My Point of View: Both our republic and health care system depend on facts

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Lies have eroded both our democracy and our health care system.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Our hospitals will go through another hard impact this month, mainly because so many people who could have been vaccinated and boosted against COVID declined to do so, often due to misinformation. Unvaccinated people are experiencing by far the worst health outcomes from COVID infections. 

The Delta wave of the COVID pandemic hasn’t even passed yet — with some Minnesota hospitals still operating on crisis standards of care — and now the highly transmissable Omicron variant is poised to pummel hospitals again. Omicron appears to be a milder form, but its sheer numbers will make January rough. Hospitalizations across the country have already shot up.

Jeffrey Zients, Biden’s COVID response coordinator, stated bluntly in December, “For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.” 

Though I understand the exhaustion in his statement, preservation of our health care resources is an overarching reason not to give up nor resign ourselves to letting thousands more unvaccinated people meet an atrocious fate.

Our health care workers also need us to pull for them, and children under 5 aren’t eligible for COVID vaccines yet. So, I beg once again, please get vaccinated and boosted, and practice masking and social distancing. COVID may let up substantially after this — Omicron numbers will balloon this month and then drop down relatively quickly. But the damage Omicron is capable of doing to people and our health care system is lasting: professional burnout, long COVID and staggering medical bills. 

And as for the 100,000+ deaths that already could have been prevented by vaccines and the thousands more that we’ll see in the coming weeks, they are final. We have already lost far too much. 

In spite of the evidence of COVID vaccines’ effectiveness combined with the immense burden that unvaccinated people are placing on our health care system, state Rep. Peggy Bennett wrote an embarrassingly misguided letter to Mayo Clinic last month demanding that it not enforce its COVID vaccine mandate for employees. 

Mayo rightfully followed the science and ignored Bennett and her 37 Republican House co-signers. Somehow Bennett can connect the dots between texting-and-driving and car accidents, but not lack of vaccination and higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID.

I don’t know why misinformation has a strong hold on Republican leaders, and why so many are pushing false narratives about vaccines, VAERS and quack treatments like ivermectin. It’s so patently bad that it sounds like Russian active measures. This misinformation has amassed such a high body count that life expectancy has dipped.

Last month dozens of Minnesotans aged 30 to 59 died of COVID. Each death represents decades of life lost, and many of those people were parents with children at home. One of them was an Itasca County sheriff’s deputy, who died at age 41, leaving behind a wife and three school-age children. He was against COVID vaccines.

Last year was a terrible year for law enforcement death — the Officer Down Memorial Page has so far identified 500 officers who died in the line of duty, and of those, 339 were from COVID, the top killer by far. (The deputy from Deer River is not counted among them, as of now.)

Most of the COVID deaths occurred months after life-saving vaccines were widely available. Much of this tragedy was easily preventable with two to three needle sticks that required a Band-Aid and maybe some ibuprofen. 

Yet Republicans like Peggy Bennett keep fighting against these life-saving, cop-saving, health care resource-saving vaccines.

Speaking of police, it has been a year since hundreds of Capitol and D.C. Metro police risked their lives to defend the Capitol and our elected officials from thousands of rampaging Trump supporters motivated by Trump’s noxious lies about the 2020 election.

In his “Jan. 6” anniversary law enforcement appreciation column last week, Robert Hoffman failed to mention their thin blue line of valor, left out Officer Sicknick suffering a fatal stroke that night, omitted Officer Fanone being beaten nearly to death by an enraged Trump mob, skipped that 140 officers were injured by rioting Trump loyalists who wanted to overthrow constitutional order, and forgot to mention the four responding police who committed suicide in the aftermath.

I appreciate a hometown officer’s sacrifice. I also think the efforts of officers who bravely defended the Capitol against an hours-long, brutal attack by Trump supporters, an event that shocked the entire world and came perilously close to upending our republic, deserves a hearty thank you, as well as a promise to hold those responsible to account, all the way to the top.

Both our republic and our health care system depend on facts to sustain them and light their way, and we all benefit from their strength. Defend facts. Dispute lies, misinformation and memory-holing.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.