Vaccine Hesitancy In America Is Selfish, Arrogant, And A Sign Of Privilege

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 

So far, two friends of mine who live abroad have traveled to the U.S. for one very specific purpose, and it wasn’t to meet Mickey Mouse. It was to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Here in the U.S., we have such a surplus of vaccine doses that travelers from abroad are pointed to a vaccine-administering area prior even to exiting customs.

You get a vaccine! And you get a vaccine! And you get a vaccine!

My friends, each of whom wish to remain anonymous, told me that they planned their trip based on advice from other people they know who had done the same. But why? Why pay hundreds of dollars to travel to the U.S. just to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Why not get it in their own country?

Simple — because in their country, they won’t be eligible for vaccination for months. This is the case in many countries across the world. In low-income countries, only 1% of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Compare that with here in the U.S. where about 55% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine (though in reality there is enough for everyone to be vaccinated). My friend who traveled to the U.S. in early June said her government had told her that at their current pace, she wasn’t expected to be eligible for the vaccine until March of 2022.

The Geographical Privilege Americans Take For Granted

My friend has a young baby whose immune system is weak due to a battle with cancer last year. She has no choice but to work outside of the home, but at the same time she is terrified of bringing home COVID-19 to her baby. What’s more, her country’s healthcare system is not as developed as ours. She told me horror stories of hospitals in rural, underserved areas in her country running out of oxygen and losing 10, 20, 30 COVID-19 patients in one night as healthcare workers anxiously awaited shipments of oxygen that never came.

For my friend, getting the vaccine was worth sacrificing hard-earned and very expensive American dollars. And she is well aware that her ability to sacrifice those dollars is a privilege all on its own.

The Infamous Arrogance Of Americans

It is astonishing to both of my friends that so many Americans are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Their foreheads wrinkle in disbelief. Don’t Americans realize how good they have it? I cringe in embarrassment. No, I tell them. No, Americans don’t realize how good they have it. In fact, it’s often the ones who consider themselves the most proud to be an American who are most resistant to getting the vaccine. I can’t make sense of it either, I tell my friends.

There is a special level of privilege here in the U.S. that comes with refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, one that I think many of us don’t even recognize. It’s that despite all our legitimate complaints about the soaring costs of healthcare in the U.S., ultimately, we trust that if we get sick, there will be someone there to care for us. Even if the cost ends up being astronomical, even if it bankrupts us, the care is still there. If we develop a long-term COVID-related issue, the care is still there.

Despite all the flaws in our system, the fact remains: The U.S. has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world. Odds are, if we get really sick, we will survive. Especially if we’re young.

In my friend’s country, and in many other countries, this is not the case. Even for young folks, if they develop a severe COVID-19 infection, their odds of survival are far, far worse than ours. They simply don’t have the healthcare infrastructure to ensure a high level of care. As such, they literally cannot afford to take the risks that so many ungrateful Americans take for granted. Americans have better odds of surviving COVID-19, and most illnesses in fact, simply because of the geographic location in which they happen to live.

The Privilege Of Not Having Underlying Conditions


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The other privilege I see anti-vaxxers taking advantage of is the privilege of being in robust health. I’ll be fine if I get the virus, they say with breezy confidence. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that their refusal to get vaccinated may be the reason someone else whose health isn’t as good as theirs gets severely ill — or dies.

It is a privilege not to have to consider the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a severe COVID-19 infection. It is pure arrogance to make a choice that could have deadly consequences for others based on your own personal relative safety from said consequences.

The Privilege Of Financial Security

It is also a privilege to be able to trust that your life would remain mostly intact if you were to need to take off several weeks or months to recover from a bad COVID-19 infection. For many people it simply isn’t feasible to lose more than a day or two of work, if that. For these folks, getting the vaccine is non-negotiable insurance against loss of work.

Taking your chances by refusing the vaccine, assuming that if you get sick, you’ll be able to take whatever time you need to recover — that is a privilege not everyone has. And, again, it’s arrogant to make a decision about getting the vaccine based solely on the assumption that you will be fine.

When We Can’t Achieve Herd Immunity

A person’s refusal to vaccinate contributes to our inability to reach herd immunity. People who refuse to vaccinate are the reason COVID-19 is still spreading, the reason COVID-19 is able to mutate. The longer it’s allowed to spread, the more chance it has to mutate.

When it comes to deciding whether to get the vaccine, it’s a decision that should be based on science, statistics, and our social responsibility as citizens. The science tells us the vaccine has been tested. We should trust the scientists who understand how the vaccine works and who are telling us it’s safe to take. The statistics tell us that the likelihood of a vaccine reaction is far, far smaller than the likelihood of developing long-COVID or other complications as a result of a COVID-19 infection.

And, most importantly, we should care enough about our fellow citizens to participate in doing what we can to stop the spread of this awful virus. It’s an embarrassment that so many Americans are so self-absorbed, so sure they know better than a worldwide community of virologists and immunologists, so blinded by their belief in the unfounded conspiracy theories that flow from the likes of YouTube and Parler, that they refuse the vaccine that so many all around the world so desperately wish they had access to.

Seriously, Americans, do better. This is getting ridiculous.

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