Cooperation, Betrayal, & The Vaccine Rollout

Until everyone is safe, no one is safe …

Everyone is getting into the vaccine roll-out business. Including me — at least for myself. Witness this,

“ROME — Pope Francis on Friday called on world leaders, businesses and international organizations to help ensure that the most vulnerable and needy have access to newly developed coronavirus vaccines.

“Francis used his traditional Christmas address to argue that widespread suffering should compel people to reflect on their common humanity, and apply those principles to how vaccine rollouts are handled.”

Now, between us, as popes go, I happen to think Frankie, as he is fondly known in our house, is a stellar one, mostly because he seems at least to have his fingers on the genuine pulse of our world. Otherworldly popes may be all well and good, but not to live a heart connection with human suffering seems cruel in a pope, you know?

He continued, to an empty cathedral and an even emptier St. Peter’s Square, “We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are. Nor can we allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters. I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”

Oh, but we are, Beloved, aren’t we? Or, some of us are. Every single group — be they dockworkers or doctors — all explain earnestly why they need the vaccine before others. I can understand the feeling even if mine is its extreme opposite.

The loudly debated rollout of the various coronavirus vaccines is a microcosm of the factionalism and the polarization in our world. Everyone has their own perspective. Everyone has their own reasons. Everyone has their own filters. And because governments the world over, no matter how they responded to the onset of the virus, all seem to have conflicting agendas.

The virus is surging dangerously in Africa. Several of the poorer African nations are worried that despite their sickening, and dying, populations, they will be last on the list for vaccines because they can’t afford them.

No one, Beloved, is stating the obvious. No one. Oh, people are appealing to the angels of our better nature left and right. Doctors are citing epidemiological modeling as gospel truth. Even game theory scientists are chiming in. But we aren’t speaking the biggest truth yet.

Until everyone is safe, no one is safe. Everyone. There can be no exceptions.

Why doesn’t the WHO or the UN or the Hague make a list of all the countries in the world in order of economic wealth — there are 171 — and then match the top wealthiest country to the bottom one in a series of, if you will, temporary (maybe leading to permanent???) medical adoptions?

So #1 Qatar would adopt #171 Burundi — and see to it, as a matter of honor, that all Burundians receive the vaccine. Doesn’t that make simple sense? And why aren’t there people in all the wealthiest countries in the world (the U.S. is #11) banding together to think of something like this and, through impartial NGOs, making it happen?

Madhur Anand, an ecologist, and Chris Bauch, a mathematical biologist, focus their research on the interplay between human behavior and environment systems. They’ve created a rollout model based in game theory. They asked, “To save the most lives, who should get the vaccine first?”

“The couple’s collaborative research usually focuses on the interplay between human behavior and environment systems — for instance, with pollution, deforestation and climate change. Whereas those dynamics unfold slowly, the pandemic provided an acute example of rapid change.” Hence the shift in the focus of their research.

“Game theory [is] a mathematical way of modeling how people make strategic decisions within a group. Each individual has choices, but the payoff for each choice depends on choices made by others. This is what’s called a ‘prisoner’s dilemma game’ — players weigh cooperation against betrayal, often producing a less than optimal outcome for the common good.”

As Xingru Chen, a doctoral student in mathematics at Dartmouth and co-author of the paper wrote, “It boils down to a fundamental problem known as the tragedy of the commons. There is a misalignment of individual interests and societal interests.”

Well, doesn’t that say it all? Cooperation against betrayal. Misalignment of individual interests and societal interests. Um, yes.

“Infectious disease models usually fail to appreciate the flux of human behavior, treating it instead as a constant,” Dr. Bauch said. There you have it! I gasped when I read that. Human behavior — the key variable in this whole damned pandemic — is not taken into account. What the …? How can that possibly be?

Elisabetta Povoledo and Marc Santora conclude their story about Frankie, “‘But it was the pandemic that largely shaped the world this year and the pandemic,’ he said, ‘that would allow humanity to really consider what global cooperation can achieve.’ At the end of his address, bells pealed and echoed in an empty St. Peter’s Square.”

At this point in the path of the vaccine, I would consider us all in betrayal of the common good. Even me, even though I think I ought to wait six months to get the vaccine so that someone who is much more vulnerable than I — say a single mom whose kids are in public school — can have it first because I can stay home. Regardless, that we are not, each and every one of us, Beloved, not saying to everyone, “Oh, no, after you ….” if we can. I’d call this personal betrayal of the common good.

This morning’s Times had a video about the life of Jerry Givens. It featured his dear friend, Abraham J. Bonowitz, speaking posthumously about Jerry’s life. Mr. Givens was the correctional officer in the State of Virginia. He was the person who pushed the syringe or flipped the switch on 62 state-sanctioned executions. A devout Christian, his constant prayer was, “Lord, let me not execute an innocent man.”

Eventually, he had to do just that, and the cumulative effects of those 62 deaths that sat in his heart flipped an interior, spiritual switch. Mr. Givens became a vocal advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, working with his friend Mr. Bonowitz who said, “What matters is that we came together for one thing … the preservation of life, the dignity of life.”

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine is all about the dignity of life, the preservation of life, Beloved. Whether we opt for “direct protection which protects the people who get the vaccine or indirect protection which protects the contacts of people who get the vaccine,” ultimately, we, as a species, need both.

This morning’s Times had a review of a new biography of Sylvia Plath, she who is so often characterized as a tragic poet. I have a collegial affinity with Ms. Plath; she went to my alma mater. The headline of the review read: “Shifting the Focus From Sylvia Plath’s Tragic Death to Her Brilliant Life.”

The words ‘shifting focus’ were what caught my attention. That’s what is needed in these days of the vaccine rollout, Beloved. We get to shift our focus from our small, petty, daily human concerns to the large, vital, lifetime concerns of humanity as a whole.

The title of the Plath biography by Heather Clark is “RED COMET, The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath.” The first two words are a line from a Plath poem.

That’s how I see this vaccine if we’ll shift our focus, Beloved, from the individual human to the human species — as a red comet — a blaze of hope and promise of a safe, more connected, more loving, more caring future for all of our hopelessly divided human family.

The shift starts now.

Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection of spirituality and culture. Her website is susancorso.com.

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Susan Corso

Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 40+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com