Just Get the Vaccines
Up until about one month ago, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, my two sons, a third grader and a first grader, were not in school. While I understood that a once-every-100-years pandemic requires some drastic measures and therefore supported turning school virtual last spring, overwhelming evidence showed that opening schools in the fall was not only safe but in fact essential, considering the emotional, physical and mental toll children suffered from being out of school, particularly small children like mine. (And particularly underprivileged children.) My local school system took longer to come around on these basic scientific facts than I would have liked them to, so, starting last August, I began tracking the daily rolling average of positive Covid-19 cases in my state and my county so that I, and other parents, could have the information necessary to advocate for our children and our schools. This routine served as a daily reminder of where we are in this pandemic, when it has been at its worst, when it has slowed, when we have been more scared than we needed to be, when we thought we were out of the woods and were wrong.
I’m grateful to have my children back in school now, safely, but I still check the numbers every day. The numbers — thanks to vaccines, mask-wearing and, sadly, the high percentage of people who have already been infected — are as low as they have ever been. But today, when I logged on for my daily update, I was greeted with this message:
The primary discussion today, in the wake of the FDA’s decision to endorse pausing all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations because of exceedingly rare instances of blood clotting in women aged 18–49 —”exceedingly rare” being six out of six million shots — has been whether or not the FDA is properly assessing risk management, and vaccine skepticism, by stopping J&J shots. Perhaps most vocal about the folly of the FDA’s decision was FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver.
Silver has taken considerable heat for his Tweets, though most of them seem to be of the same, “you’re not a doctor, so you don’t get to have an opinion on anything” variety that foolishly kept my kids out of school for several months. Claiming that Silver has no specific authority on this is particularly odd considering that his entire area of expertise is in the worlds of probability, risk and public messaging. The FDA itself is saying that there have only been six cases of blood clots in six million doses of the J&J vaccine, which, obviously, pales in comparison to the odds of serious illness or death from, you know, getting Covid-19. This is on the heels of rigorous testing, and also in the wake of increasing vaccine hesitance and disinformation online. The vaccines are safe, effective and, frankly, rather obviously the only way out of this pandemic, considering how much this country (and of course so many others) failed every test at trying to contain it before vaccines arrived to save the day.
Thus Silver’s frustration seems entirely sane, prudent and even important. Do you want things to return to some semblance of what they were before? Then get a vaccine. The best way, by a wide margin, to make sure you do not get sick is to get a vaccine. Every single bit of public messaging, from the White House to major corporations to every state’s government, is pushing vaccines, vaccines, vaccines. With good reason!
So why, then, would the Georgia Department of Health, which, again, has been begging me and everyone I know to get vaccines for months now, have this:
atop their Website? That’s not even a vaccine Website!
That’s what the FDAs move did. “Out of an abundance of caution,” they put unnecessary fear and hesitance into an atmosphere that was already teeming with far too much vaccine skepticism. Avoiding vaccines will cost lives, and that’s what the pause did: It encouraged people already avoiding vaccines to continue to do so. It is thus unquestionable that their decision will cost lives. This is particularly frustrating because the J&J vaccine isn’t even one of the most prevalent vaccines: It has only been administered to roughly 6 percent of all those who have been vaccinated. But that’s not what people will hear. They’ll see what they saw atop that Website: ALERT. ALERT. UNSAFE. It will kill people. And it will keep us in this current purgatory even longer.
This muddled public messaging is exactly what Silver and company are justifiably raging against. There is only one public message that makes sense right now, and you can make it very clearly:
The safest thing you can do for you and the people you love is to get a vaccine. Any infinitesimal risk of a side effect from the vaccine pales in comparison to the risk you take from not getting the vaccine. You are more likely to be killed driving to the grocery store — to be killed sitting in your own home, watching television — than you are to be killed from the vaccine. Get the vaccine. Get the vaccine. Get the vaccine.
Until the messaging is that simple and clear, we’re going to remain in this current period. There are going to be some people who will never get the vaccine. There is nothing you can do about them. Everyone else just wants to be safe. The safest thing you can do is get the vaccine. Any message other than that hurts everyone. Every message other than that makes us less safe.
So, for everyone in the back: Get the vaccine. Please. Was that clear enough?
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.