Professional basketball player Kyrie Irving has opted to resist a COVID vaccination mandate. Not the NBA’s mandate – the NBA has not established a vaccine requirement. New York City’s mandate, which has trickled down to Irving’s team, the Brooklyn Nets.

The team has not fared well without its all-star point guard. It lost its home opener last night, clearly missing Irving, who is not even allowed to practice with the team. That loss is secondary, culturally speaking, to the activity outside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the team’s home arena, before and during the game. A crowd of protestors, estimated at about 500, stood in solidarity with Irving and against mandates. While not a massive protest in the grand scheme, it nevertheless illuminates an underreported aspect of the anti-vax and anti-mandate movements (n.b. they are not one and the same, though the populations do intersect): that it’s not just red-staters and right-wing Luddites.

Brooklyn, and in particular the downtown area where Barclays is located, is hardly Trump country, and I think it’s likely that the Nets fan base isn’t either. The photos from the protest show a plethora of People of Color, including many blacks. Blacks, by the way, have a lower vaccination rate than any other racial group, which also blows up the “only stupid Republican types refuse the vaccine” message.

Throughout this pandemic, I warned against mandates and lockdowns, predicting they’d do more harm than good by prompting reflexive resistance. Americans can be very cooperative, but hate to be told what to do. When request becomes demand, many flip their personal scripts. Even more so, when the mandates seem arbitrary or capricious or petulant or illogical. Once a leader has broken a bond of trust and faith, that leader’s requirements, even if they might actually be backed by the best information available at the time, are certain to be met with greater skepticism and resistance.

We’ve had arbitrariness. We’ve had capriciousness. We’ve had petulance. We’ve had illogic. We’ve also had lies, and we now have a test of wills. Some of our politicians, already of an authoritarian bent, are so beside themselves that they aren’t being obeyed that they’re saying “watch what I do now.” Others are piling on absurd mandates (like Oregon’s outdoor masking), perhaps to show how they are “doing something” where others are not.

The resistance to vaccinating against COVID is primarily, perhaps overwhelmingly, the product of politicians’ partisan antics. It is, unfortunately, a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.

It is also being misreported. Deliberately, in my opinion. There is indeed a marked difference in vaccination rates between Red and Blue (53% in counties that voted for Biden, 40% in counties that voted for Trump). But, there is also a marked difference (1.2x) between vaccination rates among whites and blacks. Interesting to note is that blacks are also notably less likely to take a seasonal flu shot than whites, despite the black population’s notably greater comorbidity factors. Some argue that this is the product of racism and white privilege, but I see a whole lot of distrust of government in that stew pot.

With cause. Both from a racial angle and from an overall perspective.

And, so, when we look across the anti-mandate protest outside Barclays, we don’t only see white MAGA faces.

What’s the remedy? Certainly not more mandates. In fact, I’d argue that backing off mandates while continuing to encourage vaccination would be as or more effective. I’d also argue as I have before (and as have many others): Tell people that, if they get their shots, they don’t need masks any more. Again, no mandates, just recommendations and advisories. They can also stop lying about natural immunity. It’s hard to find non-politicized data (and that’s a HUGE part of the problem, as well), but it’s pretty clear that there is at least some immunity conferred from having had the disease, and telling people otherwise simply makes the problem worse. Whereas a message that “yes, you’ve got some immunity, but you’re still better off getting vaccinated” would be more honest and might encourage more vaccinating.

What is needed, above all else, are a shift to honesty and a pullback from coercion. We know we’ve been lied to, time and again, by people who apparently believed (and still believe) that we are too stupid to respond properly to the truth, and therefore must be managed via lies and obfuscation. And by people who screwed up, and are playing CYA games with public health. Restoring some iota of trust must include both admissions and punishments. The worst offenders should not only be removed from their positions of authority (it is tragically ironic that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo would have borne no consequence for his COVID misdeeds had he not also turned out to be a serial harasser), but actually punished.

Finally, no more mandates. The vaccine is freely available to anyone and everyone who wants it, and anyone who wants to mask can wear one wherever he or she chooses. We are at what Andrew Sullivan called the “let it rip” phase of the pandemic. Yes, hospitals in some areas are at or above capacity, but I’d say we’re better off focusing efforts there than in trying to force the resistant to bend the knee.

Not just for this pandemic, but in anticipation of the next major public health crisis. Without cleaning up the current mess, the next pandemic (though I hope to the stars it’ll never happen) could turn out even worse, thanks to the government’s fecklessness in managing this one.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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