The Numbers Speak For Themselves, But Not For Our Fears

Far be it from me to tell anyone not to worry about something. They have a right to worry about anything they darn well feel like. Isn’t that what makes America great after all? Everyone gets to pick for themselves what keeps them up at night, or who out there scares them the most. 

I don’t like snakes, my wife is afraid of spiders. I’ve even heard that some people are afraid of vegetables. I’m guessing most of them are under the age of ten. Some fears are rational while many are not. But even if they are irrational they still have power and can affect our behavior. Often these fears are born out of our particular past experiences; so that my fears may be quite different from your own. 

Now, I have a little confession to make—and then an assertion. First, my confession: I’m a little afraid of these vaccines for COVID-19. You may think I’m silly, or misinformed. But my fear is born from related experience. I used to get flu shots because I was told it was a good idea. But each time I got those shots I suffered severe flu symptoms, for quite a long time. And then, several months after I had the shot, I still got the flu as well. Now, I’m no expert mathematician but still, I can do a little cost-benefit analysis of that, and come to the conclusion—after a few quick calculations—that I received little to no benefit from those flu shots, and yet I paid a heavy price. This Covid vaccine is different—it isn’t the flu shot—but it is similar enough to give me pause and to cause me some concern. Okay, I worry a little bit about it. 

Adding fuel to my metaphorical fear fire is the fact that I know of several others, one a close friend, who have had even worse reactions than my own, to flu shots, as well as to the Covid vaccines.  One was hospitalized, one had their ankles swell up like balloons and is now suffering blood clotting without a successful remedy, and another suffered gastrointestinal issues that caused severe constipation, and he lost 16 pounds over several weeks, couldn’t sleep, and started sweating profusely without interruption. Eventually his symptoms subsided after about six months and he returned to normal. 

I’m told, by a research scientist friend, that the adverse reactions to these vaccines are well within statistical norms. That is just great—for everyone who isn’t adversely affected by them. For those of us who are likely, or surmise we might be more likely for adverse reactions based on our past experience, these statistical norms aren’t so comforting. 

Even so, we are a people that love our numbers. We have statistics for everything and make many of our decisions based on these. Numbers sway our decisions and we base our behavior oftentimes on how the numbers look, or how they are trending, and what the odds are; we weigh the chances, estimate the probability, and then act accordingly. 

Now, I am going to share my little assertion with you. It is based on just a few simple numbers supplied by our friends at Johns Hopkins University, and fortunately for us the numbers are (relatively)free of bias (we hope), and they don’t have any agenda or ulterior motive. They’re just innocent numbers after all, gathered and presented by those fine researchers, who track and tabulate the cases and deaths from the Covid virus from around the world. The raw numbers themselves are interesting enough—you can go to their website and see for yourself—but if you also pull out your calculator and just do a few basic operations—just division—then the numbers will begin to speak to you with power and insight. They will reveal things to you which you may not have ever considered, and which nobody has ever told you. 

After everything that we’ve gone through since the virus first touched our shores—as of this writing—we’ve had 36,305,000 cases in the US. That is quite a lot; though if you divide that by the total population—which is currently 332,609,000—you find that it is roughly 10.9%, so a little over 1 in 10 people have contracted the virus thus far. Maybe that is bad, maybe that is good, it depends on how you look at it I suppose. Looking further, the number of deaths in the US to date is 619,000, so that comes to roughly .18% of our population—a relatively small fraction of a percentage. That is comforting, in my opinion. Perhaps these numbers also comfort you, or perhaps they alarm you even more.

Now, I suspect that my sharing these numbers with you may have the same non-effect on your decision-making, related to this virus, as my friend’s reference to statistical norms had upon me. If you’ve had Covid yourself, or know someone who has had it who has suffered from it, or has even died from it—God forbid—then, odds and statistics won’t mean nearly as much to you as your personal experience will. Because if I’ve learned anything in my fifty-two years as an American—as a human for that matter—if there is anything we trust and follow more than our numbers and statistics, it is our anxieties and our fears. 


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