Until the day he died, my grandfather never took a Bayer aspirin. He also refused Novocain at the dentist and denied a host of other drugs and medical treatments. He did all this, annoying his family and frustrating his doctors, because he knew too much about the role German pharmaceutical companies had played in funding World War II. A chemist, a genius, and somewhat mentally unstable, he just couldn’t get past his aversion to what he knew about medical research. As such, he dug in his heels.
Why do I tell this story? Because in today’s age of COVID, everyone has a family member like my grandfather. We all have a mother, sister, friend or cousin who refuses to get the COVID vaccine. Or perhaps we are that brother, father, uncle or coworker who won’t get jabbed. Wherever we fall on the continuum, we all feel the pressure. I don’t know a single family that isn’t being torn apart by the vaccine debate. What I do know is, whoever you are, you’re not alone.
What we need to realize is that even in Israel, a place touted as having “near-universal” vaccination, only 81% of the population has had both shots. 81% equals about four out of every five people. This means that even in the most-vaccinated country in the world, one out of every five people is refusing the jab.
Here in America, the federal government is increasing the pressure — tightening the thumbscrews — to force every last person to get vaccinated lest they lose their job as well as their right to go into a Walmart. But the thing is, there will always be that one out of every five people who simply won’t. Not if you threaten them. Not if you bribe them. They simply won’t.
They may not trust the government, pharmaceutical companies, or just Anthony Fauci. Vietnam vets, Native Hawaiians, black people, folks who used to work for biotech companies, people who’ve been injured by drugs in the past. All these people have their own histories, memories and attitudes, and none of us can (or should want to) beat their opinions out of them.
Right now, as Mayor Kawakami decides how to proceed regarding vaccine mandates on the island of Kaua‘i, he needs to consider — all of us need to consider — what we are willing to do to that one out of every five people who refuse to comply.
These are not strangers. They are our family and friends. Like my grandfather, they have their reasons for their fears. They even have a right to their stubbornness. (Even if said stubbornness is misguided.)
So what are we going to do? Are we going to enforce mandates from far-away Washington? Mandates designed for mainland big cities and that will drive apart families and marginalize members of our community? Or are we going to accept and embrace our ‘ohana, even though we may not always agree?
I, for one, love people just as much, whether or not they get the shot and whether or not they get COVID. No one in my world is a leper or will be treated as such. Hopefully, others feel the same.
Jen Cornforth is a resident of Kilauea