A Los Angeles Times columnist on Monday encouraged readers to publicly mock the deaths of anti-vaxxers, calling attacks of this nature a “necessary” evil to tamper vaccine skepticism.
In a column titled, “Mocking anti-vaxxers’ deaths is ghoulish, yes — but necessary,” Pultizer-Prize winner Michael Hiltzik addressed the death of Kelly Ernby, a deputy district attorney in Orange County, California, who reportedly died of complications from the coronavirus last week after opposing vaccine mandates.
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Ernby’s death was immediately mocked by vaccine supporters on social media, who gleefully pointed out her opposition to vaccine mandates. Ernby herself was unvaccinated.
While Ernby’s friends and family condemned the attacks on the late 46-year-old, Hiltzik said there is a greater “moral dilemma” to consider.
“On the one hand, a hallmark of civilized thought is the sense that every life is precious,” he writes. “On the other, those who have deliberately flouted sober medical advice by refusing a vaccine known to reduce the risk of serious disease from the virus, including the risk to others, and end up in the hospital or the grave can be viewed as receiving their just deserts.”
“There may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard,” Hiltzik argued.
Other anti-vaxxers – or “foes of public health” – as Hiltzik refers to them, who have died from the virus have faced similar remarks on social media.
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Hiltzik stipulated “that not all people unvaccinated against COVID are alike,” calling the deaths of those “deceived by the misinformation and disinformation spread by the anti-vaccine crowd,” lamentable.
Ernby’s death, however, falls under a different category, he writes.
“As it applies to COVID, the argument [vaccine mandate opposition] undermines communal action at precisely the moment when communal action has emerged as the only obstacle to the spread of a deadly disease,” he said.
“What’s especially iniquitous about the anti-mandate and anti-vaccination arguments is the damage they are doing to America’s public health system,” Hiltzik goes on. “Republicans like Ernby used COVID vaccines to turn public health into part of their partisan culture war.”
“The consequences are pernicious. They can be measured in overwhelmed emergency rooms and intensive care units, in hospital staffs burned out or rendered missing in action because they’ve been infected. Ernby reportedly died at home, but others of her ilk took up hospital beds that may accordingly have been denied to others in great need of treatment for non-COVID conditions.”
As for the online reactions surrounding her death, Hiltzik argued that those who object to the tone of the commentary are merely voicing a variation on the “civility” argument that was commonly raised against critics of the intemperate and inhumane policies of the Trump administration.
“As I observed then, pleas for ‘civility’ are a fraud,” he writes. “Their goal is to blunt and enfeeble criticism and distract from its truthfulness. Typically, they’re the work of hypocrites.”
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“We must view every one of these deaths as a teachable moment. They demonstrate in the most vivid way imaginable the folly of vaccine refusal and of flouting responsible public health measures,” he continues. “They underscore the dire consequences of turning public health into a partisan football.
Ernby’s friends and family argue that this was just one facet of her accomplished life, pleading with the public to remember her for her career as a public servant and as a devoted wife and mother.
“But let’s not mince words: Her campaigns against public health measures negated whatever good she may have done in her other endeavors,” Hiltzik said. “It may be not a little ghoulish to celebrate or exult in the deaths of vaccine opponents. And it may be proper to express sympathy and solicitude to those they leave behind. But mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled.”
“Nor,” he writes, “is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude, or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to.”
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Hiltzik’s Twitter feed, where he promoted the column, boasts a long history of eyebrow-raising tweets and statements of a similar nature.
An article published in September 2020 suggested Trump’s effort to expedite the approval and distribution of the vaccine before the November election could “kill us.”
A separate tweet calls for the immediate suspension of an airline pilot who was heard chanting the anti-Biden slogan “Let’s go Brandon” in a viral recording.