Sons and daughters of farmers and ranchers often grow up to be farmers or ranchers.
Likewise, sons and daughters of journalists. And attorneys. And medical professionals.
In many ways, not just vocationally but also culturally and socially, most of us are products of our experiences, and as we add to our life experiences we change and grow.
Just ask Keith Kempenich.
A 61-year-old rancher from the Bowman area in southwestern North Dakota and a state legislator for 28 years, Kempenich has been known to be somewhat set in his ways. Some might even say he’s a bit stubborn. As the Legislature convened last January mid-pandemic, he was among those who didn’t take the coronavirus seriously, keeping his face uncovered whenever possible, declining to stop by the coronavirus test location at the Capitol and skipping the vaccine once it was available.
Then he got sick. Really sick, missing the last three days of the legislative session while doctors treated his COVID-19 at a Bismarck hospital.
Now he’s a changed man, encouraging others to get vaccinated before they get sick, or worse, pass the virus on to others.
Near-death experiences will do that to you.
When it comes to the coronavirus, though, some Americans are unwilling to go to school on people like Kempenich. If they haven’t had their own near-death experience, many have decided the vaccine isn’t for them or their families.
The result is that vaccinations have slowed to a crawl in many states, including North Dakota. Today, federal health officials report 97% of those hospitalized with COVID are not vaccinated, and 99% of those who die with coronavirus are unvaccinated.
Private, public and government health officials attribute much of the vaccine hesitancy to misinformation that has spread on social media.
“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation's health,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said last week at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”
"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a White House press briefing. "We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk."
Meanwhile, Murthy urged tech companies, health care professionals, journalists and everyday Americans to combat the bogus claims that have led many to reject vaccines and other public health advice.
So what are some of the “bogus” claims that concern medical professionals?
One is that the vaccine contains the virus. It doesn’t.
Another is that it causes infertility. It doesn’t.
Then there’s the concern that it may be unsafe because the development and approval process was rushed. It’s true that the Trump administration fast-tracked vaccine development. But in doing so, it provided vast resources not normally afforded vaccine development, essentially resulting in several years worth of work being completed in less than one year.
On the wacky side is the belief that the vaccine contains a microchip or other tracking device that is part of a sinister plot to track citizens’ movements. False again. This rumor began with what has been proved to be a false video.
Something proven true is that 161 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and as of last month, it is believed that the vaccine likely contributed to three deaths. Three in 161 million.
The disease, even though we’ve made significant strides in reducing cases, is still killing more Americans than guns, cars and the flu combined, according to a Bloomberg analysis in June.
The bottom line: For the vast majority of people, the vaccines don’t cause significant problems and they do prevent severe disease and death.
Just ask Keith Kempenich.
He told the Associated Press, “I’m kicking myself,” for not getting the vaccine. “Truthfully, once you go through this it’s not something you want to repeat. There is a remedy and it’s better than going through it.”
Steve Andrist, Bismarck, is former executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.