Maybe you’ve heard the parenting tip that it’s good to let your kid eat some dirt and not over-sterilize everything they touch, since exposure to common microbes strengthens the immune system. And if you’ve done any research on vaccines, you know they contain the partial, weakened or dead germs of the disease they’re made to prevent. Ravaged as the U.S. is by medical misinformation these days, it’s easy to forget that many of us appreciate the basics of infection and how our bodies are equipped — or can be helped — to fight it off.
The upshot of all this bedrock wisdom is that human beings, although vulnerable to pathogens like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, are incredibly resilient animals, and have evolved to survive a wide range of external threats. Like, say, whatever lives in this decrepit subway station.
Or on your fuckbuddy’s towel:
Or in your beloved pet’s mouth:
Yes, the vaccines are on their way, and while some of us can’t wait to take the needle in hopes of regaining a semblance of our pre-pandemic lives, many will resist what appears to be a safe and effective public health measure. Some caution is warranted, but the prevalence of anti-vaxxer junk science, coupled with extreme rhetoric from those groups, will be a discouraging obstacle — particularly as both the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the one from Moderna contain relatively simple ingredients. The active ingredient in each is messenger RNA (mRNA for short), specifically a piece of genetic code that allows the host to generate a protein used by the virus to invade our cells — without exposure to the virus itself. Once the body makes those proteins, it reads them as foreign and develops antibodies that neutralize them, and will be able to do so again in the event of exposure to coronavirus.
But, then again, maybe that’s still too complicated. It could be simpler just to remind people of all the slimy places they’ve hung out, the shit-spackled toilets they’ve used, the unhygienically prepared food they’ve stuffed in their faces and the unprotected sex they’ve had. The world is a disgusting place, and we’ve spent most of our lives pretending we don’t notice or mind. Depending on where you live, you might breathe air more toxic than what’s in the vaccine. That’s not good, exactly, but it might put you at ease when the nurse rolls up your sleeve.
Back in the earliest days of the outbreak, when we could still feel somewhat optimistic about the course this year might take — dire predictions be damned — we had a trend of memes that presented folk remedies as the last, best line of defense. Ginger ale, essential oils, Flintstones vitamins, mouthwash, Vicks VapoRub and even frequent masturbation were jokingly cited as means of staving off the disease. The subtext was the current of dread that defines most Americans’ experience with the country’s wretched health-care infrastructure; we practice a kind of superstition because we can’t rely on access to the doctors and treatments we need.
Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is around the corner, and will ideally be distributed regardless of ability to pay for it (though that, too, is a lingering question), it’s a matter of convincing the population they have nothing to fear from the same system that has largely failed them for months on end — in this case, by reminding them that a vaccine rushed to production is no more dubious than a lot of the choices we make, and not always willingly, from day to day.
The new crop of memes also happen to borrow the formula of an earlier election catchphrase: “If [blank], don’t worry about Biden’s tax plan” sought to reassure less-affluent voters that the Democratic candidate’s economic policies would not trim the paychecks of anyone with popcorn ceilings or a regular diet of Kraft mac and cheese. Between these related assurances, it’s as if, in the absence of true optimism, we are still permitted to shed a few anxieties here and there.
Damn. Not gonna lie, that last one stung a little. But if it helps anyone get over their fear of a shot that will prevent more deaths and ultimately restore some of the pleasures taken from us in 2020, then I’m prepared to call it a net gain. The sooner we get to herd immunity, the sooner we can all get back to the disastrous romances make for scathing tweets. Courage, my friends.