A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Los Angeles Times has suggested that some people who refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and subsequently died of the disease got their “just desserts.”
In a column titled, “Mocking anti-vaxxers’ COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes — but may be necessary,” Michael Hiltzik, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999, asked rhetorically, “How should we react to the deaths of the unvaccinated?”
He answered himself:
On the one hand, a hallmark of civilized thought is the sense that every life is precious. On the other, those who have deliberately flouted sober medical advice by refusing a vaccine known to reduce the risk of serious disease from the virus, including the risk to others, and end up in the hospital or the grave can be viewed as receiving their just deserts (sic).
Hiltzik noted, “It has become common online and in social media for vaccine refusers and anti-vaccine advocates to become the target of ridicule after they come down with COVID-19 and especially if they die from it,” then listed some venues that had done just that.
Hiltzik wrote that he differed from a colleague who lamented the vicious attacks on anti-vaxxers who had died, offering, “I have a slightly different take.” He agreed that the deaths of those who had “legitimate medical reasons” for remaining unvaccinated, had to overcome obstacles getting to a vaccination site, or had been “deceived by the misinformation and disinformation spread by the anti-vaccine crowd such as anchors on Fox News,” were “truly lamentable.”
“Some of those who object to the tone of the commentary are merely voicing a variation on the ‘civility’ argument that was commonly raised against critics of the intemperate and inhumane policies of the Trump administration,” Hiltzik contended, adding, “As I observed then, ‘pleas for civility’ are a fraud. Their goal is to blunt and enfeeble criticism and distract from their truthfulness. Typically, they’re the work of hypocrites.”
“So what, then, is the proper response to the deaths of anti-vaxxers or other determined foes of public health?” he continued. “First, we must acknowledge that the enemies needing to be stamped out are the misinformation, lies and stupidity being injected into the fight against COVID. Second, we must view every one of these deaths as a teachable moment. They demonstrate in the most vivid way imaginable the folly of vaccine refusal and of flouting responsible public health measures. They underscore the dire consequences of turning public health into a partisan football.”
It may be not a little ghoulish to celebrate or exult in the deaths of vaccine opponents. And it may be proper to express sympathy and solicitude to those they leave behind. But mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled. Nor is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude, or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to. There may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard.
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