Listen to medical professionals, not social media. Get the shot: Ted Diadiun

CLEVELAND — If you read nothing else today, or this week, or this month, read the following op-ed that was published in The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday:

Its headline: “As a doctor in a COVID unit, I’m running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Get the shot.” The op-ed can be found at this link:

Don’t even finish reading this column. Stop right now, follow the link, and read that, instead. It could prompt you to save your life, or the life of someone you love.

The powerful piece was written by Anita Sircar, an infectious disease physician and clinical instructor of health sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, and it ought to be required reading for every American who is either unvaccinated, or knows somebody who is unvaccinated – which describes just about all of us.

Despite the headline, it is more a cry of frustration than one of anger; more a plea for people to open their eyes than a statement of indifference. Sircar writes from the perspective of someone who has watched too many people die who didn’t have to, for one reason only:

They didn’t get the anti-COVID vaccine when they had the chance.

She builds her message around an encounter with a desperately ill patient – husband and father to a young family – in her hospital’s emergency room. The man told her that he and his wife had decided not to get the vaccine because they didn’t want to be “the government’s guinea pig,” and wanted at least to wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue final approval for the vaccines.

That’s when Sircar’s compassion morphed into barely suppressed anger.

“I can pretty much guarantee we would have never met had you gotten vaccinated, because you would have never been hospitalized,” she says she told him.

“All of our COVID units are full and every single patient in them is unvaccinated. Numbers don’t lie. The vaccines work.”

That unhappy statistic is being replicated in hospitals all over the country, but still, almost half the population refuses to get the vaccine, for reasons that range from mistrust of the government to the bizarre to the undereducated.

There is a meme going around on Facebook that shows two photos – one of the tattooed forearm of a Holocaust survivor, and the other of an arm adorned by a wristband containing proof that the wearer has been vaccinated.

Accompanying them was this: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Trying to fathom how anyone could compare Nazi death camp tattoos to a bracelet proving you’ve been vaccinated lies beyond my ability to understand the far reaches of the human psyche. But I can tell you that if I owned a business, vaccination would be a condition of employment, and I don’t think that makes me Adolf Hitler.

Conspiracy theories advanced by, among others, Emerald Robinson of the conservative website Newsmax, hold that Bill Gates is plotting to inject microchips in vaccines to track people. This is apparently pegged to a prediction Gates made a few months ago, that there will eventually be digital certificates showing who has been vaccinated, or recovered from the virus.

That theory has generated a certain amount of hilarity.

As Bruce Y. Lee wrote in Forbes, using that comment to conflate Gates, digital technology and COVID into a nefarious plot is sort of like “claiming that whenever you use the words ‘squirrel’ and “nuts” in the same sentence, you must be referring to squirrel genitals.”

And Slate’s politics editor Tom Scocca observed, pointing out that your cellphone already does an excellent job of tracking you, “Bill Gates doesn’t have to implant a tracker in you because Steve Jobs got you to buy one yourself.”

But there’s nothing funny about the fact that so many seem to believe that tracking devices are being slipped into their bloodstream for nefarious means by people who are actually trying to save their lives, or the comparison between the Holocaust and the efforts by some to protect themselves from those who refuse the vaccinations.

“Cutting-edge, revolutionary, mind-blowing, lifesaving vaccines were available where people shopped for groceries,” Sircar wrote in dismay, “and they still didn’t want them.”

I’ve still got a card that says “Polio Pioneer.”

On the front it says I got it for taking part as a grade schooler in the first national tests of a trial polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. Thank God there were no social media in 1954 to frighten my parents away from doing the sensible thing and having me participate.

Not that they would have been. We had a neighbor named Jerry with whom I used to make and play with those Revell model car kits. Then one day he wasn’t there anymore. I heard the dreaded words “polio” and “iron lung.” I never saw Jerry again.

So enlisting me as a Polio Pioneer was an easy call for my parents. They weren’t offering me up as a guinea pig. They were saving my life.

Just as the COVID vaccine is an easy call today. It’s an I.Q. test, folks.

“The burden of this pandemic now rests on the shoulders of the unvaccinated,” Sircar wrote. “On those who are eligible to get vaccinated, but choose not to. … perhaps never in history has anyone’s personal choice impacted the world as a whole as it does right now. When hundreds and thousands of people continue to die, when the most vulnerable members of society, our children, cannot be vaccinated — the luxury of choice ceases to exist.”

I have the luxury of not having to live with what Dr. Sircar sees every day, so I’m not at the point of lacking compassion for the unvaccinated who put themselves and others at risk. There are too many people I love and respect who, for reasons that make sense to them, refuse to protect themselves.

I don’t want to deny people insurance coverage because they won’t get the shot, as some have suggested. I don’t want unvaccinated people turned away from ICU units.

I just want them to start listening to the overwhelming crescendo from medical professionals, rather than to social media mistruths and conspiracy theories.

You might be wondering about that patient Sircar mentioned. He died nine days after their conversation.

“If you believe the pandemic is almost over and you can ride it out without getting vaccinated, you could not be more wrong,” she wrote. “This virus will find you.”

She’s right.

Get the shot.

Ted Diadiun is a member of the editorial board of and The Plain Dealer.

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