A woman walks her dog at Lindo Lake on Dec. 10, 2022.
A woman walks her dog at Lindo Lake on Dec. 10, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Read the Covid Year Two investigation here.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a stroll around Lindo Lake in Lakeside, looking for people to interview for a story my colleague and I had uncovered: Deaths dramatically went up in Lakeside after the advent of the vaccine, even as they plunged almost everywhere else. I knew I needed to talk to anti-vaxxers, but I wanted to start with some easy interviews. 

Spotted a lady getting out of her car, wearing a mask. This’ll do, I thought. “Actually, I’m an anti-vaxxer,” she said. OK, noted. She was in a hurry, so I moved on. 

I spotted another, walking two tiny dogs. She had on a purple scarf, flowy clothes and carried herself with dignity. She looked like a Unitarian. Awesome.

“I think it was a fluke,” she said. “I don’t believe it. I think they did it on purpose.” 

“Like the government released it?”

“Yep.” 

My efforts to not jump immediately into the deep end of anti-vax theory were hopeless. So I forced a smile and walked with this kind-looking lady and her dogs for the next 20 minutes.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was carrying around a fair amount of lazy thinking – courtesy of the echo chamber in which I spend much of my days. Most of my friends are liberal. Gasp! I’d told a lot of them about our findings in Lakeside – that deaths there more than doubled after the vaccine was released, while going down in the rest of the county – and so many people said some cutting version of: “Serves them right.”

To be honest, I made similar dark jokes myself. The gallows humor isn’t what bothers me. It’s something else; like looking in the mirror image of “owning the libs.” 

So there I was, walking with this lady and her dogs in sweaters around a lake, talking to her about how Covid was perhaps released into the world by multiple governments as a way to control humanity. 

I told her pretty quickly I was pro-vaccine, that I’d had it myself and I didn’t believe Covid was a tool designed for world domination. She said that was fine with her. And I told her it was OK she didn’t agree with me, either. I did this, at first, as a trick of the trade. I needed her to be open with me and so I wasn’t going to judge her. But then, because I stopped judging her out of professional necessity, I also just stopped judging her. It felt kind of nice.

First off, I had to admit that not everything she said was crazy. Legitimate reporting has pointed to the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Since then, more research has surfaced that indicates Covid probably came from nature and not a lab. But even Anthony Fauci said he is still keeping “a completely open mind” about where the virus originated

I’m not aware of a single piece of evidence that suggests Covid is part of a plot for world domination. But, it’s pretty easy to see how the so-called lab leak theory would morph into such a thing. 

She also didn’t trust big pharma. She believed, brace yourself, the industry puts profits over people. Anyone who knows anything about OxyContin knows this to be completely accurate.  

Something else, she said: “Governments are greedy and power-hungry.” And they lie. Yes, yes and yes. 

A Covid-19 vaccine sign can be seen in front of Leo’s Lakeside Pharmacy on Dec. 10, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Anti-vaxxers are scary to many of us who believe in vaccines. They are gumming up the pipeline to a better world, the thinking goes. The unfortunate effect of that fear is that it can lead to a reliance on liberal talking points and visions of cartoon monsters. 

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. For every time she said something that resonated with me, she almost as frequently made some logical leap that had her twisted in pretzel knots. But it wasn’t that she was making sense that continues to stand out in my mind. It was her inherent humanity.

My colleague Jesse Marx and I have encountered this over and over again in our reporting. He spoke to a woman named Janet Keating, whose husband died from Covid. Both were truck drivers, both unvaccinated. Even the death of her husband didn’t shift her belief that vaccines, and not any virus, are the real danger. 

If that won’t do it, nothing will. 

What purpose does it serve to “own” that lady? What purpose to write her off?

I’m not saying she’s entitled to understanding. What I’m saying is that, in the long run, understanding might be a more effective strategy. Understanding might feel a little better. 

The world is complicated and uncertain. The stories we tell ourselves, down to the one, give us a way to bear what is shifting and frightful. They contain almost as much comfort as truth. Some people, by necessity, are jumping to more wrong conclusions than others. But we’re all telling stories.

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego.

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15 Comments

  1. The author posits a very sympathetic tone. I will be 70 years old next month and never got vaccinated, not even a flu shot. WHY? Sounds bizarre, right? Well, the devil is in the details. On March 7th, 2020, I was trapped at Charles de Gaulle airport by Chicken Little. Just completing a running event near Calais, I was fit as a bull. The Asian flight attendants were all wearing masks. Weird? No one else seemed to care. Upon arriving in San Diego, I was met with social hysteria. An out-of-control citizenry appearing all as mentally ill. People were screaming at me in anger to wear a mask. I seldom did but when asked I obliged. I never got sick! NEVER! My first week back home, I drove to the spa in Jacumba where I ran naked in the desert. A few weeks later, I drove to Flagstaff to train at altitude then drove back to Flagstaff a month later for more training. NO MASK! Then I spent weeks in Borrego Springs, running in 116-degree heat. NO MASK! All this when most brave Americans were lined a mile long at Krispy Creme for doughnuts giving them comfort like a mother’s nipple. SADDDDD!! So pathetically sad! I’m going back to France in a few months to run in competition. This is what I did during NOVID! Plus run for SDCC.

