The answer my friend...

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

On Dec. 7, 1941, when more than two thousand American lives were lost in the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans immediately awoke to a grave threat to our democracy. An immediate declaration of war and a nationwide four year, all-out effort, along with our Allies, led to the total defeat the Axis powers bent on world domination. For the war effort, American citizens had to sacrifice many of their personal freedoms, such as rationing, while, tragically, over 400,000 Americans lost their lives in WW II. Heralded as America’s Greatest Generation, those folks made tremendous sacrifices to win a war that simply had to be won, to halt such a clear and present danger to our freedom. Otherwise, we might now all be having to give one armed salutes to a flag with a swastika or bowing to a Japanese emperor.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, nearly three thousand Americans lost their lives in a suicidal attack by 19 hijackers. Again, Americans were rudely awakened to the grave terrorist threat we face, thus prompting an ongoing military campaign against terrorist groups, both foreign and domestic. For two decades, American citizens, as well as other nations around the globe, have risen to the challenge of this terrorist threat, requiring long-term sacrifices to our personal freedoms... such as submitting to TSA searches prior to commercial air travel. These anti-terrorism sacrifices have also cost the loss of life and limb for thousands of American military personnel, to keep at bay the terrorists who still pose a clear and present danger to our way of life.

Today, America and the rest of the world face another very serious threat to our lives that will, likewise, require an all-out effort to turn the tide to rapidly defeat our common enemy. But this time, the threat is not posed by an unpredictable, evil human foe, but instead by an invisible virus... the novel coronavirus. Over a half million Americans have died from COVID-19... over four million deaths worldwide.

Unlike those previous human sneak attacks, viral pandemics are a far better understood phenomenon, as they follow certain routes of biological spread, with mathematically more predictable patterns of exponential surges, ebbing and flowing through vulnerable populations. We also know how to fight and to finally defeat such pathogens, thanks to proven techniques of modern medicine. Widespread inoculation has successfully defeated a wide variety of serious diseases, including polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, diphtheria, cholera, rabies and tetanus. But, the war against these invisible pathogens is never-ending, requiring consistent vigilance and the willingness of all citizens to do their part to assist in keeping these threatening diseases at bay. Periodic vaccinations and booster shots have been our #1 weapon - our silver bullet - against these dangerous microbes, by creating a strong barrier of “herd immunity” against those dangerous diseases.

We now know for certain that the aerial spread of COVID-19 can be countered by social distancing and the use of masks in situations where distancing is not possible (e.g., air travel). For more than a year, we the public have been urged to practice these common sense behaviors to help reduce the spread of this deadly disease. But some people continue to stubbornly act irresponsibly.

Also, the rapid development of various effective COVID-19 vaccines has given the populations of many countries, like ours, a golden opportunity to rapidly create that critically important barrier of “herd immunity.” This modern medical miracle was not an option for the folks who suffered the ravages of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic... a disease which may have killed 20-50 million people worldwide, infecting an estimated 500 million in a series of four major surges. Today’s novel coronavirus continues to show these same kinds of surges fueled by new variants, such as the more contagious delta variant, and exacerbated by societies who prematurely drop their guard of social distancing before enough folks have been immunized.

Given the fact that we now have these “silver bullet” vaccines that should enable us to put an end to this global nightmare, why in the world would some people (and even some politicians!) now be thumbing their noses at this valuable weapon? This remarkably sizeable minority of deniers is essentially prolonging the scourge of this virus, and needlessly causing the death toll to continue to rise. By refusing to be part of the solution these folks are failing to recognize that they now constitute a major part of the problem. Using the words of wartime, these vaccine resisters are “aiding and abetting the enemy.” Or, as the cartoon character Pogo famously stated, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Are we really doomed to having to repeat the 1918 method of achieving herd immunity, by suffering more months or even years of widespread illness and death. WHY??? Try to explain THAT to those who have lost a loved one.

In the words of the song...

“How many deaths will it take ‘til he knows... that too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Jack Kirkley is an Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Montana Western.

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