(This is part one of a discussion about vaccines and masks and personal choice and the fitness community; part two, voices from all of the FIFI bloggers, will be published this afternoon).
I got my first covid vaccine jab last weekend. It came on top of a week — a month? a year? — of massive fatigue. That fatigue hasn’t gone away — as my colleague said, “rest, and give your body a chance to adjust to its fancy new medicine.”
I don’t know if my fatigue is vaccine-related, or seasonal allergies or just the culmination of the crush of the pandemic, increasingly burnt out clients, another full provincial lockdown just announced today. But what I do know is that my vaccine wasn’t “a personal choice” – and neither was it some moral failing because I haven’t worked out enough.
Catherine wrote a post last week that alluded to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ridiculous assertion that crossfit will protect her from covid. There is persistent, rising buzz of moralistic discourse within the fitness and wellness community that if we “eat clean,” take supplements, work out and otherwise “keep our immune systems functioning,” we don’t need vaccines.
This perspective is everywhere, nudging its way to the surface. My chiropractor told my friend, who is also her client, that she’s not planning to get vaccinated “unless they require it for me to travel somewhere.” People I like regularly post comments about vaccines being “a personal choice.” This perspective — which I’ve heard in many places — piggybacks on the notion that masks are a “personal choice” — and which then falls into the incendiary rhetoric that anyone who follows a mask mandate is a “sheeple.” (Which people flew onto our facebook page to post after Catherine’s post last week).
The anti-mask/anti-vax discourse tends to fall into four interconnected categories:
- “I’m not scared, YOU are, I shouldn’t have to adjust my life based on your fear”
- “I take care of my body, if you don’t that’s not my problem”
- “You’re not the boss of me”
- “Science is just one of many belief systems, and I trust a different belief system more.”
There is a fifth zone, more in the vaccine hesitancy realm, that I have a lot more patience with: “I’m not opposed on principle to vaccines, but I am uncertain about this one because of the speed /I have X condition and I’m not sure if this will make it worse.” That is a different animal, from my point of view. But the more overt anti-vax, anti-mask perspectives engender some serious impatience in me.
It’s true, I’m not the boss of you. And science IS imperfect. And I don’t like being bossed around either. But all of this comes down to the notion that something that has a profound collective impact — herd immunity, protecting people from random illness and maybe death — is an individual choice.
My mother always said “my right to swing my arm stops where your face begins.” And I think we are in a space where many people literally don’t understand where each other’s face begins. We are literally in a place where we cannot control the swing of a potential virus flying out of our mouths (and noses, all you nose-dick maskers). If you aren’t managing that virus flying out of your face, it’s going to hit me in the face. And much as I WISH I could sheer will-away or hug-away or cross-fit away or vitamin-D and zinc-away the impact that virus is going to have on me, I cannot. I work out every day, I’m a fit person, I eat well, I take vitamin D and probiotics, I’m the person who insists on taking the stairs whenever I can — but I also have asthma, and every year for the past decade, except for this past year of isolation and harm reduction, I’ve had at least one virus that made me so ill I couldn’t function, and then lingered in the form of a cough for weeks and weeks.
I don’t think I have to talk about how ableist the notion is that if you’re just “fit enough” (i.e., moral enough, work hard enough), you don’t have to “choose” a vaccine. It’s ableist, it’s privileged, and it’s profoundly selfish. When I have to interact with the property manager of my building who refuses to wear a mask at all in his office, I don’t see a brave, independent man, I see a selfish, badly informed person I don’t trust to make decisions about the safety of our community. When I hear my chiropractor say she would only get vaccinated for her convenience of travel, I see someone I can’t trust to understand science. And who isn’t interested in protecting me as her client.
A fitness coach I used to take classes from posted this image about “the collective is not owed safety or protection at the expense of the individual” on her IG feed. I suspect the people who ascribe to this kind of nonsense don’t think their way through it. Do they believe that the individual desire to drive on any part of the road supercedes the collective decision that roads go in agreed-upon directions? To drive 200 km an hour on the city streets, regardless of how many little collectives of children there are trying to cross? To not expect the collective health and knowledge system to scrape them up and put them back together when they crash? Do they believe that the collective norms about defecating in the street are just individual choices, and it’s a matter of free will whether or not to just poop on the sidewalk in front of their houses?
Understanding anti-masking and anti-vaxxing is complex. The Lancet published an excellent piece recently suggesting that there is a lot to learn from cults about creating dialogue with anti-vaxxers. They encourage us to approach what feels like irrational faith with understanding. When I do that, what I hear is fear. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are afraid for their health, like everyone, and they’re afraid of the unknown. My perception is that if they frame masks or vaccines as a choice, they don’t have to acknowledge how little personal agency we truly have when faced with biology, with viruses. With death. And with our own mortality.
I’m old enough that my covid vaccine went into my arm just underneath the faint scar I still have from the smallpox jab I had when I was 3 or 4. I’m among the last cohort who had to get a smallpox vaccine. Because vaccination eradicated it, through individual recognition of collective responsibility and social accountability.
Where we are right now is a hard, fatiguing, tiring place. There are reasons why some people can’t wear masks, and why some people can’t get vaccines. This current round of vaccines is an evidence-based experiment that does carry some risk. I’m not denying that. But we are a community. A fitness community, a community of citizens, a community of fragile, vulnerable and brave humans. Wherever we can, we have to take on some risk for the benefit of the whole.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who had a lot to say on this topic. This is her vaccine selfie. Stayed tuned for more on this topic in many voices this afternoon.