  2. A great, well balanced article. Thank you very much Will!

    I am also anti-vax, but respect the views of others in making their own personal choices.

    Everyone may note that even the most “anti-vax” person typically does not say “I want to prevent you from being vaccinated or having your kids vaccinated”, even if they feel that’s not a good idea.

    On the other side? The typical viewpoint is “I want to be vaccinated, and I think you and your children should be FORCED to be vaccinated as well…”

    That is what drives the animosity here – it’s not that anti-vaxxers are taking it on themselves to try to impose their viewpoints on others, it’s that they’re opposing attempts by others to impose their viewpoint on them.

    If the “pro-vax” side stopped trying to force others to do what THEY want, you would likely hear very little about the issue in the news…

  3. Ok, ignorant people are human too. That does not excuse them from spreading falsehoods that often result in the spread of illness and death.

  4. Thank you for this article. It reminded me to appreciate people’s humanity. I am vaccinated and boosted but have always been skeptical that forced vaccination would change anti Vax behavior. Most anti Vax folks I know share the opinions of your interviewee. They believe deeply that big pharma has made a mountain out of a mole hill so they could profit from their development of a vaccine and that our government has been a facilitator of their unconscionable greed. I don’t happen to agree in this instance but I know enuff political history of this and other countries to know that huckstering and corruption are not unknown in “government work”. I think anti vaxers are thinking of our government’s obfuscations during Vietnam and the “misinformation” about WMD’s in Iraq that got us mired in the Iraqi conflict. Governments are fallible and I think anti vax-ers are very focused on this. For me personally the science made sense and my public health bias from years of working with public health nurses said get vaccinated so I did. What I really want is for all Americans to be safe and healthy and sheltered all the time.

  5. Well done, Will. I really enjoyed this article and the important message it contains. We don’t have to agree with each other, but it can be helpful to understand the other person’s perspective.

  6. There was a time when people deferred to those who were smarter than themselves, like rocket scientists. Today it seems that people are bombarded with conflicting information and many tend to simply select the stuff that makes them most comfortable, without necessarily seriously evaluating the source.

  7. a very simple and true message – don’t stereotype people! – that nevertheless needs frequent reinforcement. thanks for this one.

  8. Interesting article. I still refuse to feel empathy for people who take their medical advice from a huckster selling pillows on TV over scientists and immunologists. Ignorance is not a valid belief system.

  9. During a pandemic, it is not an individual choice to not accept a working vaccine. That choice only helps to perpetuate the pandemic and ever increasing the odds of the virus mutating into forms that the available vaccines don’t work. I’m sure this lady and most antivaxxers grew up getting vaccines for polio, smallpox, measles, etc. Where were all their objections then? Over 1.1 million people have died from Covid in the USA. It didn’t have to be that way. It happened because the leaders of the Republican Party fostered and encouraged backlash against ANYTHING the “liberals” recommended. Not based on science, fact, reason or logic. Just pure anti-them in a bid to regain power. I’ll leave the rest to Dr. Carl Sagan.

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

    ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    1. I’m sure this lady and most antivaxxers grew up getting vaccines for polio, smallpox, measles, etc. Where were all their objections then?

      ANSWER: We were 5 years old then. Did you expect us to attack the federal courthouse with playdoh bombs before nap time?

  10. Great article with insight that gives me hope for the rampant polarization today.

    Would appreciate avoidance of using blanket term ‘anti-vaxxer’ (which is a weaponized word used to deride and condemn without any regard to what drives a person’s beliefs.) Instead, perhaps opt for anti-mandate (which I believe to be far more accurate if you’re going to bestow labels on groups.)

    Remember, pregnant women in the 50’s & 60’s were told thalidomide was ‘safe and effective’ too (with dire results.) Time is the best arbiter of safety & efficacy.

    And thanks, Will, for a thoughtful article. Great bridge-builder, especially during the holidays.

  11. Thank you for a reminder of our shared humanity and the healthy benefits of seeking to understand rather than to judge.

  12. whether she’s right or wrong, why would it matter to a logical thinker whether one of the millions of persons who died happened to be her husband? That seems like a fallacy. That’s just one death in the stats, no different than any other. Sounds like she’s being put down for not letting emotion veto whatever logical driven basis she has for her beliefs (be they ultimately right or wrong). Anyways, at least the author admits he’s a work in progress. Who willingly hangs out with people that cheer on the painful death of old folks? Probably the same type of people who think the Ukraine war is a gas, and hope it continues indefinitely.

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