Kirk Cousins, the unvaccinated Minnesota Vikings quarterback, tested positive for coronavirus and missed the team’s last hope for making league playoff Sunday night, a winnable game as the Viking proved earlier this year by handing the Green Bay Packers a rare defeat. Instead, Cousins’ backups were clobbered by Aaron Rodgers, also unvaccinated, who cost the Packers an earlier victory by missing a game when he tested positive. Both quarterbacks deserve to be resoundingly booed for failing their teams, their fans, their cities, their sport. And the nation.
Vikings fans should be outraged. Cousins apparently cites some religious exemption, yet scour the Bible as one will, one finds nothing requiring selfishness, not to mention the sanctity of an individual body against the general health of the population.
Then there’s the subset, of which Rodgers is apparently one, who “do their own research.” What is the point of that fruitless exercise? To disprove what the global health community of experts carefully discovered about coronavirus and the efficacy of vaccines, of which those in circulation have proven effective a billion times over?
Or are they part of the increasingly unhinged strain of so-called conservative politics, that if a government led by Democrats is for something, then they’re against it? Yet the odds are excellent that Cousins and Rodgers, as the rest of us, were vaccinated as children, in schools or doctors’ offices, against smallpox, polio, pertussis (whooping cough and diphtheria) and others.
My sisters and I contracted whooping cough before the pertussis vaccine, and our parents stayed up night after night walking us one by one into the shower so we could breathe the steam. My wife’s grandmother and uncle died from the scourge of diphtheria. No one need worry about these diseases anymore, thanks to Dt and Tdap vaccines administered to us as children. My wife and I both know people who contracted polio in the early 1950s prior to the vaccine, impairing their entire lives, some spending the balance in an iron lung to breathe for them. The greatest relief of our parents’ generation was the discovery and general administration of polio vaccines to a grateful population.
How many videos of desperate confessions of dying people do they need to see, pleading with the living to get vaccinated, including prominent anti-vaxers and ordinary fathers crying out, I was stupid, I was wrong, get vaccinated! For the family, for the community, for the team.
As Cousins and Rodgers know more than most, football, like baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and others, is a team sport. In that setting even superstars succeed only in the context of the team. And as Vikings fans learned again on Sunday night, neither does a team succeed without its selfish superstar.
Public health is also a team game, an entire population only as strong as the successful inoculation of all members against rapidly evolving pathogens like Sars-CoV-2. That is why Cousins and Rodgers and all anti- and non-vaxxers are so wrong. By choosing not to be vaccinated they let down the team of overwhelmed health care workers bound by the Hippocratic oath to care for all comers, and the entire population, only as strong as its ability to defeat a virus and its many possible variants that can multiply in unvaccinated people.
So please, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers and all others opposed or hesitant about vaccines, know that vaccines are the greatest public health invention since Sir Thomas Crapper commercialized the water siphon toilet and ended the scourge of typhoid and cholera and other urban bacterial epidemics. Kirk and Aaron et all, if you flush, get vaccinated! Take a shot for the team.
James P. Lenfestey is a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune, covering education, energy and the environment.