Meet the unvaccinated
On Sept. 9, 2021, President Joe Biden took to national TV and announced his plans to compel an additional 80 million U.S. citizens to take coronavirus vaccines. He rebuked the 1 in 4 Americans who remain unvaccinated in strikingly harsh terms, saying: “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and the refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.”
To better understand the motivations of those who have not availed themselves of the vaccine – who are doing the wrong thing, in the president’s estimation – the Press spoke with people who have chosen to decline the shots. What emerged were not stories of selfishness and fear, but of deep concern for family and the future of the world we live in. They reveal how “doing the right thing” is very much at the crux of the decision to remain unvaccinated, and a gesture toward the complex nature of vaccination decisions in a modern democracy.
“Dale” is a married man with young children. He is a member of a military reserve group, as well as working as a contractor for the same group in a civilian capacity. His field is occupational health and preventive medicine.
“My job focuses on identifying health hazards and quantifying them,” he explains.
“The memo [directing all National Guardsmen and Guardswomen to get COVID-19 shots] hasn’t been released,” he says, “but it’s common knowledge that it’s coming out.”
Dale has prepared exemption paperwork that he plans to submit when the memo is officially issued. He was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, a fact that has been documented in his employer’s records. He notes that the Pfizer and Moderna shots were tested on cell lines from aborted human fetuses, and that the Johnson & Johnson shot was grown in aborted fetal cell lines. Although he acknowledges that some women may find themselves in a position where abortion feels like the best course of action, he is firm in his belief that “to benefit from abortion in any way is morally unethical.”
Dale is far from the image President Biden has painted of a recalcitrant believer in marginal political views. He isn’t out to make a statement. He just doesn’t want to violate his conscience in order to do his job.
“I’m not making any demands, and I absolutely love my job,” he tells the Press. “I’ve made a career out of trying to keep people safe and healthy. I’ve been in my organization for 11 years and doing this job for seven years.”
Dale is fairly confident that his sincere religious opposition to the current COVID-19 shots will be respected, but he is deeply concerned about soldiers who feel that they don’t have a choice.
“There are a lot of soldiers in my organization that are afraid that if they go against this mandate, they will get a dishonorable discharge,” he says. “It really breaks my heart.”
“Hank” is a software engineer whose employer is a military subcontractor. He received an email Sept. 13 stating that all contractors will have to attest to having completed a COVID-19 shot series or show a negative test prior to entering any Department of Defense (DoD) facility. Additionally, the email warned, “If you are not fully vaccinated, then please make plans to become fully vaccinated as quickly as possible. If you are seeking exemption from vaccination, then prepare for the weekly COVID-19 testing from our DoD partners or the authorized self-tests. At some point, non-vaccinated status may result in denial of access to DoD and federal installations and buildings. This may impede your ability to adequately perform you [sic] job responsibilities.” The email also advised Hank that further regulations will likely be added.
Hank spoke with us a few hours before receiving the email, when he feared facing a path to mandatory vaccination through either President Biden’s proposed OSHA rule or the president’s less detailed promise of mandating the vaccine, without the option of weekly testing, for all contractors. Given the high number of people who have serological evidence of infection, he said it’s possible he would be able to demonstrate prior infection andbe considered exempt from the mandate, based on Army Regulation 40-562.
However, if that avenue is closed to him, he says he will still choose not to be vaccinated. He is a young man with a trim build and no pre-existing conditions, so he does not see a benefit to taking the shots for himself. The most important factor in his refusal, however, is his opposition to the creation of a national immunization registry. He points to the association of COVID-19 shots with adverse events like myocarditis – “kids with heart problems” – and contends that the push by public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci has less to do with the danger from this particular virus, and more to do with building the infrastructure to track Americans’ vaccination status.
“The only reason they want to [inoculate] everybody is to get everybody constantly tracked,” he says. “and I don’t want to be part of that. I don’t know why there aren’t more leaders standing up against this.”
If he loses his job over his refusal to let President Biden make his health decisions, he says, “I would probably just look for a different job, even if I had to get a different career,” until the panic over this virus subsides.
“Kyla” is a high school teacher in a very large urban school district. She has been teaching for nearly three decades, and has had a job since she was 16 years old.
