by Joe Borelli on Aug 03, 2021 Featured

Aug 03, 2021 at 10:00 AM

“We’re all in this together” was the global rallying cry as the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic stretched far and wide. Those were the days of communal lockdowns, shared sacrifice, “flattening the curve” and all that. Kudos to all for participating, but New York must be past that phase now. Thanks to the vaccine, we are well beyond the group stages of the pandemic. We have entered a new one where personal responsibility must replace collective sacrifice.

The mayor is right to view the vaccine as the knockout punch, and he is right to change our metrics to reflect “cases, doses and hospitalizations,” rather than the positivity rate. But I strongly urge him to hold his line against new lockdown measures, and avoid creating two classes of New Yorkers through vaccine mandates and vaccine passports.

The vaccine works as advertised. No politician nor health expert had ever said they would be 100% effective, but that’s not the standard. For the fully vaccinated, hospitalization rates range from 0.00% to 0.06%. Death rates are about 0.01%. Yes, there are some infections among the fully vaccinated, but those are almost always minor cases, not ones that require serious treatment.

In raw numbers, the CDC reports that out of 163 million vaccinated adults, only 6,587 serious breakthrough cases have been documented, a minuscule fraction of a percent. Moreover, in the U.K., where restrictions were recently eased despite the delta variant accounting for 99% of new cases, the vaccine was successful in preventing the correlating rise in hospitalizations and deaths seen in past waves. This seems to be happening here in New York, right now, as well.

Wrapping one’s head around this data should convince most American adults to get the jab, rather than the gunboat diplomacy new mandates and spot-checks of one’s vaccination status. In this country, “Informed Consent” is a fundamental part of medical ethics and health law, and in truth, there are unknowns about the efficacy, side effects and long-term results of the vaccine. Not to mention, it still does not have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Some people will inevitably choose not to take it, but the key point is that that’s their problem, not society’s. It’s the choice of that individual, and not the restaurant owner facing financial ruin, the student missing months of school, or any other lives that would be impacted by more draconian, blunt-instrument closures.

The constant lingering threat of these lockdowns and mask mandates by our political leaders at the city, state and federal levels, as well as conflicting and confusing CDC statements on the immunity of the vaccinated, all contribute to the hesitancy of many to get the jab. But it’s the constant politicization of our COVID response that causes the deepest problems.

For some folks, the idea that they probably should get vaccinated is a tough pill to swallow. For others, the notion that we won’t be forever protected by government-enforced lockdowns is downright scary. Our ability to overcome the crisis was always going to arise out of people in each camp compromising and adapting. However, it is the political tribalism of the COVID response that prevents the most rational voices from being heard.

The media has an important role to play in curtailing this. It can end both the clickbait nature of COVID coverage, and also shift away from framing the viral response as political news rather than health news.

The recent hyperbolized coverage of the delta variant is a case in point. Though cases are rising, the number of serious cases and deaths are nowhere near as bad as they were nationwide earlier this year, yet the confusing stories and messaging from our leaders is driving our tectonic plates further apart.

Moreover, If the hyper-politicization of COVID causes vaccine hesitancy, then it knows no party affiliation. Both Presidents Trump and Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated, but there still seems to be lagging rates among conservatives, Blacks, Hispanics and young adults. Acting as though there is some politician, political commentator or politically biased news network out there that can cure it is laughable, as though we have forgotten most Americans do not trust, and really can’t stand, the political class.

In truth, politicians, myself included, haven’t earned the public’s trust enough to continue making health decisions for their families. While many Americans suffered through the pandemic, many lawmakers basked in the glory, loving the attention, with some even profiting personally. Every new mandate got a thousand retweets, every rise in cases brought a CNN hit. Not to mention, there were countless stories of overt hypocrisy. With our masks on for photo ops, we won Emmy awards in COVID theatrics. All this erodes trust.

In this vein, it’s important that we encourage people to take responsibility for their own choices, speak to their trusted doctors about vaccines and treatments, and demand government’s role in the pandemic be lessened.

Borelli represents Staten Island in the City Council.