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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

‘I’d Rather Die Than Take the Vaccine’

October 5th, 2021

A Michigan physician who works in hospice and pulmonary care has posted on his Facebook page the dying denials of patients with COVID-19. Many healthcare workers have heard such words themselves, which reveal a startling rejection of science and a dogmatic belief in misinformation.

Matthew Trunsky, MD, of Royal Oak, MI posted the following on September 11, 2021. The parenthetical comments are his.

“In my last two days of work I have heard the following,” Trunsky wrote.

  • “You’re wrong doctor. I’m too healthy. I don’t have Covid. I’m fine.” (In reality, he’s fighting for his life).
  • “I demand ivermectin or you’ll hear from my lawyer.”
  • “I demand hydroxychloroquine.”
  • “I don’t care what you say. I’m going to leave.”(Response: “That is your prerogative but you’ll be dead before you get to your car.”)
  • “I’d rather die than take the vaccine.” (You may get your wish.)
  • “I didn’t take it because my son told me it would kill me.” (The patient is currently fighting for his life — in fact it was the son‘s advice that may kill him.)
  • “I want a different doctor. I don’t believe you.”
  • From a woman whose husband died of Covid, “I would never feel comfortable recommending the vaccine for family and friends.”

“This is not to mention the anger the people have towards the physicians and the nurses who are really doing our best — and who are delivering exceptionally excellent care,” Trunsky concluded. “Of course the answer was to have been vaccinated — but they were not and now they’re angry at the medical community for their failure. Numbers are on the rise. Get your vaccine.”

Kathyrn Ivey, RN, a critical care nurse at a hospital in Nashville, shared similar sentiments on Twitter:

“I don't know what to say that will make people listen,” Ivey tweeted. “I wish I could snap so many people out of their selfish stupor but I can't, so I get to watch instead as people learn the hard way; with a tube down your throat. With a "code blue, code blue!" and the crack of a sternum.”

No vaccine is perfectly safe, nor for that matter, is any medical procedure. The question is one of risk-benefit: With so many millions of people now safely vaccinated, the risks associated with acquiring COVID-19 are clearly higher than the rare side effects of immunization. Here is just one set of facts from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which recently reviewed state data and records and reported that 94% of SARS-CoV-2 infections, 95% of hospitalizations, and 97% of deaths occurred in the unvaccinated.

What is the counterargument to such devastating numbers? Some who refuse vaccination seem to have developed a kind of “cognitive dissonance” response, as social scientists term it. In this case, the thought of being vaccinated causes unease and conflict with the thought of remaining unvaccinated, so the latter is reinforced by confirmation by like-minded others and misinformation that supports the decision to refuse the shot.

While the pandemic response and precautions such as mask wearing were politicized early in the outbreak, researchers also use the term “solution aversion” to describe attitudes toward the vaccine that can be traced to political influences.

“Results from an experiment indicate that conservatives are more likely to dismiss the risks of COVID-19 when governmental regulations are highlighted,” the authors report. “In contrast, liberals are less likely to support Emergency Use Authorization of COVID-19 vaccines when market-oriented solutions are highlighted.”

To somewhat oversimplify the findings, liberals are more trustful of government solutions than free market solutions. Antivaxxers and conservatives are exactly the opposite. Thus, if the vaccines were produced in a free market setting with minimal government involvement, it is possible that segments of these divided populations would have reversed their thinking: Those distrustful of government would have taken the vaccine, while those distrustful of business may have hesitated to be immunized.

For more on this story, see the next issue of Hospital Employee Health.

Gary Evans, BA, MA, has written numerous articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and healthcare workers. These include stories on HIV, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, pandemic influenza, MERS, and Ebola. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting in newsletter journalism five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.