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Who is not struck by two opposing sets of images: Afghan citizens who beg for life as they race behind a departing plane while, in America, millions turn their backs on our life-sustaining vaccines? Thus, the flinty eye of death settles on Afghans and Americans alike. We wonder whether there is any power under Heaven to alter their fates.

One after another, the reasons for vaccine refusal fade to nothing. One person opts out because they mistakenly believe that fetal tissue is used in manufacture of the vaccine that would go into their arm. Another feels their god provides natural immunity. They have not yet considered that their god provides all things, including the vaccine. We pray that they get there.

Some believe the injection will include a chip manufactured by Bill Gates or that the shot will magnetize them or that vaccination is a government plot that ends in complete subjugation. I hope they return safely to earth. Others are stuck, knee-deep, in a definitional quagmire. They believe the only way to assert their “freedom” is to refuse vaccination. But if they are truly free, then they are equally free to either refuse, or accept, the vaccine.

Those who believe they are healthy enough to fend off COVID-19 evidently haven’t heard the televised admonition of Travis Campbell, a young vaccine refuser who, gasping for breath, said from his hospital bed, “I can’t breathe. I’m drowning. I feel like I’m a fish out of water ... Go get vaccinated, please, please.” I hope he makes it.

Right-wing shock jock Dick Farrell said on June 27 that he “would never take the poison that Pfizer and Moderna are peddling.” Farrell died of COVID-19 early this month but not before urging his friends to get vaccinated.

Andres Perekalski said, “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even walk 10 steps.” The father of two asked himself, “Why didn’t I get vaccinated?” He had heard bad things about the vaccines through social media. Although he was certain he was going to die, Perekalski miraculously recovered and now is home, tethered to an oxygen tank.

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In Washington state, Richard Linderman, 49, now is filled with regret. He said, “Skeptics like me thought they’d never get [COVID-19].” But when he was hospitalized, he rode the “emotional roller-coaster listening to the doctors tell you there’s a very high chance of you dying.” His whole family now has COVID-19. He is hanging on.

From his hospital bed, unvaccinated Floridian Larry Krupnick said, “You should get the vaccine, no matter what.” His son said Krupnick was confused about all the information. When he finally decided to get the shot, COVID-19 was a step ahead of him. Krupnick will remain in the hospital for weeks, possibly for months.

There is no need for me to describe all the wonderful things about refusing to be vaccinated, because there aren’t any to be found. All you really need to know is that 99% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. Many, with their thinking contaminated by right-wing know-nothings, go on dancing with the devil. His dark words are silken, his embrace comforting, until, suddenly, he tightens it with suffocating strength.

Right now, many of the unvaccinated lie alone in their hospital beds, unaware of the murmured talk of their nurses who have nothing left to offer beyond a quiet estimate to the physician of the hour at which a final, halting breath will be drawn.

Please, choose freedom from illness, freedom from a death that doesn’t have to happen.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University. Reach him at wyatt@marshall.edu.

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