To the Editor,

COVID-19 cases were trending down recently, so my spouse and I felt comfortable planning a short getaway to attend a continuing education conference in Omaha, Neb. after 18 months of cocooning close to home.  As baseball fans, we augmented this modest vacation with a trip to Kansas City, Mo. to watch the Royals play the Tigers.

At one point between innings, the public address announcer directed our attention to the scoreboard showing a live video of a retired Army Colonel who was attending the game as an honored guest. This tribute was part of the Royals tradition of honoring military veterans for their service to the country. This is a good and right thing to do and, in my view, the result of our ongoing, collective humiliation and remorse over the shabby way this country treated our Vietnam War veterans upon their return home, more than 40 years ago.

As the (ret.) Colonel stood, the stadium crowd rose and applauded him. I had to hold back a tear as we all showed our appreciation for his contributions to the defense of our way of life in America.  Later, reflecting on this tribute, my thoughts turned to the contrast between this tribute and the general ungratefulness displayed toward all manner of non-uniformed public servants, still at work protecting our country and its citizens.

Specifically, I’d like to call out the disrespect being shown to our public health departments. The Surgeon General of the U.S. is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and (s)he does wear a uniform. The current surgeon general is Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy whose main concern these days is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. How, I wonder, is his job less critical, less important and less worthy of our gratitude than that of a soldier who was part of a 20 year-long war in Afghanistan? When we assess the threats to our country today, how does the pandemic, that has already claimed the lives of 690,000 Americans, pale in comparison, to the threat posed by the Taliban, from 12,000 miles away? 

I’d argue that the U.S. Public Health Service, the Minnesota Department of Health and other such public servants hardly care whether we all stand and applaud them at a baseball game. Rather, I think what they want is for all of us to follow their sound advice about wearing masks, avoiding crowds and getting vaccinated. That will go a long way toward showing our respect. After all, they are defending us against a clear and present danger, right here, right now.

If you are resisting getting vaccinated because of your political leanings, you have your priorities wrong. According to news reports last week, 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths are now comprised of unvaccinated people. This is not the 99 percent of this or that figure that we all throw around loosely when trying to make a point without any actual data. This means that for every 100 persons dying of COVID-19 in the U.S. in recent days, 99 of them, by actual count, are unvaccinated.  That’s what I call being willing to die for your beliefs but, it’s hardly a laudable conviction.

If you are worried about the possibility that you are being implanted with a microchip as you are being vaccinated, I’m telling you that’s just silly.  Stop by the vet clinic during business hours and we’ll show you the difference between the large 10-gauge needle we use to implant microchips in pets and a 22-25 gauge needle used to administer the vaccine. If you still believe that preposterous microchip nonsense after that demonstration, I’ll throw in a good deal on a bridge that I’m selling, before you leave.

If you don’t want to take the vaccine because you “don’t know what’s in it,” let me point out that your life is full of things for which you don’t know the ingredients.  Do you smoke or chew tobacco?  What’s in your cigarettes or your snus?  Do you drink soda or beer?  What’s in those cans or bottles?  Do you take your vehicles to a car wash?  What’s in the sprays applied to your vehicle there? Let’s face facts here; even if the pharmaceutical companies showed you the list of vaccine ingredients, alongside a detailed chemical analysis run by an independent laboratory, you STILL wouldn’t understand what’s in the vaccine.  The point is: educated researchers and bona fide experts were part of the team dedicated to developing the vaccines and they DO know what’s in the vaccine and WHY it’s in there.

Behavioral researchers Dunning and Kruger studied a behavior pattern (now bearing their names) wherein we all routinely over-estimate our abilities.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect states simply that when asked a question such as, “Are you a good driver?”  Perhaps 50 percent of us will rank ourselves in the top 10 percent of all drivers.  Think about the math inherent in this calculation. As Garrison Keillor describes Lake Wobegon, it’s a place where “all the children are above average.”  What does the Dunning-Kruger Effect say about your ability to evaluate the constituents of vaccines? Are you willing to tell the rest of us that you are on par with the FDA or Dr. Fauci in your ability to evaluate vaccine safety and effectiveness?  You’d need a prodigious supply of chutzpah to delude yourself into thinking that’s true.

