“Unvaccinated COVID patients do not deserve ICU beds.”
“I have no empathy left for those who have not been voluntarily vaccinated. Let them die. “
In the unrestricted world of Twitter, comments like these, where the vaccinated say the unvaccinated deserve what they get, are becoming increasingly common. But even in the minds of people on the street, these feelings swirl into collective thoughts as the fourth wave of infections intensifies and vaccination rates stabilize.
According to a recent Angus Reid Survey Most vaccinated Canadians are indifferent to the unvaccinated who get sick with the virus, with 83 percent saying they have no sympathy for those who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine and then fall ill. As an anecdote, patience is even running out among healthcare professionals.
“Certainly there are healthcare workers who have said they don’t like him,” said Amir Imani, a clinical pharmacist who sees neurological rehabilitation patients, including those recovering from COVID-19, at Sinai Health, adding that sometimes he feels it too. . “Many of them, frankly, have had a much worse time than me working in the COVID ICUs.”
Dr. Anita Sircar, infectious disease physician, wrote in the Los Angeles Times about the recent treatment of an unvaccinated patient who was seriously ill with COVID-19. “Last year a case like this would have crushed me. I would have struggled with sadness and how unfair life was. He struggled with the anguish of his bad luck, ”Sircar wrote. “This year, I struggled to find sympathy.”
The lack of sympathy is evident as the debate over mandatory vaccinations to attend public spaces heats up politically, and the ICU’s capacity and number of cases rise again. More than 80 percent of eligible Canadians already have their first dose, and many are eager to return to a life free of COVID threats after 18 months. With vaccines free and available in Canada, patience and understanding for those who still choose not to get vaccinated are in short supply.
The rise of the more contagious Delta variant is also increasing the pressure. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer for health, stressed to reporters Tuesday the urgency of vaccinating more people, especially those in the 18-29 age group, where only 62.6 percent are fully vaccinated in Ontario. .
For Imani and other healthcare professionals, empathy for the unvaccinated remains key to having open conversations about their decision and, ideally, to convincing more people to get vaccinated once their fears about the vaccine are addressed. .
But for the majority of the public, empathy is increasingly difficult to practice and the gap between those who are vaccinated and those who are not is widening. On social media, quotes like “If an unvaccinated person gets it from someone who is vaccinated, what a pity!” And “If you choose not to vaccinate me, I don’t care about you” have become common, as news reports emerge. of more people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 before receiving a vaccine.
Among all Canadians surveyed by Angus Reid, regardless of vaccination status, 75 percent said they don’t sympathize with the unvaccinated getting sick. For the much smaller number of the unvaccinated, 82 percent of them showed higher rates of sympathy for those who, like them, are not vaccinated and can get sick.
The division between the two groups, although marked, is not entirely surprising. Empathy, the act of relating to and understanding someone who shares a different set of beliefs than our own, can sometimes be difficult to practice in general, said Sara Konrath, a Canadian social psychologist. Konrath directs the Interdisciplinary Research Program on Empathy and Altruism at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Family Philanthropy.
Empathy is different from sympathy, which means developing feelings of pity and sadness for someone else’s unfortunate situation.
Research shows that empathy takes effort, Konrath said, and it may be more difficult to extend when we feel drained and psychologically tired. A 2019 study on empathy, published in the American Journal of Psychology, concluded that empathy is not easy to spread and “in many cases, particularly with strangers, it may require cognitive work.” A job that, Konrath said, is difficult to do when we ourselves are not feeling well due to pandemic trauma.
“People are exhausted at this point,” Konrath said. “At the best of times, empathy takes effort … It has been a year and a half of very challenging stress, financial stress, homeschooling, worries about work, worries about health, social isolation.”
“People don’t have the psychological resources that we would have otherwise had to invest in people other than ourselves.”
Konrath said she feels empathy for people who can’t extend empathy now. “I would assume that the people who responded to the (Angus Reid) survey don’t really feel good when they say they don’t care about the unvaccinated … I think if they were in a better state in their life, they probably wouldn’t feel that way.”
But the issue of vaccination has also become especially polarizing, said Imani, the clinical pharmacist. Developing lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking or dying in a car accident after dangerous speeding are understood as consequences of unhealthy behavior, although tragic results are generally greeted with more empathy.
Responses to COVID, on the other hand, have been linked to our sense of identity, Imani said, making understanding between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated even more difficult. The spread of the virus also affects communities as a whole, and not just the individual who chooses not to get vaccinated.
While a percentage of people remain unvaccinated due to access or information barriers, Imani said, some have capitalized on it as a political movement, linked to freedom of choice and anti-vaccine sentiments. “People smoke, but there is no pro-smoking political group and no pro-smoking conspiracy theories,” he said.
The rise in vaccine-related conspiracies is one of the many reasons Imani said she maintains empathy through her role in healthcare, especially since most of her time is spent educating doubters about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
“You can’t help people if you don’t really understand what they are thinking or where they come from,” Imani said. He added that most of the people he ends up interacting with are not staunch anti-vaccines, but victims of misinformation or systemic barriers, such as not having access to a family doctor to answer questions about vaccine safety.
“What I’m trying to focus on are the systemic barriers that led them to that position, which I think are much more common than people think,” Imani said. Ultimately, he added, closing the gap with the unvaccinated is important to society.
“No man is an island, and we are not separated from people who choose not to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that those who survive the disease with post-COVID health complications will likely put pressure on health care and social services, with ramifications. about society and the economy in general.
Both Konrath and Imani said the lack of empathy for the unvaccinated after 18 months of a pandemic plagued with loss, isolation and despair is understandable. But for those who want to develop their empathy, Konrath said the work begins with healing from within.
“This is a time when people need to heal, they need to heal and rebuild both emotionally and socially, and give themselves a time when they feel like they are themselves again.”
He added that because exercising empathy is a choice and requires effort, a person must be willing and ready to do it. It is also important to note that while empathy is a mainstay of healthcare workers’ work to help patients make informed decisions, empathy generally needs to be exercised without an agenda and without the expectation that someone will change. of opinion or behavior.
“Our lack of empathy is not going to be very effective,” he said. “And if we have empathy, the purpose is not to change them, it is to understand them.”
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