I wrote a book about a pandemic hitting Alaska. The reality is worse.

A New York Times piece from 2018 revealed how Russians have been pushing an anti-vaccine debate in our country long before we knew what COVID-19 or a coronavirus was. I’m sharing old news for a reason. The “discord” about vaccines is as contagious as a virus, and we are, in a word, sick. Way before this COVID-19 pandemic, the Russians spotted our weakness and they injected their own sort of poison into our American system. And boy, did we fall for it. Hard. We pride ourselves on having the best universities, scientists, health care and technology in the world, yet we’ve allowed something as simple as protection from disease to divide us even further.

Look at history. Vaccines worked for horrible diseases like smallpox and polio, and current vaccines work ridiculously well for keeping people from dying from COVID-19. Trust me, those dying in the hospitals right now are not dying from the vaccine. Vaccines work for your dog and cat, keeping them from turning into little Cujos. (Hey, we have a human vaccine against rabies, too. If you were bit today by a rabid fox, would you refuse that treatment?)

Unless you’re a scientist or doctor, don’t “do your research” on vaccines. Instead, do your research about where you get your information from. Who is telling you to not follow medical advice or science? And why? Do you get your advice on how to operate on your own heart from Twitter or YouTube? Would you let some television personality diagnose and treat you if you had cancer?

A few days ago, more than 300 Alaskan doctors and providers essentially begged us to do the right thing, to wear masks and get vaccinated. Our medical system in Alaska is verging on collapse. We have the No. 1 COVID-19 infection rate in the world. This pandemic is no conspiracy. No hoax. Not some planned event to kill off more Americans than any of our wars or past pandemics. But even if it were, why refuse to protect yourself and others?

We’ve been mandating vaccination in this country before we were even a country. Way back in 1777 General George Washington ordered the vaccination of our troops. This idea of “liberty or death” ignores the fact that in this case, the two are not mutually exclusive. But I suppose if you are dead, then you’re free from wearing a mask or debating about getting a vaccine. The virus doesn’t care what you believe, whether that is thinking liberty and science are at odds, or what news network or social media platform or half-baked Alaska author’s blog post you read and share. This virus has but one purpose: replicate. That is what viruses do. If you think of it as a small flame, we can add fuel to the fire or we can take away the oxygen, douse it with water and cover it. Mask it and give it a shot.

Look, I openly admit I wrote “The Raven’s Gift,” a pandemic novel, set right here in the good old state of Alaska. My book is rife with hints of government conspiracy and bad people up to all sorts of shenanigans during a pandemic. In that story everything, not just our health care system, has collapsed. And yet, when I wrote the first draft of that novel back in 2008, while I feared and envisioned Alaska struggling horribly if a pandemic hit, I didn’t ever expect we would turn our backs upon the people trying to save us. That we would so easily be influenced by outside voices, whether they are Russian bots, politicians, church leaders, or anti-science conspiracy hacks with easily disproved claims and questionable motives. I envisioned horror, but I did not expect this. A silly circus of avoidable bitterness, sadness and death.

I thought that here in Alaska, elders, children and community came first. That Alaskans were tough and independent, but with big hearts and a kind eye on everybody but ourselves. I want to still think that, I really do, but I’m just not so sure anymore, and this heartbreak and disappointment I feel is actually something that no vaccine can cure.


Don Rearden is the author of the novel “The Raven’s Gift,” but not the novel coronavirus. He lives and writes in Anchorage.

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Don Rearden

Don Rearden, author of the novel "The Raven's Gift," lives and writes in Anchorage, but often pretends he's still back somewhere on the tundra outside of Bethel.