Voices of the Unvaccinated – The New York Times
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.
As the Delta variant rages across the U.S., the focus has turned to the estimated 90 million people who are eligible for the vaccine, but have chosen not to get it. Today: My colleagues spoke to some of those people.
It’s Friday, August 6.
Can you hear me? Because I’ve been told all day long that my voice is fading in and out.
No, I got you.
OK, thank you very much. Let me tell you what kind of trouble we’re trying to get into here. So we are — we meaning a fleet of reporters at The New York Times — are interviewing a lot of people across America to really understand the complexity of their reasons for not being vaccinated at this point. So we’re trying to really look at what’s thinking, what are the social pressures on people at this point.
Yeah, I am not a crazy person. So when it comes to that, it’s so hard to say I’m not vaccinated. And you’re automatically lumped into this crazy anti-vax crowd.
My colleague, Jan Hoffman, spoke with Don Driscoll, a 38-year-old single dad living in suburban Pittsburgh.
So tell me, before we take a deep dive into vaccines, tell me a little bit about yourself, DJ What’s your full name? Or do you go by DJ?
DJ or Don. My full name’s Donald.
OK, and what sort of work do you do?
I’m an accessibility writer, mostly education — like textbooks, making everything accessible to non-sighted students.
Do you live on your own?
Me and my daughter. I have a seven-year-old that I have primary custody of.
OK, what is your view of other vaccines, particularly vis a vis your daughter?
Yeah, I’ve got them. She’s got everything you’re supposed to have. So no, I’m all for science and medicine and vaccines. I got them.
Do you get the flu vaccine?
I do not, because I’ve never gotten the flu. And it’s just, I’m at such a low risk of complications that it’s kind of when I feel like I need to start getting it or I’ll be at risk or something, I will. The only time that I got it was when my daughter was born. It was like, they said they wouldn’t let me in the delivery room if I didn’t have the flu shot. So all right, fine.
OK, so tell me your evolving thoughts about this vaccine.
I am personally — I’m not afraid of it. I’m not one of those — I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. I don’t think Bill Gates is shooting microchips into my veins. I don’t think the Democrats want to kill half the population. I am just not an early adopter of anything, really. I want a new Xbox. I haven’t got one yet because I want to make sure these ones aren’t blowing up, or they’re just not going to get an upgrade, and there’s going to be a better Xbox in three months.
Kind of my thing. I’m not against getting this. I just don’t feel the need to get it right yet, because everything we’re hearing, every day is changing. Every day, it’s different. And I get it. It’s because as we get new information, we’re working that into our understanding. So I’m kind of just sitting back, seeing how things shake out, until — I won’t say the last minute — but when I feel I need it, like if I had to travel out of the country or something. At some point, I’m going to probably have no choice.
It’s interesting —
Then I would do it.
It almost sounds — and tell me if I’m getting this wrong. It’s almost as if the sensibility is, I don’t want to jump, but I’m willing to be pushed.
Yeah. Yeah, but I want to be pushed and feel OK about it. I don’t like these emotional arguments. People lash out, saying, you’re not vaccinated. You’re killing everybody’s grandparents. Well, the whole thing is, I don’t leave my house. You’re not going to get me with that. I don’t like people being vilified for not wanting it. I think some people have stupid reasons for not wanting it. But just like as a whole group, everybody being vilified, that’s frustrating. And I could see — not me, but there’s going to be people that are going to dig their heels in.
The more you push them, the more resistant they’re going to be.
So in your view, like you say, you just want to hang back and wait. So do you have any sort of benchmarks in your head? Well, if they say this, then I do it. Or I guess, basically, the question is, what would it take, aside from you have to get it to travel?
Honestly probably something like that, or if they announce tomorrow, hey, guys, we actually got the new improved vaccine. Now you don’t have to worry about anything with the spiked protein or variants. We’ll inoculate you against everything.
