not much has changed
Reading Time: 8 minutes Breakthrough COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccine status.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! My mind was blown by this opinion piece in Religion News recently. In it, a Duke University ethics professor tells us she wants us to stop talking about COVID deniers getting COVID and dying. Instead, she wants us to focus on happy things and bringing about systemic change. To her, the solution does not at all include mocking COVID deniers who increasingly catch COVID and get very sick. We’re going to talk about this post for a little while. Today, let’s start with the increasingly-common phenomenon of COVID deniers dying of COVID.

surgical masks in the covid outbreak
(Ibrahim Boran.)

(See also: Stupid is as Stupid Does; Trump Plays Stupid COVID Games for Stupid Prizes; Why QAnon is Attacking Evangelical Leaders Lately.)

The Death of a(nother) COVID Denialist.

Earlier today, yet another COVID denier died of COVID.

But I realize I need to specify here. It happens so often, after all! In this case, I mean Phil Valentine, a conservative radio host.

Charlotte Observer tells us:

The 62-year-old, whose syndicated talk show is aired on 30 stations across the U.S., has been outspoken about the vaccine and questioned its necessity among those with the lowest risk of catching COVID-19, including children. In a Facebook post dated June 24, Valentine blasted Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as “public health nuisances” for censoring COVID misinformation and, in a follow up comment, said giving the vaccine to kids was “tantamount to child abuse.” [. . .]

Relatives of the conservative radio host said Phil now regrets his skepticism toward the vaccine and is encouraging everyone to get it.

Bit late, though.

But his story follows an all-too-familiar path.

Not Just Not-Pro-Vaccine-Enough.

In their announcement about him getting sick, Phil Valentine’s family insists that he wasn’t an an “anti-vaxxer.” They wrote that he just wasn’t “vehemently” pro-vaccine enough. Then, they warned: “PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”

Alas, that’s disingenuous of them. According to other sources, Valentine was, indeed, quite the COVID denialist. In reality, Phil Valentine expressed hostility from the get-go to COVID and its prevention.

Rolling Stone tells us he wrote a song mocking America’s inoculation campaign. He also encouraged his audience to “have a doctor on speed dial who will write you a prescription for ivermectin.” (Faux Noise has been pushing this animal medication as a home remedy for COVID. It does not work and can hurt people trying it.)

NY Daily News tells us that in early July, Valentine shared a post from Breitbart that criticized a vaccination campaign. In that sharing, he snarled, “Get ready for the door-to-door vax naggers.”

On July 15, in his very last Facebook entry, he outright mocked one vaccine. Imagine that being your very last social media post before getting hospitalized for the very illness that vaccine helps prevent.

Because that’s what it was for Phil Valentine.

The only thing that changed his mind was realizing that his own case of COVID was deadly serious. His regret came far too late.

Who’s Denying COVID and the COVID Vaccines, Anyway?

Though this situation with COVID denialism is kinda new, we’re starting to learn more about exactly who refuses to get vaccinated. We’re starting to learn exactly what kind of raging skidmarks would ever mock vaccination campaigns and the vaccinated, even persecute and harass those who still take pandemic precautions.

And the results won’t surprise many people at all.

In April, one study discovered that about 13% of American adults didn’t want to get vaccinated. In addition:

Republicans are the most resistant; nearly 3 in 10 say they don’t want one. The share is greater among rural, Republican men, 35% of whom don’t want to get a vaccine. [. . .]

The counties that are most vaccine-hesitant are rural, more likely to support Trump and have lower income levels and college graduation rates, The New York Times recently reported.

That link also tells us that even Donald Trump’s endorsement of the COVID vaccine, a weaksauce one he issued just before petulantly slinking out of office, didn’t sway the COVID denialist crowd:

But nearly 80% of Republicans said Trump’s endorsement would not make them more likely to get a vaccine, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

His fanbase probably thought he was just playing “Opposite Day” with them.

As we noted recently, COVID denialism and vaccine hostility have long been mainstays of white evangelicals’ recent conspiracy theories.

(So Amy Laura Hall is flat out wrong about who’s not getting vaccinated these days. It’s not her only factual error, but it’s a biiiiig one.)

The COVID Denialists Who Become the Remorseful.

Nowadays, every single day we hear about yet another COVID denialist who caught COVID and died of it. It’s heartbreaking and it always follows the same lines:

A denialist laughed at vaccinations, mocked vaccinated people, downplayed the risks of COVID and the aftereffects. Then, this denialist got super-sick and died.

Usually, the stories also include the dying person’s expression of vast regret over their terrible life choices.

Not long ago, we had a drive-by denialist like that. He hinted that the Evil Mass Meedja Libruls deliberately seek out and print such stories. Yes! In addition, they ignore all the other stories about properly-vaccinated people who get sick and die.

Even a minute’s research would have helped that guy out. As this PBS article reveals:

Research into a July COVID-19 outbreak during high tourist season in Provincetown, Massachusetts, found that about three-quarters of 469 people had already been vaccinated and had contracted breakthrough infections. Testing identified the delta variant of the coronavirus in 90% of specimens from 133 patients in Provincetown. [. . .]

