It happened. I finally found myself in a direct confrontation with an anti-vaxxer. I am sorry to report that I did not comport myself in a ladylike fashion.
It’s long been my general policy to keep my deepest opinions and beliefs to myself, because I hate conflict. I hate arguments. I hate debates. I don’t even want to hear a rumor of that kind of thing happening between other people on topics that I don’t care about.
I don’t see the point of it at all. Nobody involved is going to change their mind, so why bother?
This whole concept of “owning” someone, also, I find confusing, weird, and distasteful. Who keeps score? Who is the umpire? Who ultimately tallies the points and adjudicates who lost or won, who “owns” whom?
Despite all this, I recognize that I am sometimes seen as an argumentative person. I think this is because I don’t agree with mainstream views on a lot of things. This is why I’ve become pretty secretive about most of my opinions.
All that went out the window when I realized that this person, whom I know quite well, has no intention of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
When I say “know quite well,” I mean I know her life story, her major traumas, beefs with people at her old job, names of her pets, where she keeps stuff in her house, what color her kids are dyeing their hair this week, what her tattoo means, favorite movies, why she picked her degree program, and all that sort of thing.
It’s surprising how well you can know someone in some ways, and yet also not know them at all in others.
This is how the conversation broke down.
Me: “I can’t wait to get the vaccine.”
Me: “What, you’re not getting it?”
Her: [slowly shaking head from side to side]
Me: “Okay, we need to change the subject because I can’t talk to you about this.”
Her: “I know...”
She told me she wasn’t anti-vaxx - most vaccine-hesitant people will say the same - she just “wanted to wait to find out the long-term effects.”
What, like, forty years from now??
I replied, “I still have neurological problems and heart problems and breathing problems ten months after I was exposed. You think a vaccine is going to do something worse to you than all that??”
She made an elegant shrug.
My heart was absolutely hammering in my chest at this point. My hands started to shake.
This sort of thing really, really gets to me. I realize that my personal emotional reaction is mine alone, and that not everybody in my situation would react the same way. What I’m hearing, time and time again, is that people basically do not believe me when I share my experience.
Either they don’t think that what I said was true, or they simply and utterly do not care.
Or maybe they believe me and they care, but they genuinely feel that what happened to me can’t happen to them or to anyone they know, so it is not a valid data point.
Which is super weird because the thing that happened to me has already killed over two million people and infected over a hundred million around the world. It’s not like I’m trying to stand out as some kind of fluke.
I know that reporting facts to people does not work. Worse than that, it backfires. It makes people dig in their heels and double down on their commitment to their false belief. Nobody likes to be fact-checked.
Even though I knew it was a bad idea, I was flooding. My body had stress chemicals pouring all through it. I didn’t have a good sense of how to exit the conversation politely and keep my mouth shut.
I started asking questions.
I tried not to!
I tried to stop myself!
Did you vaccinate your kids? Weren’t you vaccinated when you were a kid? It was fine, right? You get your tetanus shot, right?
So twenty million people have gotten the vaccine already...
[same slow head shake again]
How about after a hundred million?
[shaking head again]
You said you’re worried about the long-term effects. [painstakingly trying to bring my cortisol levels down by putting on history-lecture voice] The human lifespan has doubled in the past two hundred years. That includes the timespan when vaccines were introduced. That’s deaths from all causes, including car accidents and heart attacks and cancer and everything. So if vaccines were causing long-term negative health effects, average lifespan would have decreased, not increased.
I paused, having surprised myself, because I had never thought of this particular angle before.
Then she said, “I realize I’m being irrational.”
...wait. Is this strategy... actually working??
“Okay, what if someone you trust gets it, would that help you feel safe? What about [her husband], what if he got it?”
She had mentioned that her husband was planning to get the vaccine, and, though they have three kids and they’ve been together since high school, he was surprised to hear that she was hesitant.
She went so far as to say that if her husband got the shot, and he was okay, then she would consider it.
I think the emotional scale goes somewhat along these lines:
Full-on saboteur, single-point-of-focus influencer, denial, refusal, hesitance, reluctance, anxiety, compliance, enthusiasm, vaccine booster. There are probably only a few individuals on the sabotage end of the scale. Most people who aren’t lining up for the shot yet are probably in the range of hesitance through anxiety.
It’s quite possible that with enough personal examples and gentle coaxing, many of these nervous people could be nudged up a rung and might be willing to get this shot, just as they probably got a dozen vaccinations in childhood.
I used to be a flu shot refuser. I had all my booster shots in childhood, and it was fine, and I have read a bunch of huge fat epidemiology books, and I know the science. I just had needle phobia and I didn’t want to go. Every time I had to get a shot I would get dizzy and have to put my head between my knees.
I learned to move past that. I embraced the flu shot after I saw it work firsthand. My husband got the shot and I didn’t, and I got the flu and he didn’t. The next year, I got my flu shot, even though I had a massive dizzy spell afterward and was shaky for the next half hour. It wasn’t anything in the needle, it was just my own fearful self and my unhelpful emotions taking over for a while.
Phobias can be beat.
I even think that pseudoscience can be beat.
It’s just that it will probably take compassion, and tact, and the slow patience of praxis.
I blew up at my friend, but she kept talking to me, and maybe budged a little, and we’re still friends and we still talk almost every day.
If she gets her shot, I’ll cry, and I’ll send her a bouquet.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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