So you —
Right now, it’s just like, all right, well, go get it, but you can still get sick. Get it, but you can still give it to other people. And just, every day, the information is changing, so I’m kind of just sitting and waiting, be like, OK, when do I feel like this is going to be the most beneficial or the most necessary? I’ve been doing the mask thing and distancing and whatnot for over a year, and I haven’t gotten sick. So if that’s been working, I can keep doing that. But now going and get a shot, yeah, I probably would just keep doing that.
Do you identify with any particular political party in how you vote?
Yeah, I’m definitely fiscally conservative, socially liberal. I guess you would say I kind of skew libertarian. But it’s not really a way to vote. But I mean, I guess I lean more conservative, sure.
Did you vote for Trump in the last election?
This is not a political decision whatsoever with me, because that is ignorant.
No, no, it’s an Xbox decision. I totally get it.
That’s maybe not the greatest metaphor. I just want to read the reviews a little bit on this vaccine and everything else, I can say, because it’s just constantly changing. So I feel any decision I make could be negated in two days, or I might need to make a different decision. So if I can just wait and make all the decisions at once, I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I feel like I’ll know when it’s time.
I had the flu shot when I was younger. And that was the worst. I was sick really bad. Fever for a few days, vomiting four days straight. So that right there just kind of had me a little scared. So yeah, I got older, and I’m like, I’m not getting more vaccinated.
Angelique White is a 28-year-old hairstylist living outside Detroit, Michigan.
My boyfriend, he had got to Miami. He’s trying to push it on me, like you should just go ahead and get the vaccine. You work around people and stuff like that. And I’m like, I don’t care. Wear my mask and just sanitize my hands and do it like that. I think I’ll be fine. Even today, in order to be vaccinated, you still have to wear a mask. And then you getting the vaccine, you still can get sick from it. So me personally, I’m not getting it. None of my kids are.
So tell me, Jeannie, where have I reached you? Just tell me, what part of the country are we?
I’m in Colorado, 20 miles south of Denver.
Uh-huh. Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. Sure. OK, so tell me a little bit, how old are you, the whole drill.
Sure. So I’m 39. And I have a 14-year-old son, who’s almost 15 in a couple months. And he’s going to be starting high school.
Yep, and then it’s my husband, who’s 40, and then I also live with my mom, who’s 64.
OK. And do you work outside the home? Or are you a full-time homekeeper?
Yeah, I’m a teacher, so I’m home right now, but part-time since Covid started basically.
So oh, what do you teach? How old are the kids?
Middle school math.
Oh, God bless you. So is anyone in your household vaccinated?
I’m anti-vaccine, period. So I’m a very healthy person. I’m vegan. I eat really well. I work out. I take really good care of myself. I was vaccinated when I was younger. Originally, I’m from Russia, so I came to the United States when I was seven. When I came here at seven, I was vaccinated. I think to come from Russia to here we needed to be vaccinated. I got pretty sick. And since then, I have not been vaccinated. My son has never been vaccinated. So I am anti-vaccinated.
So tell me something. If I heard you correctly, I think you said that your son has never been vaccinated. Is it with anything?
And so what was that like for you getting him into the school system?
Now they are making it harder now. But when it was at first, it wasn’t — you just have to state for reasons. I just signed papers. And we’ve never had a problem with it, ever. And like I said, he’s going into high school. And he had never had a problem with it.
So did you have to —
I imagine it’s going to be harder now. It’s going to be more of a problem now.
So is any of your reasoning also faith-based?
No. I mean, it’s based on the fact that I just think that these are toxic things that don’t need to go into your body.
So let me ask you this. If any kind of mandates come down — I don’t know — I’m making this up because I have no idea. So let’s say your school said, you can’t come to work without being vaccinated. Or —
Well, I need to find another job.
OK, yeah, I’m just trying to figure out where —
No, I’m 100 percent serious.
Yeah, I get it.
I’m not going to have anybody tell me I need to get vaccinated. They have no idea what my history is, my medical reasoning is, or it’s really none of anybody’s business. My body’s strong. I mean, gosh, if I’m meant to die from it, then I’m going to die. But I really don’t believe that. So I actually wholeheartedly believe that I have more of a shot at getting sick or something happening to me by taking the vaccine.
