The Price of Politics

I invite you to read the story  Washington Post – Anti-Vaxx Story about a man named Chris Crouch and his “terrible choice.” His pregnant wife Diana was hospitalized with Covid, and both baby and mother were at risk.  Being pregnant was putting additional stress on Diana’s body, and it was unclear if she would survive a full-term.  The baby was a month away from being viable, so Chris truly had a terrible choice.  Deliver the baby now to increase the odds of Diana’s survival or wait, taking the risk that he could lose them both.

Now the twist.  When the Covid vaccines became available, Chris was outspokenly against them.  Both he and Diana were adamant that they did not need to be vaccinated.  He carried a fairly typical Texas attitude – the mandates infringed on personal liberties, and they were concerned that the vaccines had been developed too quickly.  Chris said, “God gave us our immune systems and we can fight the viruses with our own immune system.”

Then Diana contracted Covid, and her health took a precipitous decline. Rushed from emergency room to ICU, her case baffled her doctors. She was put on a ventilator for a 101 days. During that time, things got so bad that they also put Diana on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) where the blood is pumped out of the body to reduce stress on the heart and lungs. She was on the ECMO machine for 51 days. ECMO can save lives, but can also cause bleeding, stroke, seizures, blood clots, and infection. Plus, it is really expensive and staff intensive.

As he spent time isolated with his wife, as Diana slipped into a coma while hooked up to the ECMO machine, Chris wondered if he was at fault.  He concluded that the answer was yes, and he began to communicate his “mistake” to his friends and urging them to get vaccinated, which he also decided to do.  “When you sit there and see your wife on life support because of Covid, you throw out politics,” he said later.  “None of that matters anymore.”

The details are of importance, so please read the article.  I will, however, give you the ending.  Both Diana and baby Cameron survived.  All is good in the world.  I am delighted that good things happened for this family.

But, even with all my sympathy and empathy, this story left me angry and disturbed.

First, why is it that adamant anti-vaxxers only “convert” when their lives or the lives of their close family are at risk? Neighbors, friends, people in the community flooding their local hospital and subsequently dying of Covid did not change their minds. Only when it became direct and personal did any real understanding occur. For too many, that understanding came too damn late.

Second, Chris outright admitted that his stance was political, not medical, not scientific, but predicated on the misinformation provided to him by his like-minded colleagues, Texas’ political leadership, and a national sense that “no one is the boss of me.”  Right up until his wife’s life was at stake.  Then, and only then,  did medicine and science prevail over politics.  The daily reporting of  hundreds of thousands of deaths due to Covid did not sway him.  Nor did the fact that he could be an asymptomatic Covid carrier and unknowingly infect his unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised friends, neighbors, and strangers.  Only when his wife and child were threatened , did he change his mind. 

There are about 130 million households in the US.  As of today, as a nation, less than 70% of the population is fully vaccinated.  For a moment, let’s assume that households work like population as a whole.  That means almost 40 million households would not be fully vaccinated.  Now let’s assume I am 80% wrong, and it is only 8 million households.  If one person in those household has to be near death or actually die to convince people to get vaccinated…..well, shit, you do the math.  A reminder that deaths due to Covid are now roughly 925,000 in the US.

Third, and finally, let me add up the cost of protecting an individual’s right to put their fellow citizens at risk.  Diane spent 139 days in the hospital.  The national average cost is about $4,000 a day.  Add 101 days of ventilation that adds an increment that can almost double the daily cost.  Plus, the use of an ECMO machine adds about $5,000 a day.  Baby Cameron spent went home “a few weeks” before Diana came home – that is roughly 100 days at a neo-natal ICU at least $4,000 a day.

Conservatively, this decision cost roughly $1.5 million, and possibly twice that amount.  Is that the right cost of an individual’s right to ignore public health concerns?  And who bears that cost?

What happens, as has been suggested in a few states, when all vaccinations become voluntary? Are you going to send your kid to school or sit in a movie theater? Will you attend Friday, Saturday, or Sunday religious services if you know that more than one person in the crowd could have polio or smallpox, or measles or any other nasty viral element that we now have vaccinations to help prevent from occurring at all and at least lower the consequences of catching that virus? I can assure you that I would be very afraid of an America that supported that kind of behavior.

You should be afraid as well.  And if you are not, the rest of us will have to wait until Darwin comes for you or a loved one.  But don’t expect us to attend the funeral.

Let me end by saying again how wonderful it is that Diana and Cameron survived, and great that Chris came around.  That is a terrific outcome.  But it should not be that hard to do the right thing in the first place.

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