The frustration was evident in my doctor’s voice. “Why won’t people listen, and why won’t they protect themselves and their families from the virus?” This doctor is not alone. His frustration is shared by countless others whose careers are dedicated to caring for patients. These folks care deeply, and they are frustrated that emergency rooms are unnecessarily filled with people, including more and more young people, who have refused or neglected to become vaccinated.
Many of these people are neighbors, colleagues or friends, and when asked, they say that they can’t be told what to do; that their freedom is at stake. When asked if they have visited with a trusted physician or other experts they often say yes, but that they are making their personal choice to say no to masks and vaccines.
Some say, contrary to overwhelming evidence, that vaccines kill more people than the virus, while others say they are healthy and are careful, so there’s no need. Others have even more sinister theories, like the vaccine makers are trying to kill people, or that there is a “deep state” out there that can’t be trusted. They say this even as they know our doctors, hospitals, schools and employers desperately want them to protect themselves and their loved ones. They do not believe that vaccines help. And they are dying.
This is where we find ourselves. We live in an era of increasing disconnection between beliefs and objective truth. Their belief is that the government must not limit individual freedom. It was, for a time, the same argument that some made against mandatory seat belt laws. Yes, those laws do limit freedoms, but they prevent deaths and injuries.
Unfortunately, this disconnect between beliefs and objective truth is not confined to public health. Some believe that voter fraud is on the rise.
Data shows this simply isn’t true. Elections administrators like our own Margetta Hill have one goal: to accurately register voters and to properly count the votes. Party leaders such as Don Truman, Mary Ann Wyatt, Pat Kelly and Pat Tally felt that the more people exercised the right to vote, the better it would be for all of us. There were no conspiracy theories to justify making it harder for voters to cast their ballots. And politicians in Austin actually admitted the goal was to have fewer eligible voters cast votes.
The reality is that a large share of the public still believes that the former President won the election, despite the objective truth, which is that he lost by more than 7 million votes. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Mike Pence and former President George W. Bush have all tried to dispel this myth that exists in their party, but it persists even as it corrodes our trust in each other.
Another belief is that more guns make us safer. We can debate on the best way to curb violence, but one objective fact is that we have more guns now than at any time in our history. Yet it is objectively not true that more guns have decreased gun violence. As we have made it easier and easier to buy and carry weapons, our country has nearly doubled its homicide rate, and there is a rise in accidental shootings as well.
My physician wanted to know what could be done to curb beliefs that are disconnected with reality. He’s doing his best, one patient at a time. I asked what percentage of his patients were vaccinated and it exceeded 80%, much higher than the 40% of the public vaccinated in our region. That demonstrates that one at a time, people can make choices to protect themselves when they are empowered with the truth. Some of his patients didn’t know that they can still spread the virus after having had it, and can even have the virus twice. Some didn’t know that immunity from the vaccines lasts longer than immunity after having suffered the virus.
It’s easy to be frustrated when good and decent people say and do things that are disconnected from reality, especially when those actions result in preventable deaths. The physician, I think, knew the answer to his question about why so many are unvaccinated.
They’ve not yet been graced with the truth from people they trust. We help people connect with reality one person at a time, knowing that some will persevere in defiance. St. Joseph High School convened a vaccine information session and dispensed vaccines, persuading one person at a time. For those who choose to seek out truth and to listen to those with expertise, lives are saved, families preserved and communities served. Conspiracies will come and go, but truth will endure, so long as we keep pursuing it.