Anti-Vaccine Insanity Is Sweeping Through Mobile, Alabama
People like me with illnesses are isolated and angry as the myth of Southern hospitality has given way to something much uglier, with just one in three adults here vaccinated.
I expected COVID-19 to bring fever, loss of taste, pneumonia, maybe a tube down my gullet. My anger, though, was unanticipated.
No, I haven’t contracted the disease, but it is consuming the world around me, faster than most places in the United States. Here in Mobile, Alabama, the virus’ more transmissible Delta variant has ravenously fed on the 69 percent of adults who have so far ducked vaccinations. On July 26, the county of just over 400,000 residents added another 499 cases to its tally, most with the Delta strain, most all unvaccinated. The next day was another 553 cases, then 472 the day after that. The seven-day average was the highest it has been, surpassing last winter’s peak.
The metro area surrounding Mobile Bay is Alabama’s COVID-19 hotbed. We’re also below the state’s vaccination average—the nation’s lowest—while leading in COVID-19 positivity at nearly 20 percent. Hospital beds are filling across the county.
If you’re stuck in this mess with lung disease, like me, there are added levels of concern and caution. Once vaccinated, most others weather breakthrough COVID-19 like a standard cold. My colds or flu often turn to bronchitis, then pneumonia and hospitalization.
That’s why I’m exasperated. It isn’t just a few recalcitrant misanthropes endangering me. Two out of every three adults here rebuke practicality and their responsibility as community members. They’re keeping COVID’s influence alive.
I assume they don’t know about smallpox, a disease that killed 30 percent of its victims. The first vaccine came in 1798 and once we made a concerted effort at wide-scale inoculation—mid-20th century kids lined up in school hallways to get hyper-jet injections—it was eradicated by 1980.
I guess the vax refusers don’t know about polio, either. It disabled 35,000 a year through the first half of the 20th century. Vaccines chased the debilitating and deadly illness out of the Americas by 1994. It disappeared in Europe in 2002. Polio survivors are among us—like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—but their sway seems absent in the current pandemic.
It’s more charitable to assign ignorance to anti-vaxxers. Otherwise, it means they don’t care how they imperil everyone else, including supposed loved ones, and that kind of pathology is worse than sheer oblivion.
I got a glimpse of promise during late spring’s pre-Delta window, that sweet spot after many of us got our vaccinations and before the more aggressive strain arrived. No more endless hours in confinement. Friends would be available for dinner, to laugh, and embrace. I could rejoin my active roles in organizations that inform, entertain, and magnify marginalized cultural components of our community. I could feel valuable again.
That window slammed shut in July, the latch locked by bitter socio-political division and ungrounded paranoia. Instead of feeling valuable, I simply feel spurned now.
Alienation comes easily in this place. My values and perspectives on society and politics seem mostly at odds with the extreme attitudes around me. I already endure widespread derision of the social safety net that supplies my medical coverage and hear calls for its eradication. Now, it feels like another target is drawn on my back as some of those same critics volunteer to incubate more lethal COVID-19 variants.
Public figures have tried to coerce and cajole more residents to roll up their sleeves. It had little effect. Neither did castigation.
Those around me generally eschew masks, even in crowded rooms. They demand everything continue in a pre-pandemic manner with no mask or vaccination mandates. Open schools. Flout caution. March everyone into epidemiological machine-gun fire. Politicians catered to the insanity by prohibiting private businesses from enforcing their own measures.
My wife’s boss chose this surge as the time to end her remote work option and return to the office. For the last 15 months, she isolated at home to guard against infection and my exposure. Today, she is sweating out her first day back where she claimed to be the only masked person in the office. She’s vaccinated, but the Delta variant can hitch a ride in her anyway.
Right now, too many anti-vaxxers are counting on us maskers and vaxxers to get rid of the disease for them. That’s freeloading while putting me and my loved ones at risk. How do I not grow angry at that?
This will accelerate when the region’s holiest season arrives next month as football players snap chinstraps and shoulder pads. Anti-vaxxers will crowd into high school and college stadiums. Come October, last winter’s deadly surge could seem paltry.
When it’s all done, many anti-vaxxers who survive will suffer far longer. COVID-19’s documented “long haul” effects—cardiomyopathy, lung scarring, brain fog—will add them to Alabama’s already sizable share of disabled residents.
People here pride themselves on stereotypes of hospitality, grace, and conscientiousness. I guess COVID-19 will kill that myth, too, since those who genuinely care about others don’t spread death through inaction.