minuscule possibility that vaccines will hurt them individually rather than on the much more likely probability that they’ll help the general health of their community, it really upsets me.

Getting a vaccine is an act of love, not only for oneself but for one’s community.

The other people in the WhatsApp group tried to be kind and accommodating to those who said they didn’t want the Covid vaccine, making a show of respecting their points of view so as not to cause a rift; that’s just what polite people do when they want to maintain group cohesion. I simply went silent.

I know better than to try to go up against someone who’s absolutely decided that they’re being persecuted because of their beliefs, a stance for which I have zero patience when it comes to public health. I just wish I could figure out a formula to convince them to take what they consider a risk (yet is actually not) for the good of the rest.

One person was very clever with her argument: she likened being forced to receive a vaccine to being forced to stay pregnant. I won’t lie; that initially stopped me in my tracks. But choosing to carry on with a pregnancy or not does not affect the health of those around you. Choosing not to get vaccinated for a disease that has already killed millions of people, however, that poses a very real danger if enough people choose that as their route.

Please, please, get vaccinated if you are able to. We’re all counting on each other, and the faster that as many of us as possible get immunized, the faster this will be over.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.

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