Only four of the fully vaccinated people [in that outbreak] were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported. Currently, more than 97% of people in the United States being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms are unvaccinated, and about 99% of deaths also are among the unvaccinated.

Also, here’s the helpful infographic HairyEyedWordBombThrower shared with the denialist:

not much has changed
Breakthrough COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccine status.

Yes, some small percentage of those folks who aren’t vaccinated have to skip theirs because of medical reasons. Others just don’t get around to it. But most unvaccinated people nowadays are vaccine hesitant. And of those, most are COVID deniers of various kinds.

Once they get sick, these deniers often drift into a group the New York Times has begun calling “the remorseful.”

Poetic Justice For COVID Denialists.

Up until now, I’ve shown you exactly who expresses hostility toward COVID’s precautions and preventives. We’re talking about white conservative Christians, for the most part. These are the very people who make a big huge stinky deal about being the literal only source of ethics and morality on the planet. And yet they consistently behave in ways that are neither ethical nor moral in any way.

So yes: when these folks end up sick with COVID, it feels like not just like justice, but like poetic justice. The punishment fits the crime, so to speak.

And y’all, this world isn’t usually just. Awful people only seem to be rewarded for their awfulness. Good people end up suffering when they never did anything unkind to anybody.

Still, many of us want to see justice anyway.

Psychologists call this desire the Just World Fallacy. It’s not always a good thing. Wanting justice too much can have negative impacts on our lives. (It could even lead people into an authoritarian mindset. Or to become Batman.)

But sometimes, the stars align. Truly awful people get hit with truly poetic justice.

When that happens, sometimes you hear that feeling described as “a justice boner.” It gives many people pleasure to see that kind of justice. So yes, we do kinda feel a certain way when a COVID denialist plays stupid games and wins stupid prizes.

On Gloating.

So now let’s talk about Amy Laura Hall’s implied accusation in her post title: that we’re being mean by gloating about those deaths.

First, let’s ignore that she doesn’t actually talk about gloating much in the post. Yes, she mentions some needling of the anti-vaxxer mindset. However, the one example she cites (comparing the COVID vaccine to an IQ test and asking if a sick person was ever vaccinated) wasn’t actually gloating about someone dying. She couldn’t cite any people actively gloating about sickness or death.

Indeed, nobody’s gloating.

When we hear about yet another person sick from COVID, we ask: were they vaccinated? That’s true. We do. And we do it because we’re reserving sympathy till we know how this person got so sick.

Should we reserve that sympathy? Amy Laura Hall implies that we should not.

I’m not so sure. We have limited stores of sympathy these days. Spending it on people who actively participated in their own destruction seems counter-productive.

Perhaps there’s some guidance here for us.

The Difference Between Gloating and Reserving Sympathy.

I appreciated how John Scalzi put the matter in a blog post of his from August 9th.

In that post, he divided the categories of unvaccinated people:

  1. those who can’t get vaccinated due to health issues
  2. the rank-and-file of people who didn’t cuz they’re ignorant or misled by conjobs
  3. the conjobs themselves

Of that second group, he writes:

[W]hen your cousin/high school friend/neighbor and people like them who choose not to get vaccinated contract COVID and die, while the temptation is to be all, welp, what did you expect, you fucked around and found out, entertain the notion that, alongside anything else about the situation, they have been victimized by people who largely knew better. [. . .]

You can be sorry that because a vast right-wing propaganda machine thought it was more important to grasp toward power than to value human life, your cousin/high school friend/neighbor/whomever is now dead. Hopefully you will be motivated to avenge their death.

Like him, it’s not in me to gloat about their passing.

Even of the third group, he sorrows that it took them dying to get them to stop spreading misinformation. He even hopes that their passing might convince their followers to start taking better precautions.

Dude’s what we call a class act.

Why People Talk About COVID Denialists So Much.

Yes, I realize that it’s a tough subject to talk about people who are so willfully ignorant, tribalistic, and belligerent that they literally do stuff that will hasten their own deaths. It’s not happy and positive.

Then again, dying miserably and in pain from an entirely preventable disease is neither happy nor positive.

Thus, I want to spread the word of these folks’ regret and remorse as far and wide as I can. Maybe, just maybe their story will get into the hands of someone in that second group John Scalzi mentioned. And maybe, just maybe it will sway some of them to go get their damned vaccine. Similar campaigns have swayed anti-vaxxers in the past (for example, this lady).

When we hear personal anecdotes about stuff like this, it can have a big affect on us.

But if we don’t spread this information far and wide, it can’t reach the people who need it.

So we talk about it. If that’s not happy or positive enough for Christian ethicists, let me suggest a few websites that will divert them in these stressful times. They can have fun and let the rest of us handle the COVID denialists.

NEXT UP: Ignoring griefers doesn’t make them go away.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...