The year’s end has always carried great symbolism. It signifies a time for rest, reflection and of course, resolutions.
In an article from Psychology Today, author David Ropeik writes that New Year’s resolutions are “examples of the universal human desire to have some control over what lies ahead, because the future is unsettlingly unknowable.”
After nearly two years of pandemic life, that statement rings true more than ever. It’s hard to predict what 2022 will bring. Unlike last year, we now have vaccinations and boosters readily available to provide a path forward. But these remedies are only effective if people are willing to receive them.
To say we’re all tired, frustrated and burned out by the pandemic would be a gross understatement.
But the virus isn’t going away on its own. Only we have the power to expedite its demise.
In the 18th century, the first smallpox vaccine was developed. Only after widespread implementation, was it finally eradicated in 1979 (Source: IMAC). From smallpox and rabies to HIV and influenza, viruses have been, and always will be, an inherent part of human life.
“There are more viruses than stars in the universe,” writes science journalist Katherine J. Wu in an article for National Geographic. “Viruses infiltrate every aspect of our natural world.” Despite this, humans are able to live relatively free of illness — but there are exceptions.
In 1918, the H1N1 flu pandemic (a.k.a. the “Spanish flu”) infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, about one-third of the planet’s population, and killed approximately 50 million (Source: CDC). Back then, there was no vaccine — or hope — for survival.
But thanks to modern medicine, past research, and global cooperation for development, a vaccine for COVID-19 was made possible in under a year. And while no treatment is 100% safe or effective (because each person’s body reacts differently), the vaccine, along with the booster, is by far the best defense we have against coronavirus and its many variants.
And yet, people still aren’t vaccinated.
In a Healthline article, experts say that the unvaccinated are the leading reason why coronavirus variants are emerging. Which means the unvaccinated are not only putting themselves more at risk, but everyone else — including those who are vaccinated.
A public health article in Boston University’s The Brink, cites that much of the hesitancy is due to vaccine misinformation which spreads easily and quickly, especially through social media.
For eligible people who are intentionally choosing not to get vaccinated, the harsh reality is this:
You are responsible for impeding our return to a post-pandemic life.
In turn, your unwillingness to do your part (which is also to your own benefit), is unnecessarily prolonging our collective misery.
The Church of England’s most senior official, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, recently spoke out in favor of getting fully vaccinated and boosted, positioning it as a moral issue:
“It’s not about me and my rights to choose — it’s about how I love my neighbor.” (Source: The Hill)
Additionally, President Joe Biden told Americans it’s our patriotic duty to get vaccinated, stating it’s “an obligation to yourselves, to your family, and frankly… to your country.” (Source: The Independent)
It seems like such a simple thing to do, especially in this season of goodwill.
And even though the message of neighborly love is promoted year-round in our schools, places of worship, and communities, we’re failing to put this sentiment into real, meaningful action.
Let’s face it, most people, especially Americans, don’t like being told what to do. This stubbornness (typically misconstrued as a right to free will), combined with incessant misinformation, is how we’ve wound up in a baffling reality where people adamantly reject a life-saving vaccine.
To the dismay of many, but particularly scientists, the vaccine has also become politicized (Source: NCBI).
In my essay, The Reckoning, I discuss how a steady stream of hate and division has been chipping away at the moral fabric of our nation for the last few years. A lack of common sense, empathy and compassion is making us lose sight of what it means to be a good, responsible citizen. Attributes that should be a given, regardless of political affiliation.
In an article for the Washington Post, a poll shows that 60% of Republicans remain unvaccinated with only three percent of those people seeing the vaccine as a responsibility centered on helping others.
Not long ago, Big Bird from Sesame Street, was condemned by Texas senator Ted Cruz and other conservatives for advocating COVID-19 vaccinations for children (Source: The Guardian). And in a rare turn of events, former vaccine skeptic Donald Trump was publicly booed by his supporters for revealing he received the COVID booster (Source: The Week).
What does it say about our society when a beloved children’s show character is demonized for promoting general health, safety and well-being? What happens when a former president who repeatedly lied about the global pandemic, downplaying its severity, can no longer persuade his supporters to believe otherwise? (Source: The Atlantic)
Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci sums it up best: “By allowing yourself to get infected or not caring if you do get infected, you are propagating a pandemic,” he states in an interview with WebMD.
“You’re part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution.”
Willful ignorance. Denial of facts. Politicizing public health. These choices, along with a conscious refusal to do what’s best for the common good, is what’s particularly difficult to come to terms with as we close out another long, challenging year.
American individualism, which often manifests itself in sheer obstinance, certainly plays a large role in the travesty we’ve found ourselves in. This self-centered approach is particularly paradoxical during the holidays.
“Each year around this time, I find it more difficult to balance the awful things we see happening the rest of the year with the joy I’m supposed to drum up near the end of it,” states writer Brian Broome in a recent opinion essay for Washington Post.
“With age, it’s harder for me to reconcile the goodwill we’re supposed to feel toward each other at the holidays with the horrible way we treat each other the rest of the year.”
Indeed, I’m struggling with the same thoughts. But I believe we can get ourselves out of this ordeal, or at least move closer in the right direction, if we make a deliberate decision to do so. And what better time than the holiday season to make joy, kindness and helping others a top priority.
As we usher in the new year ahead, in lieu of setting resolutions, let’s set a single intention to do our part to get our health, this country, and the world back on track.
Now that would be something worth celebrating.