Take Your Best Shot

Today is better than yesterday. Yesterday wasn’t good at all. Because the day before yesterday, I got my COVID booster shot. I don’t react well to COVID shots.

Or you could say that my immune system reacts frightening well: it pulls out all the stops to fight the nonexistent invader.

That I feel, personally, like somebody whacked me with a big full-body hammer covered in carpet tacks is beside the point. Protection is the point. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My first round of two shots went worse. Shot 1 wasn’t bad at all: I felt a little loggy the next day. But Shot 2 put me on the floor. I stayed in bed for a day with something like the worst cold you could possibly have. I staggered out of bed the next day, white as a sheet. My color didn’t return till Day 5.

So I was expecting the worst this time around. “The booster is only a half-dose of the vaccine, so maybe it won’t be as bad,” the nurse lied. “And a strong reaction is a good thing!”

I felt weird within a few hours. And my wife tells me that my nose, at least, kept its color while the rest of me turned bedsheet white. I staggered around the house and tried to do a few chores before I had to sit down. I guess the nurse was right; this time around was less like being whacked with a giant hammer, and more like being beaten up by a gang of dwarves.

But you know, who cares? It’s what we have to do to stay safe, and to avoid spreading COVID to others. I grew up with that ethic: if the government said, “get your shots,” you got your shots. We all lined up for polio shots, and the second vaccine that came on a sugar cube. It wasn’t long after World War II; people tended to move as a unit in national emergencies.

And now, they don’t. Everybody’s special; “units” are for government dupes. And you don’t get your news from the newspapers or the mainstream media — which are sadly not what they used to be — but from some guy on Facebook who could be… anybody. With any agenda.

I get it. The national media’s not what it was. The medical community isn’t what it was. Politics definitely isn’t what it was. But if the Internet taught me anything, it taught me this:

To find a good answer to any big question you need to triangulate through all the answers out there. You separate the ones that cluster together in the highest level of probability, and treat the the outliers with suspicion. You examine everybody’s credentials; sometimes an outlier is something very sound that just hasn’t got the funding yet.

You will not get a good answer from somebody on social media or alternative video who looks and sounds “just like you” and plays off your fears. It’s called affinity fraud: gaining someone’s confidence by appearing to be of their tribe, then using them mercilessly, For money, power, or all of the above.

There is a risk in everything you do. A cousin of mine died of COVID a couple of weeks ago. We weren’t close and I didn’t attend the funeral. Even if we had been close, his county is a COVID hotspot: the kind of place where less than half the population is fully vacationed; where Fox and Friends plays on the TV in public places; where conservative megachurches take out billboard ads along the freeway; and where the county superintendent of education is not mandating COVID shots for students because, “we just don’t know.”

I remember him as a nice guy, a good old country boy, physically massive. He would have been around 70. And I’m going to bet he didn’t get his shots. If he didn’t, he was a casualty in a civil war he didn’t even know he was fighting, a war against established democratic process by nativist rabble-rousers. That affinity fraud works really, really well.

Believe me, nobody wants these shots. Nobody wants to stay home. Nobody wants to mask. But we’ve got to move as a unit to solve this thing. We’ve got to fight the war and put at least some trust in the scientists. Because COVID will not stop on its own, not for a long time. It doesn’t know how.

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