“I have never not been employed,” she tells us. “Never.”
It’s not just the dignity of labor that is at stake for Kyla. She’s also a single mother of two children, living in a world of food price inflation that has only gotten worse in her region. Noting that locally grown produce is harder to obtain because of farmland being sold to real estate developers, she reports that “people right now are paying attention, and growing their own fruits and vegetables.”
Concern about her ability to feed her family in the event she is fired or placed on unpaid leave has prompted her to start stockpiling food.
“Every time I go to the store, I’m putting canned goods aside,” she tells us.
Why has she chosen not to get one of the shot series currently available in the U.S.? She’s concerned about the ethics of testing and producing vaccines in aborted fetal cell lines, and she’s uncomfortable with the way animals were used in COVID-19 shot development. If she were to take a COVID-19 vaccine, she’s more inclined to consider one of the plant-based ones currently in clinical trials (https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines9090992).
Kyla is also living with an autoimmune deficiency, and is concerned about the blood clot side effects reported in the medical literature for all of the COVID-19 shots on the U.S. market. She also tells us that the family members and friends she has lost to COVID-19 were all fully vaccinated.
“So you want me to take this,” she asks rhetorically, “and hope it won’t happen to me?”
What about the religious and medical exemptions we’ve heard so much about? Kyla tells us that she and her colleagues have been instructed to file their requests for religious or medical exemptions, but points out that if the exemptions are granted, they are likely to delay, not prevent, being terminated.
“You have four choices [if your exemption request is accepted],” she says. “You can use your remaining sick time. You can take six months unpaid leave. You can be placed at a virtual academy, where you could be asked to teach any grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade. You can resign-not retire. Even with the exemption, that is what they’re giving you.”
“Yolanda” grew up in Asia and now lives in Europe with her husband, with whom she has several children in their teens and 20s. She has a bachelor’s degree from a small liberal arts college in New England and an MBA from a prestigious business school. She has worked on Wall Street and for the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C.
“First and foremost, I am a mother,” Yolanda tells us; for the past several years, she has also been a small business owner, administering a foreign language school that teaches the families of diplomats and employees of multinational corporations with operations in her city of more than half a million people.
Although Yolanda is not a U.S. government employee or contractor, many of her students are likely to be affected by President Biden’s promised contractor mandate, either as employees or as the spouses of employees; the operations of several major American companies are located in her city.
Having laid off teachers because her school became financially unsustainable during the pandemic, Yolanda anticipates remorse for business owners who are forced to fire their unvaccinated staff members.
“These are the people who used to work for you and with you,” she says, “and I let them down […] They need to make ends meet.”
She also has her eyes on where the pursuit of “zero COVID” is taking the U.S. She fears for her son’s ability to continue his studies at a university in the U.S., where he has filed a religious exemption, because U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced Sept. 13 that the federal government will be scrutinizing these exemptions and rendering judgments on applicants’ faith.
Perhaps most troubling is when Yolanda points out that countries with very low numbers of coronavirus cases have achieved these numbers not through vaccine-induced herd immunity, but through what she calls “digital totalitarianism.
“All the people have a health code app on their handy [cell phone], and also a travel app on their handy,” she explains. “Domestically, in China, you can still travel around, as long as it’s zero cases [but] everywhere you go, you need to show the health code [application].”
She relates a story about a friend who traveled from Beijing to Tianjin and back, unwittingly driving through a town where one resident had tested positive for coronavirus. The friend did not stop in the town with the coronavirus case, and did not even know which town it was, but the GPS on her phone notified the government’s tracking system, and when she arrived in Beijing, she realized that her health code was blocked, and she was compelled to quarantine at home for a week.
“It’s arbitrary,” she says of the situation in China. “You don’t know when your health code will turn on you and be blocked. How long will it be blocked? […] The whole nation is living in this fear.”
She views the Chinese coronavirus control measures as a warning to Americans who don’t see vaccine mandates as a threat.
“You don’t know when your code will turn, and when it turns on you, you have no social credit, and you are nobody.”
Yolanda asserts that American control measures have already gone too far: “No one could ever picture, in the United States, that you would have a mandate to put a jab under your skin. You would think that informed consent is the basic human right.”