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The pandemic

The vaccine row dividing America

Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

America’s pandemic should be over by now, says David Frum in The Atlantic. If it weren’t for “conservative, evangelical and rural Americans” refusing to get the vaccine, we’d be nearing herd immunity. New, more infectious variants would have nowhere to spread and life could return to normal. But “pro-Trump America” has decided vaccine refusal is a statement of identity and a test of loyalty.

Okay, maybe some of us are disorganised, or “irrationally anxious”, but there’s no getting around the fact that significant numbers of Americans are behaving “wilfully and spitefully”. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by “garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians”. But these are the same people who keep banging on about “personal responsibility”. They need to accept that they’re inflicting “preventable and unjustifiable” harm on everybody else.

Oh please, says Matt Taibbi on Substack. I’m vaccinated, and I think people should be vaccinated. But this “moral mania” lays bare everything that’s “abhorrent and nonsensical” in American politics. If you want to convince people to get vaccinated, “pretty much the worst way to go about it” is a blame campaign delivered by “sneering bluenoses who have a richly deserved credibility problem with large chunks of the population”. Let’s not forget, says Rhea Boyd in The Atlantic, a lot of vaccine information isn’t common knowledge. Anti-vaxxers are incredibly vocal, hence the collective vitriol toward the “unvaccinated”. But unvaccinated people aren’t a “random group of defectors” and deviants. “Black folks are one of the least vaccinated groups”, largely because they have the least access to decent healthcare.

We must do something, says Ezra Klein in The New York Times. The Delta variant is “supercharging transmission” among the 30% of Americans who are refusing jabs. Many are cranks who can’t be persuaded, but plenty are making a risk calculation rather than indulging a conspiracy theory. If persuasion can’t change their minds, it might take something more robust. We don’t rely “solely on argumentation” to persuade people to wear seatbelts. Polio and measles were eliminated thanks to enforced vaccination, not public debate. If we let the virus “dance across the defenceless”, we could soon have a strain that “evades vaccines while retaining lethality”, or attacks children with more force. Those who object to vaccination passports as an “unprecedented stricture on liberty” ought to “widen their tragic imagination”.

Macron’s tough stance pays off

One country to watch in all this is France, says John Lichfield in the I newspaper. President Macron has turned a notoriously vaccine-shy population into one where vaccine uptake is about to surpass Britain’s. He did it by force. Only the “double-jabbed, recently tested or recovered” are allowed in bars, restaurants and cafes. The UK press has made much of the street protests this policy has generated. Less widely reported is the fact that the French vaccination rate doubled overnight. An estimated 160,000 vax-shy citizens took to the streets to oppose the new policy, but more than 400,000 a day are turning up for their first jab. “The tortoise is threatening to overtake the hare.”