Getting COVID-19 Is Not a Sign of Personal Failure

Sign mandating face masks at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., September 24, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Already, people are objecting to the statement in today’s Morning Jolt that, “there is not a lot any of us can do about the mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2.” Apparently, this kind of factual observation is “defeatist rhetoric.”

You can get vaccinated if you’re not yet vaccinated. You can get a booster if you haven’t yet gotten a booster. You can choose to wear a mask – unlike, say, President Biden in a store that requires them. You can choose to avoid crowds. You can do what you can to maintain good health, and keep your immune system strong – eating healthy, getting exercise, taking vitamins.

Beyond that, there’s not much you can do to alter the course of this pandemic. You can’t control how this virus spreads, you can’t control the actions of other people, and chances are, you have little or no ability to get vaccines to those who still need them in other countries.

And until we know for certain that a new variant is significantly more virulent than the original SARS-CoV-2, you probably don’t need to worry much. If you’re vaccinated, there’s an extremely chance you’re protected against the virus, or at least if you catch it, the virus will not put you in the hospital or kill you. Yes, some people who are fully vaccinated die of COVID-19, but they are usually very old, immunocompromised, or have some other serious health issue. As one late October study of COVID-19 deaths in Scotland published in The Lancet concluded:

In summary, COVID-19-related deaths were extremely uncommon in those fully vaccinated with either BNT162b2 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Most individuals who died after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine were older than 75 years and had multiple comorbidities. These results are similar to the risk profile for mortality in unvaccinated individuals with COVID-19 infection and in vaccinated individuals who have received one dose of vaccine. Risk of COVID-19-related death is therefore not completely eliminated when fully vaccinated; the results of this study suggest the importance of continued caution and non-pharmaceutical interventions, in particular for older adults with multiple comorbidities.

If you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, COVID-19 is more likely to kill you. Of course, if you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, lots of things are more likely to kill you.

Alas, in the third year of this pandemic, certain circles of American life continue to moralize the virus, and treat infection as if it represents some sort of divine punishment for sinning against the teachings of Saint Fauci. These beliefs persist, no matter how much we argue against them. A group of parents discussed this in The Atlantic:

Julie Bogen: Also I feel so paralyzed by judgment of other people and parents if we were to get sick. You know, like, Oh, you guys got COVID? Do you know how you got it? Did you do something irresponsible to get it? I really can’t think of anything short of my daughter getting vaccinated that would change our behavior right now. I feel like I don’t know how to not blame myself if something went wrong.

Natalie Dean: I also wanted to make a comment about this stigma. Because of the nature of the pandemic, there’s a lot of stigma about transmission, and I think we’re going to need to move past some of that as well. There’s not the same stigma about RSV or flu or these other respiratory pathogens, and they cause a pretty similar risk to kids. That would be another thing that, as we move forward, we need to grapple with.

Becca Rosen: I’ve been trying to make the case among my friends and to colleagues that getting COVID is not a sign of personal failure. We live in a society with illness, and we don’t blame people when they get flu. We have to learn to not see getting COVID as a moral failure. Because this is something we have to live with, and the truth is that we will all be exposed.

What’s kind of fascinating is that many of today’s modern, well-educated, sophisticated, “SCIENCE” bumper-sticker-owning cultural elites probably look at ancient religious beliefs that diseases were the consequences of sin and scoff at how backwards, cruel, illogical, irrational, and superstitious people could be.

But they also think that if you caught COVID, it’s probably because you were reckless and foolish in some way.