Opinion

Jaco: Make the anti-vaxers pay

Covid’s coming back to St. Louis in a big way thanks to selfish unvaxed sociopaths. They should pay.

Employers should fire any employee who refuses to get a vaccine. Insurance carriers, from Medicare and Medicaid to private insurance companies, should refuse to pay one penny in COVID-related medical costs for the unvaccinated. Insurance premiums for the unvaxed should skyrocket so they end up paying for the hundreds of million dollars in extra medical costs to treat the unvaccinated. 

Reasoned argument doesn’t work with these people who’ve been marinating in conspiracy theories and lies disguised as “medical advice.” So maybe a hammer aimed directly at their wallets will get their attention. As the great political philosopher Alphonse Capone supposedly once said, “A loaded gun and a kind word get you so much further than just a kind word.”

Make no mistake: The surge in the COVID Delta variant that’s painted rural southwestern Missouri bright red both epidemiologically and politically is already in the St. Louis area. In two or three weeks, thanks mostly to extraordinarily low vaccination rates in parts of north St. Louis and North County, it’s going to be making headlines again as the seriously ill start to fill hospital beds. And it’s all due to people who smugly refuse to take COVID seriously, and refuse vaccines.

“There is the illusion that it’s moving this way and hasn’t gotten here yet, but the reality is all the cases we’re seeing now are the Delta variant of the virus,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, Chief Clinical Officer at BJC Health Systems and acting head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. “They’re just a few weeks ahead of us down in southwest Missouri.”

“We do know this surge in St. Louis is going to move very quickly through unvaccinated populations,” he added. “Whether it’s as high as it was this winter depends on what our actions are. We need to return to more social containment measures, and we certainly need to get our vaccination rate up as quickly as possible.”

So after a few weeks of it-feels-so-damn-good-to-not-wear-a-mask, we need to go back to exactly where we were before: wearing masks in all public indoor settings, and keeping six feet away from one another. So long, indoor dining. It was nice to know you.

Only 33.5 percent of people in the city are fully vaccinated. In the county, it’s 44.3 percent. Statewide, the figure’s about 40 percent. Those figures are awful, and are largely idiot-driven. Using harebrained excuses they read on social media or heard from an addled neighbor, the idiocracy has decided against being vaxed. 

“We need citizens to take personal responsibility for protecting themselves, and protecting their friends and neighbors,” Dunagan told me. “What we’ve seen most likely to change those opinions among the vaccine-hesitant is the severe illness or death of a loved one or associate from COVID.”

So not much has changed since the 18th century, when essayist Samuel Johnson wrote, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” But seven decades of experience with other human beings has convinced me that, short of death, losing money is a surefire way to get someone’s attention.

So rather than wait until someone’s remorseful while standing over their spouse’s coffin, it’s more humane to threaten them with losing several thousand dollars than a loved one.

You can understand why businesses don’t want to require vaccines: They don’t want the fight and the hassle. The same goes for both government and private insurance carriers when it comes to turning down all COVID claims from the unvaccinated.

But short of death, it’s probably the most effective way to break through a wall of disinformation, magical thinking and selfishness that’s made anti-vaxers immune to facts, statistics, pleas from relatives, and ad campaigns.

Disinfo peddlers including Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham are making a bundle drawing eyeballs and convincing the gullible with their dire warnings about the phoniness of the COVID crisis and the “dangers” of vaccines.

But there are two things to remember. One, the rich elitists on Fox are all vaccinated in accordance with Fox’s mandatory vaccine policy for employees. Two, they’re running a Trumpian con, a grift that financially rewards them for high ratings peddling gibberish while they themselves are vaccine-protected from COVID.

The financial incentive works just fine with them. We should try it in reverse with their audience. No jab, no job. No shot, no school. Insurers refusing coverage would have the same effect, since the only thing worse than being a COVID-denier who goes into the hospital is being a COVID-denier who gets a bill for $75,000 for hospitalization, drugs and treatment.

In the real world, neither of those things is likely to happen anytime soon. But we’re getting a hint of what is likely to happen from the cruise industry. Since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Covidville) and Florida’s GOP legislature have outlawed vaccine passports, cruise lines have to let the unvaccinated on board.

But they’re charging them extra, and restricting access. Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines require all unvaxed passengers carry the maximum in travel medical insurance, including COVID-specific policies, coverage of the cost of quarantines, and evacuation cost coverage. They’re also demanding that the unvaccinated take regular COVID tests, and pay for them, an average of $128 per test.

And on top of that, the unvaccinated will not be allowed in certain areas of the ships, won’t be allowed to attend any shipboard music shows or lectures, and will be required to dine at only specified times in segregated facilities.

The insurance industry, overall, is facing spiraling costs because of COVID. Premiums are bound to go up. And the buzz right now in insurance analyst circles is that companies are preparing to shift the majority of that financial burden to the unvaccinated, by charging extra in premiums to people who can’t prove that they’ve been vaxed.

People who refuse vaccines and spout disinfo gibberish about COVID are making our lives miserable. It’s time we returned the favor.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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