Americans are still dying because of people still unwilling to take COVID-19 seriously

Americans are still dying because of people still unwilling to take COVID-19 seriously

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I wrote about a longtime friend, “Kathleen,” who learned—on Halloween, of all days—that she had a severely damaged liver. According to her doctor, the likely culprits were cancer or complications from four bouts with COVID-19. Despite being fully vaccinated, Kathleen was still at risk for COVID, due to having Type 1 diabetes. 

The fact that Kathleen and her family found themselves even having to ask whether COVID was to blame was nothing short of obscene. After all, she hailed from a Deep South state where, with few exceptions, people act like it’s 2019. A few days after she got the initial diagnosis of liver damage, Kathleen decided she wasn’t going to undergo chemotherapy if it was cancer, or undergo a transplant if it was COVID. The latter option would have left her future contingent on paying for the powerful anti-rejection drugs she would have needed to take for the rest of her life. But Kathleen told me that she just wasn’t willing to deal with the pain and feeling constantly drained.

Two weeks ago, I learned that Kathleen died on the night of Nov. 24—just before my post about her ordeal and those of others who are high-risk or immunocompromised went live. The possibility that she may have died because people weren’t willing to take simple steps to keep those around them safe had me so angry that it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to find the words to express it in a way that wouldn’t get me booted from social media.

RELATED: For those who are high risk, the pandemic is far from over

We got a rather jarring reminder that COVID is still with us on Dec. 8, when the CDC recommended masking up if you’re in an area with high community spread.

According to the agency’s latest weekly report, areas with high community spread include New York City, Long Island, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, among other places. But the high-risk, the immunocompromised, and those who can’t—rather than won’t—get vaccinated knew long before the announcement that we were entering the fourth year of this pandemic.

While scrolling through the comments on my earlier story, I was stunned by the number of people who have remained shut in for the better part of the past three years. I look at those comments and think about the people who refuse to get vaccinated and I seethe.

There are people who are no longer able to live their lives—all because those around them aren’t willing to get over themselves and get vaccinated. I suspect that was at least part of Kathleen’s calculus when she ultimately decided to let things take their course. Either chemo or a transplant would have likely left her shut in for years because, to put it in the most diplomatic terms I can use, too many people around her were too damn selfish.

I know of a few people who have refused to get vaccinated, even after having bouts with COVID themselves. Do they realize that they’re not just endangering themselves, but people like Kathleen who are at high risk for things breaking bad if they catch COVID? People like them, and others, are why when I heard that Kathleen had died, I wanted to scream.

Situations like this are why I, albeit reluctantly, believed that we should have implemented vaccine mandates in 2021. As drastic as this might have been, a vaccine mandate would have been far and away the least invasive way to protect our nation against COVID. That’s not just me saying it: Even Alan Dershowitz was of a similar view when he sat down with Larry King in June 2020.

Dershowitz pointed out that the government would be well within its rights to mandate an effective vaccine to protect against another “Typhoid Mary.” He cited a 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which upheld states’ authority to mandate vaccines.

RELATED: COVID-19 fears are keeping people out of the workforce, in a stereotype-busting way

One might think that the Roberts Court would be inclined to overturn that precedent, given how tilted it now is to the right. But in August 2021, Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned down an emergency appeal from Indiana University students seeking an exemption from a vaccine mandate. Tellingly, Barrett denied the appeal without even asking Indiana officials for comment, or referring it to her colleagues for further discussion—as SCOTUSBlog put it, it was a sign “that she and the other justices did not regard it as a particularly close case.” And this, from the woman who openly declared that Antonin Scalia’s “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”

My friend Kathleen was, quite possibly, another brutal example of how COVID is not just about the deaths and short-term impact. It’s as much, if not more, about the debilitating complications that can be brought on when this virus sends your immune system into overdrive. The fact that her family even had to ask that question—Could COVID have destroyed her liver?—is yet more proof that we are dealing with a moral failing.

RELATED: The good, bad, and good news on COVID-19 and long COVID

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