The thing that I worry about is really my kid, because when they go back to school, those kids who are vaccinated don’t have to wear a mask. And those kids that are not vaccinated are going to have to wear a mask. Everybody’s going to have to know. And I do worry about that.
I’ll be honest. I had a talk with him. And I said ultimately, it’s your decision because I get it. I hope he doesn’t do it, because I’ve worked so hard on keeping him where he’s at and not having that, and being as healthy as he can possibly be in my eyes. So I hope he makes that decision, but I’m not going to make it difficult for him if he was struggling with a mask, or he thinks that’s what he needs to do.
And so, just so I understand with your son, did you tell him he had a choice about whether to wear a mask or whether to get vaccinated?
Well, the school’s not going to give them a choice to wear mask or not. If he’s not vaccinated, he’s going to have to wear a mask. So yes, I told him that. Let’s see how the school year starts. If it’s really bad, if it’s really bothering you, we can make a decision what you want to do. But like I said, he knows the reasoning behind. He’s never fought me on it before.
But when your choices are taken away, when you’re going to have a harder time in school because of it, then he’s in there all day. So that’s why I want to make sure that I’m still giving him the option. I’m not going to be thinking he’s horrible or anything like that. I’m not going judge him based on that. But I’m definitely praying that he’s not going to make that decision.
All right, Jeannie, thank you very much. You have a good one, all right?
Yeah. Oh, great. Sounds great. Thank you.
We’ll be right back.
Yeah, I am wondering sort of like where you’re hearing things about this vaccine and vaccines in general. I mean, would you say that most people you know have gotten it or haven’t?
Haven’t. I know two people that have gotten it, and that’s it.
Oh, mm-hmm. Got it.
And they had Covid. But they have underlying issues, so they were scared. And they had it pretty bad. They were hospitalized.
Got it. And how do other people around you, sort of what are the hesitations that people have about it?
It’s not passed by the F.D.A. That’s the first thing that all my family members say that it’s experimental. And they don’t trust it. There’s not enough study done to see what the lingering effects are down the road. I don’t trust our government at all. I don’t know what they’re putting in our bodies. And that’s always been my biggest thing.
My colleague, Sophie Kasakove, spoke with Lyndsey Kiley, a mom in Port St. Lucie, Florida, who says she’s had Covid twice.
Yeah, OK, so could you tell me about the two different times, and what happened?
The first time was Valentine’s Day of 2020 before it hit the media. I got extremely sick. I lost my sense of smell, taste. I had a little bit of fever and a horrible cough. I had to quit smoking for about a month. I was terrified to put a cigarette in my mouth. I had to go to the hospital. They said I had pneumonia in both of my lungs. Nothing helped me. I just stayed in bed, and I got better over time. And then as fast as it hit me, it went away. I did not wear a mask all year. We went on vacation. We lived our life. My kids went to school. We changed nothing about our lifestyle. We still went to work. My husband and I, we didn’t lose our jobs. Everything was normal. And then my daughter graduated. And we went to her graduation. And I had a small get-together at my house with about 15 people. My cousin came over and passed it to eight of us.
We all tested positive within five days.
When was that?
That was May 27 this year, yeah. But the second time was what was worse for me. I had it the worst out of all of us. 104.7 fever for about eight days, off and on. I couldn’t even lift my arms. And I slept about 14 hours a day.
Wow. I mean, I imagine by then, you had an opportunity to take the vaccine before that if you wanted to. Did getting sick make you think at all like, oh, I wish I had taken the vaccine?
No. No, not at all.
Because I knew my body would be fine. I figured let my immune system do its job, because I do not get sick. I don’t take any antibiotics usually unless I absolutely need them. So I knew my immune system was great.
