The latest terrible pandemic trend? Vaccine hypocrites

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

The hottest summer accessories for people who don’t want to die a horrible death but are ashamed to admit it? A wig and dark glasses. It has been reported that some people in Missouri, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US, are wearing disguises to their vaccine appointments because they are terrified their anti-vaxxer friends and family might find out that they are protecting themselves from a deadly virus. A local healthcare provider has even started advertising “discreet” appointments for people who want to keep their shot secret. “If you are afraid of walking into a public area where you might be seen getting your vaccine, we will work to accommodate even more of a private setting for you to receive your vaccine,” Ozarks Healthcare said in a statement.

So this is the latest inane chapter of the culture wars, eh? Vaccines have become so politicised that the US is now having to provide safe spaces for people worried that they will be ostracised by their peers for believing in science. I would love to say I feel sympathy towards these people, but the seemingly never-ending pandemic has drained me of patience; stories like this just make me irate. If I were a pharmacist at that Missouri hospital, I would be tempted to grab the stealth-vaccinators by their collars and scream: “FACTS DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR IGNORANT FRIENDS’ FEELINGS!” (You can see why I have never successfully worked in a customer-facing environment.) There are millions of people around the world who don’t have access to a vaccine and would proudly get one. Treating a lifesaving shot like a dirty little secret is the height of privilege.

Of course, the people who have been brainwashed into thinking that vaccines are evil aren’t the real problem. The real problem is the people who are doing the brainwashing. A fair few of them, I would wager, have been vaccinated themselves, but are stoking fear about the jabs because of culture war capitalism. Who cares about the truth, after all, when polarisation can be so profitable?

Take the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for example, who has been a key figure in fuelling vaccine hesitancy – a routine he seems to think helps his ratings. If he truly believed the nonsense he spouts, you would think he would be proud to advertise his own unvaccinated status. But, no, Carlson refuses to clarify whether he has had a shot or not. Worse, he feigns outrage about “supervulgar questions like that”. When a Time reporter raised the issue, he asked her what her favourite sexual position was and when she last engaged in it. Clearly chuffed with that false equivalence, he lobbed a similar question to a New York Times reporter who asked about his vaccination status.

The Republican congresswoman and QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene is similarly cagey (but thankfully less sexual) on the subject. While she is happy to spread vaccine misinformation, she won’t say explicitly whether or not she has chosen to get a shot. Instead, she told a reporter who asked whether she had been vaccinated that the question was a violation of her “Hipaa rights”. You see, she explained, “with Hipaa rights, we don’t have to reveal our medical records – and that also involves our vaccine records”. I won’t bore you with the details of the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but Greene’s interpretation of it is incorrect.

While I have no way of knowing her vaccination status, I wouldn’t be surprised if Greene were a Hipaa-crite who got herself protected as soon as she could, yet rails against the vaccine because she knows that this is what her base wants to hear. Depressing, isn’t it? If only there were a vaccine to protect us from self-interested politicians.

• Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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