ROBERTS: Rosie the Riveter and Dolly Parton | Coronavirus / COVID-19


The time was the early 1940s. America was at war. The aircraft and munitions industries heavily recruited women to take up important jobs in support of the war effort. In 1942, artist J. Howard Miller created the iconic, yellow background “We Can Do It!” poster of Rosie the Riveter, dressed in blue and wearing a red bandana, flexing her arm and looking straight at you. There is a power of iconic images like Rosie the Riveter to motivate people and to effect change.

We are engaged in battle again today, this time against a deadly virus. The nation needs a modern-day Rosie to recruit for the COVID-19 vaccine war effort. Who better than Dolly Parton, who not only rolled up her sleeve to get vaccinated, she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt early in the pandemic, which helped lead to the Moderna vaccine. To be precise, Parton did not have to roll up her sleeve when she got vaccinated. Her sparkly “cold-shoulder” top allowed her to get her shot without a wardrobe adjustment. Now it’s a fashion trend. I’d like to nominate her for sainthood.

I’m not sure even a Saint Dolly could increase vaccination rates enough to reach herd immunity. Vaccine hesitancy is astonishingly high. Though political leanings play a role, it is certainly not as simple as Trump supporters versus all others. Jonah Goldberg, writing for The Dispatch, noted that when the COVID-19 pandemic began, very few conservatives and Republicans disagreed that the government had a role to play: “Pandemics, like wars, are supposed to be tackled by the government.”

Even the staunchest libertarian — focused on “autonomy and political freedom” — can understand that preventing the spread of communicable disease is a necessary and worthy role of government, even as certain means to control disease (government shutdowns, for example) are questioned.

But the libertarian forfeits their principled position when their personal right to act becomes a belligerent and ignorant — not to mention community-harming — stand. So went Custer. Some are even wearing the decision not to be vaccinated as a badge of honor.

When you combine a growing libertarian streak with the individualism and sense of invincibility common among millennials (aka “Generation Me”), it is easy to see why vaccination rates trail off dramatically the younger you look. A cynical person might suggest that millennials just want the excess number of Baby Boomers to die from COVID-19 so they don’t have to support them in retirement. Plus, they’ll get their inheritance sooner. After all, those old people were going to die anyway. (Yes, I have heard it said on more than one occasion that COVID-19 didn’t really kill older people; they were going to die anyway.)

Young adults aren’t invincible, despite podcaster Joe Rogan telling them they don’t need to get vaccinated. (He later walked back that comment, stating, “I’m not a doctor. I’m a f—ing moron.”) It sells more papers (or internet and social media ads) to play up the rare vaccine side effects than to tell the stories of young people who suffered or died from severe COVID-19. But those stories are out there.

Serious cases are on the rise in younger adults, creating a “reservoir of disease” that eventually “spills over into the rest of society.” Without a doubt, President Joe Biden should order U.S. military personnel to get vaccinated. Our military must be fit at all times.

I have had many thoughtful discussions with people who have not yet gotten vaccinated. Outside of conspiracy theories, I have yet to hear an argument that is not based ultimately on either fear or self-centeredness.

The most sensible argument made against the COVID-19 vaccines is that we don’t have enough long-term safety data. (The original argument was that they were developed too quickly, but that was a false argument from the start. Years of advance research laid the groundwork for COVID-19 vaccine development.) But with hundreds of millions of doses given — and only extremely rare serious side effects seen — the safety of the vaccines being given in the United States is unquestioned. Pregnant women can get vaccinated, and there is no evidence any of these vaccines affect fertility.

True anti-vaxxers are a lost cause. They are crazy. You can’t reason with a conspiracy theorist. But there are many honest folk who have heard so much misinformation that they either don’t know what to believe or just can’t get rid of their doubt. These are the people who need to step up and take responsibility for more than just themselves. Otherwise, we are left with pure selfishness. Rosie would not approve.

Though vaccine hesitancy is seen across the nation, rural and conservative areas are the worst. Once again, as with almost every health metric from smoking to obesity, from education level to income, rural America comes in last.

One may have different political beliefs and still unite in caring for the poor, the vulnerable, the least of these. Love and justice demand it.

The New York Times argues vaccine hesitancy isn’t a knowledge problem; it is about gut beliefs or “moral intuitions.” Vaccine hesitancy among evangelical Christians is pathetically high. What amazes me is that the folks who claim the moral high ground and purport to be concerned for the eternal welfare of others apparently don’t care enough about others’ lives here on earth to take a simple shot.

So, for the freedom loving, anti-big government individualists out there, hear me: You can mistrust authority and love your neighbor. You can hate Dr. Anthony Fauci and still protect your grandmother. You say you love your country? Then protect her and end this pandemic.

It boils down to “where your treasure is.” Is your core motivation the “moral preference for liberty and individual rights,” or is it “love your neighbor as yourself?” Maybe one choice honors both. Rosie the Riveter rolled up her sleeve. So did Saint Dolly. You should, too.

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