Mm-hmm. I guess, I wonder, a lot of people are saying the reason to take it is even if you’re healthy and you know that you can get through it, for someone else, their body might less be able to do that. Getting the vaccine helps them. What do you say to that argument for it?
That whatever people do, it’s not my business. And I know that I’ve stayed away from people, so. I remember the whole social distancing thing worked for me.
Oh, yeah, what do you do for work?
I was taking care of my grandmother until she passed. She had dementia.
OK. And she —
And she passed. She had Covid. She went into our local hospital here. She recovered, but her body was so weak because she also had C.O.P.D. beforehand. But they did put on the death certificate C.O.P.D. and aspiration because it did not have anything to do with Covid, so.
But do you think that the fact that it weakened her body made —
I’d say, yeah, it definitely weakened her body, yes. Yeah, it got in her chest.
Yeah, and did she get Covid at the same time as you the second time?
Yeah, all of us. She was at the graduation party. Yep, she was one of them out of eight of us. She would have been 89 in August.
Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.
Yeah, she was my grandma. She was my best friend.
For three years, I was with her five days a week for three years in a row.
But I made memories, so that’s a plus. I made lots of memories. And she was a great therapist because having dementia, I could tell her something, and she’d forget the next day, so we could get in trouble.
That’s really sweet. What was her name?
Mary Lou Potter.
We do regret not giving her the vaccine. That is one thing that we did talk about as a family because of her being elderly.
Yeah, we do kind of regret it. But she was another one. She had reactions to the flu shots a couple of years, because she did get her flu shot every year. So we were just scared. We were like, well, she gets reactions from them. How is she going to do with this? And my family and I just decided that it was because of it being experimental and not being passed by the F.D.A., we just didn’t trust it. We were scared to give it to her.
Yeah, right. I’m sorry to even — it’s a really hard question, but I just — the fact of your family member being the one that gave her Covid. Even if she wasn’t vaccinated, if that person had been vaccinated —
Well, she went and got vaccinated today.
She’s one of — her and my aunt are the only two family members that got vaccinated. My aunt’s got Crohn’s disease. And my cousin’s got severe asthma. And she’s the one that spread it to everyone. And she feels bad. But she works in a bar, so one of her customers gave it to her. So yeah, they went and got vaccinated this morning. They went and got their first shot this morning.
But yeah, I mean, I guess, I just wonder what it feels like to know that if that cousin had been vaccinated before, that it might not have happened?
She did say she regrets it. She says that she should have, working in a bar. She should have been the first one to get vaccinated. And she felt the same way I did, that it wasn’t approved. And she was scared.
So I see people talking about the reactions and then other people saying how they’ve had no problems at all. And they’ve gotten it. And it’s been mild. It’s really — it’s 50-50. You see all of it.
And how do you feel when you see people who say that they didn’t have any reaction, they’re totally fine? How do you feel —
I’m happy for them. I’m like, good. Your body handled it great. Good for you. But again, let me know in 10 years if anything happens.
We’ll be right back.
Here’s what else you need to know today.
- archived recording (joe biden)
It wasn’t dissent. It wasn’t debate. It wasn’t democracy. It was insurrection.
On Thursday, President Biden signed legislation awarding the congressional gold medal, Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation, to police who defended the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. And he used the occasion to rebut the growing Republican narrative that the rioters were patriots.
- archived recording (joe biden)
My fellow Americans, the tragedy that day deserves the truth above all else. We cannot allow history to be rewritten. We cannot allow the heroism of these officers to be forgotten.
The awards come amid reports of the suicides of two more police officers who had been at the Capitol on January 6. So far, at least four officers have taken their own lives since the attack. And on Thursday night, the Senate was preparing to cast a closely watched vote on President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which has been endorsed by a bipartisan group of Senate Democrats and Republicans. The bill is expected to pass despite a new report from the Congressional Budget Office that it would add more than $250 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
Today’s episode was produced by Annie Brown and Neena Pathak. It was edited by Lisa Chow and M.J. Davis Lin, engineered by Chris Wood and contains original music by Dan Powell.
That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday.