Silos and rabbit holes

Many have written about the peculiar social dynamics of a ‘vaccinated economy’ – that is, the new form of separatism instituted by government, as we ’emerge’ from the pandemic.

I think what’s been most interesting to me is the way that it was isolated a particular group of my friends. I don’t know many people who did not get vaccinated – our vaccination rate for adults locally is about 97%. However, I’m an inveterate hippy, and generally value the opinions of those who both consider the broader context in which science operates, and hold the natural world in some esteem. This means, for a person of my particular background, I probably have a higher number of anti-vax friends.

It’s an interesting insight into a social experiment. I offer these observations without prejudice. Initially, those who were on-the-fence about the Covid vaccines were rather large in number. Mostly, this represented a general hesitance about the technology and partly the difficulty in obtaining a jab.

As the roll-out has continued, and the inconvenience of remaining unvaccinated has really kicked in, the unvaccinated now represent the genuinely opposed. They’ve got their reasons, mostly around a fairly accurate estimation of their own personal risk, a lack of concern for those whose risk is higher, and a distrust of science in general.

What’s interesting is the impact on the mandates on this group. And to be sure, the impacts are really significant. I know one woman, a nurse, who is refusing to get vaccinated as it doesn’t fit with her personal ethos. Her partner works part time as an artist, and they have three small children. Her wages keep their family afloat. She is about to lose her job. Another friend is a teacher. Her partner works, and is probably the main breadwinner, however, my friend’s income means the difference between a comfortable life, and real hardship.

In a relatively small community, these people’s vaccine stance is well known. In a larger town or city you could probably quite happily enter any number of venues with a cursory check-in – a cheeky screenshot of a vaccine pass downloaded from the internet or whatever. But here, everyone knows these families are not vaccinated. There’s no avoiding it. Their personal is their political, and it’s a pain in the arse.

And the sense of persecution is acute. For all my friends who’re ‘refusers’ they’ve found themselves having to negotiate myriad social networks and requirements. My kid’s school, for instance, won’t allow unvaccinated parents on site. They must stay in the carpark, and in their car. And the realities of it are perverse. Unvaccinated teachers, for instance, are replaced by substitute teachers, but remain on full pay. The NSW Dept of Education runs on the smell of an oily rag at the best of times, and substitute staff are in short supply, so schools are even more short staffed than usual. This contributes to the rancour. Imagine living in a small suburb where you’re on full pay, but not working, and you’re running into your frazzled teaching colleagues at the beach? Teachers have until ‘the end of this term’ to decide to get vaccinated or lose their job. But, to those teachers who are already back at work, this simply looks like one group of teachers gets a fully paid holiday for the rest of 2021, while everyone else works twice as hard to compensate. A friend of mine, a teacher who is back at work, put it simply – ‘I’m an idiot for getting the jabs. I should have waited and then got vaxed before school goes back next year’.

It’s a poisonous situation.

It is hard to imagine a more insidious and demeaning social experiment, and yet, throughout history, we’ve done the same thing, time and again. My alienated, literally disenfranchised friends are turning to ever more rarified discourses of mistrust and extremism, turning more and more inwards. They’re dropping off mainstream social media, and out of regular social interactions. Where once I saw them at the pool, or sitting at the cafe, they’re now absent. And of course, the requirement for vaccination isn’t going to be lifted for those for whom it is a condition of employment. The isolationism is spurning interesting and worrying obsessions.

The social dimensions of this separatism are fascinating and troubling, and if we could have rest from pandemics in general I think it’d be quite good, on balance.

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