Opinion: A case for not being mean to the unvaccinated

A man in a "Mothers in Action" T-shirt holds an arrow-shaped sign reading "Vaccine"
Willie Golden directs people toward a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Los Angeles hosted by Mothers in Action on July 16.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, July 24, 2021. One year ago, the second wave of COVID-19 was cresting in California. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Last week I wrote that adults refusing to get their COVID-19 shots were “part of the problem.” The facts undeniably back that up: In late July last year, absent any vaccines, California was averaging close to 10,000 new cases a day; now, with easy access to effective shots, we’re at more than 5,000 cases and climbing exponentially. Two highly effective mRNA vaccines — both monumental achievements of science and public policy — have been widely available since the spring, but the pace of inoculation has slowed enough to allow the highly contagious Delta variant to take hold. These facts are indisputable and, ideally, ought to compel the holdouts to protect themselves.

But this is where things are less than ideal, and it may be why calling the willfully unvaccinated “part of the problem” is, well, part of the problem. Let me explain.


From my vantage point as the L.A. Times’ letters editor, what sets this surge apart (besides the availability of vaccines) is the overriding emotion in response to it: anger. Past surges saw plenty of that too, over anti-maskers and restrictions that seemed arbitrary, but people were mostly worried and grief-stricken. This time, the feeling is that instead of the pandemic unleashing horror on us, a portion of the population has ushered in the preventable death and illness. You can see this sentiment reflected on our letters page, where readers have lashed out against unvaccinated adults and called for mandates and restrictions to be placed on them. Similarly, The Times Editorial Board welcomed the University of California’s decision to require all students, staff and faculty on campus to be vaccinated by the fall, and defended employers — including government agencies — that require their workers to get their shots.

But crucially, persuasion is going to play a big role in boosting vaccination, a reality that’s easy to ignore when the health of the community is at stake. An interview by the Atlantic journalist Ed Yong with pediatrician Rhea Boyd ought to make anyone filled with righteous indignation pause before calling unvaccinated adults “part of the problem” — and contemplate how they may be complicating the work of physicians who, like Boyd, want to gain the trust of people asking “legitimate and important” questions.

None of this is to suggest there’s less of a need to combat misinformation or stop craven politicians from turning vaccine hesitancy into a wedge issue. What I am saying is that people like me, whose job it is to write persuasively and guide readers away from “alternative facts,” might need to be more aware of the people on the ground actually doing the persuading.

The Trumpiest cable news channel is headquartered in this bluest of states. The offices for One America News sit in a sandy-colored building in San Diego, a city with a long history as a “hotbed of white paranoid extremism,” writes columnist Jean Guerrero: “San Diego attracts these types. For those who dream of being white heroes at the edge of darkness, what better place than the literal frontier with brownness — so close to the ‘other side’ and its hallucinated boogeymen, but in a comfortable coastal city?” L.A. Times

Speaking of paranoid Trumpists, Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida are taking their circus on the road, hoping to raise cash with a series of “America First” rallies. Columnist Robin Abcarian says you won’t find any ideological overlap between her and these “shameless attention hounds,” but they are right to decry the actions of elected officials in Anaheim who got their rallies canceled: “Apart from being wrongheaded, this is the exactly the kind of fuel that fringe figures like Gaetz and Greene run on.” L.A. Times

The California Dream is dying. I confess that I started reading this piece in the Atlantic wanting to hate it, as I do with almost anything that tries to bend California into an easily understood narrative arc for the benefit of non-California readers. But Conor Friedersdorf makes powerful observations about landed Angelenos who espouse liberal ideals that are completely at odds with their neighborhood-level protectionism. The Atlantic

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Watch out, L.A.: The International Olympics Committee is having its way with Tokyo. Few in Japan are keen on hosting an international sporting event amid a raging pandemic. Athletes are testing positive for COVID-19. Taxpayer-backed budgets are being busted. None of this matters, because there’s money to be made for the people who run the Olympics, writes Jules Boykoff: “What we might call the traditional risks of hosting the Games pale in comparison to the way the IOC has muscled Japan around in the midst of the pandemic. Angelenos might consider what the committee would do to L.A.'s plans if the summer of 2028 is as hot, dry and fire prone as the summer of 2021.” L.A. Times

The war on drugs was always about race. Democrats speak of the “failed war on drugs,” as if the point all along wasn’t to send a lot of people to prison. Furthermore, writes LZ Granderson, the reason cited for this “failure” — that nonwhite Americans disproportionately went to prison as a result — wrongly suggests that people of color weren’t the intended target. “I won’t tolerate attempts to frame the drug war as failed,” Granderson writes. “I won’t accept a narrative that suggests it was simply flawed legislation or that the racial disparity was an unforeseen byproduct. None of this was driven by science. This was driven by prejudice and politics.” L.A. Times

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