‘Beyond angry’: Growing divide over COVID-19 vaccinations in Sonoma County
As the coronavirus pandemic has ebbed and spiked over the past seven months since vaccines became publicly available, public sentiment toward the unvaccinated has shifted along with it.
In the early stages of the vaccine rollout, demand exceeded supply by such a vast margin that hardly anyone took notice of the people who chose not to sign up for shots; if they didn’t want to get vaccinated, it just meant everyone else would get theirs sooner. When vaccine supply finally caught up in April, the decision to remain unimmunized began to stand out. But with transmission rates in steep decline, the stakes felt low. The unvaccinated were a curiosity to many, but not necessarily a danger.
All of that has changed. Daily case rates and hospitalizations are climbing steadily, and Sonoma County joined six others in the Bay Area on Monday mandating face coverings in all indoor public spaces. The region is regressing into another dark phase of the pandemic, and many blame the vaccine-hesitant.
That theme was sharply evident in responses people offered when The Press Democrat solicited opinions on the subject this week.
‘Sick and tired’
“I am sick and tired of unvaxxed people thinking they are MD’s and can run around infecting others,” Peg from Santa Rosa wrote. “Sick and tired of unvaxxed people not caring about those that cannot be vaxxed.”
“I’ve had it with the unvaccinated. The vaccinated are being held hostage by the unvaccinated,” wrote Mark from Petaluma. “All restrictions should only apply to the unvaccinated going forward.”
“If a COVID patient is brought into the ER of a hospital, the admitting staff should triage those who have refused vaccination,” Philip from Santa Rosa suggested. “Those anti-vax’ers should be put out into the parking lot and told to wait until all other patients are brought in.”
“I’m so angry. I’m beyond angry,” the otherwise soft-spoken Laurice Levine admitted in a phone interview.
She does have some basis for that. Levine, who lives in Petaluma and works as a medical consultant to biotech, has a blood disorder that requires her to visit the hospital every other week for a blood transfusion. During the height of the winter surge, she had to walk through the COVID-19 ward to get there, an experience she calls “pretty devastating.”
Though everyone in her family knows of her condition, many relatives have elected not to be immunized, including her brother. She, her husband and 5-year-old son have been excluded from multiple family events. Now, her boy is about to start kindergarten.
“I’m terrified, because I won’t have as much control,” Levine said.
So far, the vaccination discord in Sonoma County has stopped short of serious, face-to-face hostility. But there are ramifications.
Shelby Dodson believes his vaccine hesitancy is unfairly being used against him. Dodson, who lives in Santa Rosa, was in line for a job with Eden Housing, an organization that develops or acquires homes for low-income qualifiers. His start date was Aug. 2. His compensation, he said, would include a complimentary two-bedroom apartment for him and his girlfriend. Then Eden Housing asked for proof of vaccination, a requirement Dodson could not meet.
“I’m a person who believes I should live for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said, “which is literally what this country was built on. Or what it says it was built on.”
Dodson’s reluctance to get vaccinated comes from many angles. He’s 38, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and, as he put it, “super athletic and very healthy.” A 14-year military veteran who contracted COVID-19 at least once over the past 18 months, Dodson feels protected. Reports of negative responses to vaccine shots trouble him, and he believes vaccine mandates are created for political cover, not safety.
Also underlying Dodson’s unease is an abiding suspicion of the U.S. government and how it has treated Black Americans in the past. He is biracial.
“I’ll be very blunt,” Dodson said. “Our country has built most of its medical field on the backs of people who are African American. They spent a lot of time developing and processing things, and testing them on people of color.”
No intention of getting vaccinated
None of Dodson’s close friends or family members have any intention of getting vaccinated, he said.
While such mistrust can be hard to overcome, it’s not impossible. Despite early skepticism, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that, by April, more African American respondents (75%) were already vaccinated or inclined in that direction than white respondents (72%).
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