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To the Unvaccinated People I Love

Yesterday a group of doctors representing all the major healthcare systems in our state published an open letter in the Minneapolis / St. Paul newspapers that read, in big blue letters across the top of the page:

“We’re heartbroken. We’re overwhelmed.”

The letter goes on to say:

“Our doctors, nurses and people working in health care are doing everything we can to take care of you when you’re sick. And yet every day we’re seeing avoidable illness and death as a direct result of COVID19.”

But I don’t need to open a newspaper to know that doctors are heartbroken and overwhelmed. Because I am married to one of them.

For two years I have watched my wife work on the front lines of the healthcare battle against COVID in our state. In the early days, we didn’t know how bad it would be. We read stories of young doctors dying in Italy. We talked about life insurance and wills. We tried to prepare for anything.

All that first year, while a lot of people complained about having to miss haircuts or wear a mask to Target, she went to the Emergency Room over and and over and worked ten-hour shifts in head-to-toe protective gear that left deep marks on her face. She and her colleagues tried to make plans for what would happen when their system was overwhelmed. They begged people to flatten the curve. And they waited for the vaccine to be developed, the one tool in their battle against COVID that might give them chance of winning this war for good.

When the vaccine was ready last year, healthcare workers were the first to get their shots. She got hers in December. She was so excited. Not only did it protect her while she worked to save lives in the Emergency Room; it also meant that there was an end in sight for the nightmare of 2020.

It’s been a year since then, and there’s no end in sight.

Not because the vaccine doesn’t work, or because the healthcare workers aren’t still busting their asses every day in the hospitals, but because not enough people are doing their part — getting the shot, wearing masks, social distancing.

Still, she goes to the hospital, five days a week, and tries to do what she can.

But like all the other doctors, she is demoralized and heartbroken.

Day after day she comes home from work and tells me about how the Emergency Room is full. The waiting rooms are full. The ICU is full. Mostly it’s full of people with COVID. Almost of all them are unvaccinated.

She tells me about what it’s like when people die alone hooked up to ventilators because the virus has destroyed her lungs. She tells me what it’s like to sit with their families and say there’s nothing she can do. There was one thing they could have done — get a vaccine — and it’s too late.

For the past six months I have watched this work take a toll on her, wear her down, break her heart. I have listened to her anger and held her when she cried and just sat next to her in silence when there was nothing left to say.

And then she gets up and goes back to work the next day.


Today the Atlantic published an op-ed titled, “Where I Live, No One Cares about COVID.”

In it, the author explains that “the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of COVID-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.”

I have heard that from a lot of folks. Maybe even you.

Maybe you have decided to just live your life and take your chances. Maybe you’re young and healthy and maybe you’ll be fine when you get COVID. Maybe you don’t know anybody who has gotten long COVID. Maybe you don’t know anybody who has died. Maybe you feel like it’s a personal choice, and doesn’t have an effect on the people around you.

But the healthcare system is not doing well. Waiting rooms are full of people sitting all day waiting to be treated for regular emergencies — strokes, heart attacks, broken arms — while the beds are full of COVID patients who can’t breathe because they didn’t get the damn vaccine.

The doctors are heartbroken and overwhelmed.

My wife is heartbroken and overwhelmed.

Your choice to forgo the vaccine, or to shrug off masks and tests, are contributing to that heartbreak.

Even if you are completely fine when you get COVID, by allowing your body to be an unvaccinated host for COVID you are prolonging the pandemic and giving the virus more opportunities to infect other people.

When you get the virus, you might not even know it. But it’s quite likely that you’ll pass it on, and on, and on, and you won’t see the grandparents dying with a tube in their throat because you were a welcoming host to the virus.

My wife will.


I know what the internet says about the vaccines. I know there are some unknowns. I know nothing is risk free.

I also know that if she had a chance, my wife would tell you that (by all reasonable calculations and nearly-universal consensus among Emergency Room doctors) the risks of COVID are extraordinarily higher than the risks of the vaccines.

I know it’s hard to know who to trust these days, but it seems like it would make sense to trust the doctors.

While a lot of us were getting degrees from Bible College, Ellen got a degree in biochemistry, and then went to medical school, and then residency. I don’t know much about how vaccines work, but I know that somebody with a degree in Biochemistry probably has a better understanding of it than I do.

I know there are rumors that the vaccines cause paralyzation, that the vaccines cause death. If this was the case, it would be Emergency Room doctors who would know. After all, that’s where dying people usually go.

But the Emergency Rooms are full, and not from people dying of vaccines. It’s full of people just like you, unvaccinated. Beloved Grandparents. Healthy Dads. Pregnant Moms. People who though the cure was worse than the disease.

They were wrong, and my wife is the one who has to watch them die.

So go on the internet. Do your research. Learn everything you can about the risks of the vaccine, the risks of the virus. I can understand that.

What I can’t understand is how you think that you’ll make a better risk assessment than an Emergency Room doctor — unless you also have a degree in biology or chemistry, unless you’ve also spent the past ten years dedicating your life to learning and practicing medicine, unless you’ve also spent the past two years watching people die from COVID wishing there was some way to go back in time and get the vaccine before it was too late.


I don’t think you’re an idiot, or a bad person, for not being vaccinated.

Though this situation seems obvious to me, I know that is because of my proximity to someone deeply involved in the fight against COVID.

I know that we are all all shaped by our communities, by the information we have access to, by our particular relationships and experiences. I know that our convictions are mostly subconscious, and that logic has very little effect on what we believe.

I don’t expect you to change your mind.

As the poet Glen Hansard sang, “When your mind’s made up, there’s no point trying to change it.”

But I wanted you to know that in our house, we are overwhelmed, and heartbroken.

And though I love you, I cannot think of you without feeling the weight of your contribution to the crisis that is crushing the doctor that I love — either because you think you can make a better medical decision than those on the front line of the battle against COVID, or because you just don’t give a shit.

Either way, it hurts. It hurts her, and it hurts me to see it.

I just wanted you to know.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

published December 14, 2021

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