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How Can Republicans Making Each Other Sick Be a Bad Thing?

Republicans don’t have a monopoly on ignorance.

If the unvaccinated tend to be conservatives who live in Trump-supporting counties and red states, what’s wrong with their giving COVID-19 to each other? How can Republicans making each other sick be a bad thing? —Walking Amongst the Living Dead

I’m all for waving the bloody flag of partisanship, Walking, but let’s be honest: Republicans don’t have a monopoly on ignorance. (A commanding market share, sure, but not a monopoly.) We all know a yoga instructor/aromatherapist who votes for Democrats (at least in years when Jill Stein is otherwise engaged) but who still thinks Jenny McCarthy deserves a Nobel Prize for vaccine research.

But while I reject your premise that it’s only Republicans who are refusing the vaccine, I’m willing to put partisanship aside when it comes to the greater good of culling the science-denying herd. A plague that only kills stupid people? What’s the catch?

Well, it turns out there are several, which is why nine counties in California recently reinstituted mask mandates for the stated purpose of protecting the unvaccinated. The biggest of these catches is probably the fact that public health officials have this thing about not letting any people die—even the ones who are obviously huge jerks. (Whatever.)

However, there’s another, more sympathetic cohort: cancer patients, the immunosuppressed, people with certain allergies, and children under 12 (plus a few folks who just haven’t been able to make their jab happen quite yet). These Americans are unvaccinated through no fault of their own, so you can understand why we might mask back up to protect them.

That said, let’s not oversell it. This whole not-our-fault group (minus the kids) is estimated at just 2% to 3% of the population. And while it’s true that the kids have greater numbers, unvaccinated kids are actually less susceptible to severe COVID than fully vaccinated adults, accounting for just 0.2% of deaths. (Vaccinated adults come in at 0.8%.)

Finally, California’s endgame for these restrictions is not exactly clear: COVID isn’t going anywhere. The anti-vaxxers aren’t getting vaccinated anytime soon. So if nothing changes, does the mandate just keep going…forever? “Serves ‘em right” may not be a real infectious disease policy, but I can’t really judge you for thinking it should be.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.