President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon made some more public remarks about the still-spiking omicron variant of COVID-19. It wasn't pretty:
Of particular interest was the president's insistence on continuing to call it a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," a slogan that was unwise in July, untrue by December, and unbelievable at a time when the positive case rate in a 62 percent fully vaccinated country just reached an all-time high.
"Those who are fully vaccinated, especially those with the booster shots…you can still get COVID, but it's highly unlikely, it's very unlikely that you'll become seriously ill," Biden said, accurately. But then: "This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
If the pandemic indeed no longer applies to me, my family, and the vast majority of people I know (about half of whom seem to have contracted COVID over the past month), then I have a couple of follow-up questions, beginning with: Why on earth is my vaccinated 6-year-old, all the vaccinated kids in her class and after-school, and all her vaccinated teachers and supervisory staff, being forced by state law (influenced directly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to wear masks all day long? Kids, knock on wood, continue to be by far the least COVID-vulnerable demographic; and kids who are vaccinated even more so. Who, precisely, are we protecting with masking requirements in 100 percent vaccinated environments?
"Please wear your mask in public to protect yourself and others," the president urged even fully vaccinated/boosted people, including presumably those tens of thousands of us who have contracted and cycled through the virus during the omicron wave. But if it's a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and I live in a city where 73 percent of adults are fully dosed, and the remaining 27 percent have had plenty of opportunity to get the shot, what do I need protection from, and how would me wearing a mask on Canal Street protect anyone, besides shielding them from my hideous mouth?
"At this point, if you haven't been vaccinated, it's really your own darn fault," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in December, and he's right, at least when talking about adults. The logic of "pandemic of the unvaccinated" should take us vaccinated folks straight into living life as we please, rather than heeding orders or recommendations made by governments in the name of protecting grown-ass adults who decided differently. If the disease is no longer serious for us, then let us seriously make our own damn choices, including for our kids.
Some people more comfortable with COVID-related government restrictions reacted to my previous objections to the "pandemic of the unvaccinated" phrase by accusing me of splitting hairs. After all, if the unvaccinated are suffering disproportionately more serious impact from infection, doesn't it prove the president broadly right?
Well, not if we care about the definition of words. Pandemic means "an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population" (per Merriam-Webster), not "the minority subpopulation among those infected who experience the most serious effects." If the vaccinated experience more or less the same restrictions as the unvaxxed, then it's still our pandemic, Joe.
Yes, Biden is trying to encourage more vaccination by pointing out that vaccines prevent serious illness, but the way you do that is by pointing out that vaccines prevent serious illness, not by saying things that are neither technically true nor particularly helpful.