The first eight or 10 days in February saw 27 new cases of the coronavirus and our fourth Wallowa County death. Numbers have continued to mount — with one or two cases each new day. Our sense of splendid isolation from COVID-19 — and many other ills of modern society — has cracked.

Most of us now wear our masks like we put on a sweater on a cool day or take a one-a-day vitamin. Some few still fight convention and find an argument for personal freedom in walking into Safeway or the hardware store without a mask. While we mask wearers have become “naturals,” unthinkingly pulling it over the nose as we go through the Safeway door, the antimaskers must have to constantly think about this expression of personal freedom.

They forget, of course, the admonition of most gospels of freedom — the staunchest libertarian puts a boundary at the point at which his or her liberty infringes on the liberties (or the well-being) of others.

Advocates of the “Swedish solution” — herd immunity — are quieter now. Although there are still stories of COVID parties on college campuses, the idea being that enough young people — who mostly rebound quickly — will get the disease, heal up and create the herd. I’ve not heard arguments from herd-immunity folks about what are now called “long-haulers,” people who contracted COVID-19, maybe even with mild symptoms, and then, weeks later, have heart, liver or muscle problems.

I know of no local cases, but in an interesting parallel, I do know two who suffered from polio more than 50 years ago and are now suffering from “post-polio syndrome” — muscle weakness and pain, etc. That long-ago viral scourge is not done with us yet.

I know a few who wear masks and keep their distances carefully — but worry that the vaccine will not work or work ill on them. They will keep the COVID at bay on their own terms, without the help of big pharma, because no vaccine has ever been developed this quickly, because Bill Gates had something to do with it or maybe because they just don’t like shots.

There are, even among the careful mask-wearers, staunch antivaxxers. Robert Kennedy Jr., is a national leader in this group. The son of the assassinated former attorney general and nephew of President John F. Kennedy has a long and successful career as an environmental lawyer — which puts him in the “liberal” section of our country’s sometimes strange politics. He promotes the idea — debunked by most medical experts — that autism is linked to vaccinations.

Among the antivaxxers and the reluctant waiting for more information there are stories of deaths after vaccinations. A friend says she knows of four healthy people who have died after being vaccinated. Kennedy apparently claimed that baseball legend Henry Aaron was killed by the COVID vaccine. Aaron, 86 years old, in a wheelchair and poor health, stepped up to take the vaccine to encourage more black Americans to do so. The Atlanta coroner found his death to be natural, having nothing to do with COVID or with the vaccine.

I’ve searched the press for stories of vaccination deaths; you would think that they would be prominent. Although there are stories of strong reactions — including one in our hospital — I can find no substantiated death stories. With millions of vaccinated, you would assume a few deaths. The most complete story I found was about 23 deaths in Norwegian nursing homes. Examination showed that “common adverse reactions of mRNA vaccines, such as fever, nausea, and diarrhea, may have contributed to fatal outcomes in some of the frail patients.” Their advice was to stop vaccinating the elderly who are sick.

In the U.S., over 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered from Dec. 14, 2020, through Feb. 7, 2021. During this time, 1,170 reports of death (0.003%) among people who received the vaccine. On examination, none of the deaths has been attributed to the vaccine. I think the message is that .003% of any group of 41 million will perish in a two-month period, and/or that vaccinating the very ill might speed their dying.

I guess there are still a few who believe that it’s all a big hoax, a plot to sell vaccines or to promote the work and wealth of Bill Gates. But they are quieter now, and from press reports, the skeptical of all kinds are quietly taking their places in line and getting their shots.

I got my first shot last week, joining farmers and teachers, old friends and newcomers, Republicans and Democrats, at Cloverleaf Hall, where a joyful group of professionals and volunteers efficiently moved us towards immunity. I invite my “younger” friends and neighbors to get in line now and grow Wallowa County’s herd of the immune.


Rich Wandschneider is the director of the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture.

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