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Crazy Vaccine Hesitancy

When I heard about the following story, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must be some kind of urban legend. Turns out this actually happened.

Earlier this fall, an 80 year old man woke up to find a bat biting his neck. The bat tested positive for rabies. The man was told that he needed to get the rabies vaccine since rabies has an extremely high mortality rate. There have been only a few cases where victims have survived, usually by putting their brains into a coma. Those patients were young and suffered neurological damage afterwards. Death by rabies is pretty horrific. My grandfather’s little sister was attacked by a rabid dog when she was 4. She died of rabies and the experience left such an impression on my grandfather that 80 years later when he had to put his dog down after it was attached by a rabid raccoon, he had flashbacks and was still upset about it like it was yesterday.

In other words, if you get bitten by a rabid bat, you will die without the rabies vaccine.

Nevertheless, the man refused the vaccine. I don’t know why he refused but I can’t imagine being more afraid of a vaccine than the absolute certainty of a terrible death in a relatively short period of time.

A month after the bite, he died of rabies.

The anti-vax people have really messed with our ability to control disease. Conspiracy theories are extremely difficult to disprove because nothing is 100% certain. We live with uncertainty. Some of us are more comfortable with gray areas and probabilities and some of us aren’t. The conspiracists prey on that discomfort with uncertainty. But when it comes to rabies, there’s really no uncertainty. Rabies will kill you. A rabies vaccine will save your life.

Covid is a little more nuanced. It’s more like playing Russian Roulette. You may not get it. You may get it and not get sick. You may get sick but not need hospitalization. Or you may get sick and die. If you get the vaccine, your symptoms after infection have been shown to be mild compared to partially and unvaccinated people. If you don’t get vaccinated, it’s like spinning that barrel and pulling the trigger.

I’ve been following the Covid numbers in Pennsylvania during the Delta variant. PA is experiencing a hot zone of sorts. The cases in Allegheny county are pretty steady. We aren’t having a spike so much as a persistent slow burn through the unvaccinated. But in the Trump counties in PA, the spikes are real and should be alarming. In places like York, Westmoreland and Butler counties the population is experiencing almost as many cases per day per county as we have here in much more populated Allegheny county. Deaths are much more highly concentrated among unvaccinated patients who are 65 years old and older.

I got my Covid Pfizer booster and flu shots last night at my local CVS. I was told I’ll feel crappy today. But so far, I only have mild soreness in my upper arm, just like I had with my first Pfizer vaccines. I expect I’ll have a little more reaction from the flu shot in the next couple of days. To ME, the mild reactions associated with ramping up my immune system is a billion percent better than being sick. I hate being sick. I hate the fevers and aches and fatigue and coughing up lung butter. It’s an easy decision.

I have no idea what is going through the heads of people who have had rabid animal bites or love playing Russian Roulette.