As politicians battle over masks and mandates, heated rhetoric has been used to describe the fourth heartbreaking surge in COVID as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
While it may serve to further divide red and blue states, I disagree with the assertion that the current surge in cases is driven simply by the unvaccinated. Why? First, the premise would assume complete efficacy with our vaccinated population, which is statistically incorrect (at least 15 million of the U.S. population never completed a second round of injections), which means they were not considered “fully vaccinated.”
Alternately, we need to examine what has occurred in nations with significantly higher vaccination rates than ours (the United Kingdom and Israel) to realize that variants have overrun the dramatic success achieved in those countries as well. Israel, once considered to be the most vaccinated country in the world, is facing a brutal fourth wave of COVID that has sent the country spiraling into another heartbreaking lockdown.
The unvaccinated could hardly be blamed for what is happening in either of these highly vaccinated countries.
The concept of blame
So why use blame? It defeats the purpose of encouraging those who are hesitant or possibly misinformed or disenfranchised to move forward. It lacks compassion. It does not encompass the art and science of nursing (for example, the University of Southern Indiana), such as those that hospitals have used to frame optimal nursing care. I abhor the idea of labeling because it denies the prospect of future comprehension.
Labeling reminds me of one of the saddest cases in my career.
An unfortunate case
I was the nurse caring for a man from a motor vehicular accident where an entire family was brutally killed. My patient was alleged to be the cause, with a blood alcohol level of 0.40%+ post hydration, intubated and ventilated, with a flailed chest and multiple orthopedic injuries as well as blunt head trauma. He was secured to the bed with handcuffs, although that was unnecessary. Multiple times I was asked how I could possibly care for such an individual, by the police and even a few colleagues. But it was not my place to judge the man.
He was in pain, and he was dying. I comforted him for the 2 weeks it took his battered body to pass into the next realm. No one visited him except the police, eagerly waiting for the man to wake up to explain the tragic events that occurred. It was my job to ease what pain I could and protect him from labels. Did he deserve the labels? Who knew? I did not care. I cared about his writhing and his physical anguish.
Blame did not help the situation then, nor does it help us move forward now. As nurses, we seek to work within a framework of understanding. As we tire of caring for thousands of COVID patients, we do not stop to ask if they “deserve” care or if they have taken precautions and lived reasonably prior to seeking assistance for disease. We would not be nurses if we did this.
Think about Gov. Greg Abbott, who has asked that Texans not be allowed to mandate masks for children returning to school. He has recently been diagnosed with COVID, despite assuring the public he is fully vaccinated. Politically, his diagnosis could be visualized as a fiasco for a purple state where he has been adamant in denying the efficacy of masks for children.
Yet, his diagnosis should not be fodder for the press. The first concern should be his health and well-being, similar for any man of his age and potential comorbidity.
We should be people first, human beings that remain interconnected by our need for care and survival, not conservatives, independents, or liberals, not “vaccinated or unvaccinated,” not seen as “breakthrough” infections, or the immunosuppressed possibly unable to mount a robust response to COVID.
Labels do not define the ability to effectively defeat coronavirus or variants, as highly vaccinated countries have demonstrated in recent months. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and the battle is raging onward.
In fact, the longer this pandemic continues, the more likely it is we will need to live with this as an endemic disease, so we should stop blaming those who become ill and need support.
It could be any of us.
A version of this article first appeared on.