I forwarded to the Frazee-Vergas Forum editor, a news article from the July 15, 2021 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The article reported on Albert Bourla, DVM, PhD, the CEO of Pfizer (one of the vaccine developers) giving the commencement address this spring at the University of Pennsylvania, College of Veterinary Medicine.  In his address, he detailed the process Pfizer used to develop the vaccine and gain provisional approval in a matter of months. He pointed out how Pfizer was prepared for just such a crisis by their ongoing development work on generic vaccine technology which they then adapted to the development of a COVID-19 specific vaccine. We live in an age of wonderful technological advances, some of which were brought to bear against this pandemic. This is something for which we should be thankful rather than skeptical.

During our discussion, the Forum-Vergas Forum editor cited an article the paper had published, containing frequently asked COVID vaccine questions with answers provided by a physician. She stated that she had been challenged by several readers asking why the paper didn’t then run an article featuring “the other side.”  

If you are someone who has had the same question, I can answer it for you: there is NO other side. No credible information exists to argue against these vaccines in this situation. No experts are coming forth with significant qualms. None, nada, zip, squat! What does exist is a great deal of misinformation and malicious propaganda. It’s time to revisit Dunning-Kruger and ask if you believe you are among the 50 percent of the population who belongs in the top 10 percent of the most discerning and analytical thinkers.

Are the currently available vaccines in the U.S. safe and effective?  The answer is a resounding yes!  Are there any side effects? Yes; my arm hurt near the injection site for nearly 24 hours. Is there any danger in taking the vaccine?  Sure.  Nothing is absolutely 100 percent safe­—no vaccine; not these or any other. On the other hand, is there any danger in getting COVID-19? Yes, of course there is.

Quick, name someone in your acquaintance who has died of COVID-19.  Not many of us would be unable to come up with a name, at this point. Similarly, is there any danger in getting into your car and driving to work?  Again, yes.  Still, how many folks would rather be without employment and an income rather than exposing themselves to the risks of driving to work? The three vaccines used in the U.S. are generally very safe.  You should think carefully when considering the possibility of death due to this vaccine (one in hundreds of thousands, based on data) versus the possibility of death from a COVID infection, which is higher at nearly one in a 100.

Finally, there is the question of personal freedom.  After she had infected, with Salmonella, several families for whom she worked, “Typhoid Mary” Mallon was ordered by the New York Health Dept. to cease working in any sort of food service position. Clearly, this was an infringement of her freedom as an American and, in a demonstration of true American independence, she defied the order and infected still more people. In the end, depending on which report you read, the toll was at least 53 persons sickened and three dead.

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The popular mentality holds that this means nobody is going to tell me what to do.  But, is that really what it means to be a patriotic American?   It is rightly said that the greatest good intention is still less than the smallest, good deed.  Lee Greenwood sings “God bless the USA … where at least I know I’m free.”  Then he goes on to sing, “… and I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”  A little research will show that singer Greenwood was never in the military and suddenly, those stirring lyrics seem a bit hollow to me.  

Perhaps you’re not worried about contracting the COVID-19 virus in the same sense that you can walk fearlessly through a cemetery at midnight telling yourself, “I ain’t afraida no ghosts.” That’s fine but, what effect does your non-vaccinate status have on the rest of us?  According to Alabama Governor, Kay Ivey, “It’s time we start blaming the unvaccinated folks for the disease’s continued spread.”

We all want the pandemic to be over. We’re tired of lockdowns, distance learning and six feet spacings in lines. We’re beaten down by restrictions on our businesses and the effect on the economy.  Maybe we’re even tired of the Governor having emergency executive powers. We want it to be over.  There is one easy solution: everyone, go get vaccinated. Yes you, COVID Mary or COVID Marty.  Suck it up, stand next to me and defend us still today. Roll up your sleeve, grit your teeth if you must and wait for the tiny little needle prick. You’ll get over it because you’re among the 50 percent of the people believing yourself to be in the toughest 10 percent of the population.  You don’t want us to see you cowering in irrational fear of an injection of vaccine, do you?  You also don’t want to be the star attraction at a funeral after you die of COVID-19, I’ll bet.  Go get the vaccine and see if you don’t immediately feel safer and less restricted.

Randy Lindemann, DVM