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The logic of the squishy anti-vaxxer

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I found this interview in Slate with a 39-year-old Georgia woman who isn’t vaccinated against COVID pretty fascinating. (She has three teenaged children who she hasn’t taken to be vaccinated, although at least one of them clearly wants to be. Her husband is in the military and was therefore required to get a COVID vaccine).

The fascinating part is that she claims to be pro-vaccine in all other contexts, plus she acknowledges straight up that her concerns about the COVID vaccine are basically irrational, but still she won’t get vaccinated, at least not yet:

I’m not saying that I won’t ever get them vaccinated. We might go next weekend. I’m just super hesitant because I wish that there was just a little more time in between the research and the distribution. I did read an article about how scientists had been researching these kinds of vaccines for a long time, which is why they produced it as quickly as they did. But when it’s your kids, it’s easy not to be logical. It’s an emotional decision.

Every time that I’ve really felt comfortable in saying “Yeah, let’s definitely do this,” I’d look in our area where, even if you had gotten the vaccine, everybody still had to wear the masks. So there was really not even a reward for getting the vaccine. What makes me concerned is wondering: What if 10 years from now there’s some kind of weird side effect? I think [the side effect I’ve heard of] was just really Johnson & Johnson, when they were having the blood clots and stuff like that, and from what I gather, it was a tiny percentage. Other than that? I haven’t even heard of any. Like I said, it’s not logical. I totally know that.

I usually find these type of “I’m a mom so I get to be a moron because you know feelings!” narratives exasperating, but this one was strangely compelling somehow. Basically, the whole thing is just a series of nonsensical rationalizations — which she acknowledges! — for procrastination:

Recently, I took my oldest, the 19-year-old, to a doctor’s appointment, and I inquired about where we could get the vaccine. I don’t know if maybe they had run out, but they pretty much just referred us—“You could go to Walmart and get the vaccine.” Really, if they had been like, “Yeah, come right down in here,” me and my oldest probably would’ve got it that day. To be honest with you, I’d have no problems getting it for myself. I’m just busy, and it’s not worth me having to go out of my way to get it. If they showed up [at my work] with the COVID shot, I would take it for myself. So this whole conversation, it has nothing to do with being against the COVID shot. I’m just leery with the COVID shot with my children.

Another striking thing here is the complete lack of any sense of social obligation: She’s just too lazy to get vaccinated herself, she has concerns about the vaccine and her kids which she repeatedly acknowledges have no rational basis, but the fact that not getting vaccinated makes her and them more likely to infect other people is never anywhere on the radar screen.

Plus we have the act/omission distinction:

In my generation as a parent, you’ve had to listen to people talk about how vaccines cause autism, which is not true. You’ve always heard this bad feeling from a small community, but you can’t help—especially as a parent of somebody with autism—you can’t help but maybe have that little seed of doubt. You know it’s total bullcrap, you know that it is. But anytime something new is introduced to your child, you do have a worry.

Vaccinating your child is doing something to your child, but not vaccinating your child is not doing something. Or something.

Less facetiously, the interview illustrates how moral panics affect even people who consciously reject them: She knows it’s all nonsense, but still think of the children and maintaining their purity of essence. Of course the unspoken key here is that this is probably a white woman married to a career military man living in Georgia, so Republican much? (Politics are never mentioned anywhere interestingly). And that’s the background condition that makes all this happen — if this woman had gotten an unambiguous message from her tribal leaders that she should get vaccinated, she would have gotten her lazy ass to Walgreens months ago.

But she’s been given plenty of reasons — reasons she realizes are bogus but that doesn’t seem to make much difference — to rationalize her procrastination, so here she is and here we are.

The good news is that people like this are ultimately reachable via incentives, so we’ve got to hope that a significant minority of the 21% of American adults who remain completely unvaccinated are in this or closely related mental and political categories — unlike say a football coach who lights millions of dollars on fire as a matter of Principle.

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