The United States is the nation of vaccine innovators, but also of “conspiratorial cronies”

Let me present two facts to you.

Fact 1: More than any other country, the United States contributed to the invention, manufacture and distribution of a revolutionary and effective pair of messenger RNA vaccines for COVID-19.

Fact 2: The United States ranks 36th for national immunization rates.

As pretty much anyone who has read the news or been to a drugstore recently will know, the second fact has nothing to do with the availability of vaccines. We have more than enough doses to immunize everyone in this country who is eligible for an injection.

No, it is not a problem of supply and demand. It’s a good old-fashioned paradox: a situation that seems to contradict itself but is, in fact, true.

So how, land of the innovative and home of the intelligent, are we so far from the podium when it comes to protecting ourselves against the deadliest pandemic in a century?

According to an August Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of unvaccinated adults said getting the vaccine posed a greater health risk than the coronavirus itself. Only a quarter of this group believe vaccines prevent serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 vaccine is set in front of an American flag.

This level of vaccine skepticism predates the pandemic. A Gallup poll conducted just weeks before the first reported case of COVID-19 found that 84% of Americans believed it was extremely important to immunize their children, down significantly from a figure of 94% in 2001. And Despite extensive scientific debunking of the alleged link between vaccines and autism, only 45% of respondents agreed that immunizing children does not cause autism.

This distrust of vaccines has only grown throughout the pandemic. Danish researcher Michael Bang Petersen, who conducts surveys of global attitudes towards COVID-19, attributes this, in part, to “the level of polarization between Democratic and Republican elites.”

Even though party leaders like former President Donald Trump have admitted to being vaccinated, the party’s most prominent media platforms, including Fox News, have consistently questioned the value and safety of COVID-19 vaccines. As a result, said Petersen, “Many conservative Americans have simply lost faith in our public health commentators and ignored them. “

This brings us to the second part of the problem. America has always been proud of its tradition of intellectual independence. “Without freedom of thought there can be no wisdom,” said Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most prolific thinker and inventor our country has ever known.

Largely self-taught, Franklin exemplifies the Ultra-American notion that anyone can come up with a game-changing idea. And if he could have invented the lightning rod, the bifocal lenses, the stove and the catheter more than two centuries ago, it is believed, each of us is at least able to assess the oceans of information now available. (thanks, internet) and imagine ours. opinions on the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

We are also a land against the grain, hatched like anti-Britain. Our founding ideals were modeled precisely around the freedoms unavailable under King George: speech, religion, reunion. This instinctive tradition is still very much alive today, so it’s no surprise that a significant portion of the population bristles against the government and its legion of madmen.

Enter these variables into a single equation, and you get, as Derek Thompson recently wrote in The Atlantic, “a bimodal distribution of opponents: lots of groundbreaking entrepreneurs and scientists on one side, and lots of conspiratorial cranks on one side. the other “.

So really, it’s not much of a surprise that the same country that gave the world mRNA vaccines is eating away at ivermectin, a drug widely used to combat parasites in livestock, as an unproven cure for COVID-19. These are two sides of the same coin. Let’s just hope the heads win.

Adam Cohen is senior vice president and general counsel and interim president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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