Anna Lee ‘24
On Oct. 21, 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement urging booster shots “for those who are 18 and older and who were vaccinated two or more months ago” (CDC Newsroom). After the usual recitation of medical and scientific benefits, the CDC dedicated a brief paragraph to the unvaccinated: “More than 65 million Americans remain unvaccinated, leaving themselves – and their children, families, loved ones, and communities – vulnerable.” Many Americans have a plethora of reasons for avoiding the vaccine: for religious reasons, mistrust with the healthcare system, or a faulty source of information and education. But as these conflicts begin closing in on the unvaccinated populations, the partisan gap only widens — particularly between vaccinated Democrats and unvaccinated or skeptical Republicans.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in late 2019, subgroups on either side of the pandemic’s policies have fought viciously on various social media platforms. Politicians and ordinary people alike have engaged in heated debates over personal freedoms and the common health of everyone. Along with the controversial presidential election, a nationwide racial reckoning, and other pressing social issues wracking America, the partisan divide has never been wider and both parties are to blame.
One of the biggest issues between both parties is the way information is spread throughout the media. To the leftist media, the unvaccinated are construed as conservative, God-fearing patriots who praise conspiracy theories and former President Donald Trump. Such an assumption fails to take into account the unvaccinated who have combative health issues, unresolved trauma with the medical field, or a lack of accurate information. To the rightist media, the vaccinated have lost their compass of individual freedom and will, weakened by the government’s misguided speeches and recommendations. This assumption fails to take into account the health concerns of family members or tolls on healthcare workers. The magnitude of the partisan divide is not just expressed through social media banter. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that while 90% of Democrats were vaccinated, only about 58% of Republicans were vaccinated. And while only 3% of Democrats plan not to get vaccinated, the percentage rises to 40% among Republicans (KFF Vaccine Monitor).
While the partisan gap among vaccinations is one among many disparities between Democrats and Republicans, its outcome cannot be entirely attributed to one group. Though left-wing politicians encourage the vaccine for the global good, they also perpetuate the narrative of an enemy — the common Republican who threatens the welfare of the entire nation. For example, in The Atlantic, “Everybody I Know is Pissed Off,” the GOP leader Kevin McCarthy responded to Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to protect vaccination decisions by replying: “Republicans will oppose any attempt to expand such a disastrous policy” (Brownstein). The issue here is not so much the idea that loose mask mandates are dangerous to public health, but that all Republicans are indeed a threat to this collective good. At the same time, while some right-wing politicians have been vocal about vaccine mandates, others have outright provided false information. For example, former President Trump stated: “Just the other day . . . a beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, [and] now is autistic” (PBS). Political leaders’ generalizations and delusions about the status of the vaccine is yet another issue that comes at the cost of the partisan divide.
In other words, there is a long way to go for either political party. While it’s easy to point fingers and name call, sitting down and engaging in effective and respectful dialogue is the hard part. Healthcare workers and front-line workers, for instance, have the especially hard job of attempting to save unvaccinated people, which can rightfully unearth a lot of frustration and anger. Dr. Jay Bamuch – a physician who has treated many COVID-19 patients – is no stranger to these hostile feelings. He, however, offers an alternative: instead of addressing the unvaccinated population as terribly misinformed, understanding the nuances behind their decision like their upbringing, religious background, or familial ties is the first step in engaging in effective dialogue. Following the establishment of a personal connection, Dr. Bamuch then suggests an integral, community-based approach: “We also need to design community spaces, starting with multimedia platforms, that honor personal stories and highlight the emotional experiences of individuals and families trying to make sense of these destabilizing times with the pandemic.” Stories, often more persuasive than scientific research and non-personal government statements, are a bridging factor among members of a community. Perhaps instead of using facts and logic to gauge our intellectual worth, people from across the political spectrum can offer their own experiences as evidence for their decision instead.As someone in favor of masking mandates and vaccination policies, I have also assumed someone’s character based on their vaccination status. It’s something intrinsic to all of us that when we see someone fitting the stereotype of an “anti-vaxxer” or a “double-masker,” we jump to conclusions. But these assumptions and hostile feelings have gotten us no closer to a compromise — in fact, we are farther than ever from our respective, opposing political parties, and continue ignoring the nuances behind each person’s situation, resources, and access to accurate information. As I practice effective outreach beyond party lines, I urge you all to do the same.