Last week, late night host Jimmy Kimmel used part of his show to opine on the status of unvaccinated Americans and how medical professionals should proceed in caring for them. According to The Washington Post, Kimmel used his monologue to argue that “the choice doesn’t seem so tough to me. Vaccinated person having a heart attack? Yes, come right in, we’ll take care of you. Unvaccinated guy who gobbled horse goo? Rest in peace, wheezy.”
Kimmel’s use of the term “horse goo” is a reference to Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that made headlines decades ago when Merck & Co. began to use the drug to treat River Blindness free of charge. While the drug has indeed been used on humans, it has also been used to treat parasitic diseases in animals, which has led some to refer to it as “horse dewormer,” as a growing number of people appear to be taking it to treat COVID-19.
My purpose is not to vouch for or against the use of Ivermectin. I have no knowledge of the drug itself and my knowledge of its history is elementary at best. Instead, I would like to focus on Kimmel’s suggestion that unvaccinated people who catch COVID-19 should be refused treatment out of deference for vaccinated patients suffering from other illnesses. After all, the argument goes, there are a limited number of hospital beds and the unvaccinated had a chance to prevent this disease. Lest one thinks Kimmel is merely being a tongue-in-cheek comedian, his comments echo those of CNN’s supposed journalist Don Lemon, who said on air last week that if “you’re not going to get vaccinated...then maybe you don’t want to go to the hospital when you get sick,” since such patients “are taking up the space for people who are doing things the right way.”
Kimmel and Lemon get hundreds of thousands of views on a regular basis, so there are serious ramifications to the things that they say. If they are going to float the idea that the unvaccinated should be refused hospital care - or should take it upon themselves to avoid going to the hospital - their claims should be evaluated.
I would be lying if I said I did not understand their frustration. I am a proponent of vaccination and believe that all those who are eligible and have been cleared by their doctor to get the vaccine should do so. I got the vaccine over the summer so that I could return to normal life, and it is frustrating to do everything that you have been told to do only to see normal life still out of reach. That being said, to deny medical care to someone who is ill because they did not take advantage of the preventive measures available to them is out of step with the ethics of the medical industry. If Kimmel and Lemon want to argue that each individual should be responsible for their health writ large, and that doctors should consider patient decision making when deciding to provide care on a variety of illnesses, they are free to do so and I would be interested in hearing it. However, something tells me that Kimmel’s tearful monologues about healthcare’s status as a basic human right are more indicative of his attitudes towards medicine than his diatribe about the unvaccinated.
Taking Kimmel and Lemon’s position to its logical conclusion highlights its absurdity. If doctors should turn away unvaccinated patients because they refused to take the preventive measures they had been instructed to, should they also turn away patients suffering from sexually transmitted diseases who similarly forewent preventative measures? What if an oncologist discovers treatable lung cancer in a lifelong smoker? Should they deny chemotherapy on the grounds that the smoker chose to continue smoking when the correlation between smoking and lung cancer is common knowledge? If a patient is rushed into the emergency room after suffering a heart attack, should they be turned away because their doctor told them repeatedly to cut out bacon from their diet and they never did? The list of examples is endless, but the point is simple: doctors routinely care for people whose poor health is, for lack of a better term, their own fault. Additionally, doctors are continuously offering care to people whose decisions they disagree with and who they may even hate. I doubt every single doctor who cared for former President Donald Trump at Walter Reed Medical Center had a MAGA hat at their house. And unless Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center conducts the worst background checks known to man, I suspect that the surgeon who operated on the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was not a staunch ally of terrorists.
Everyone should get vaccinated, but unless you are willing to expand the argument to encompass all preventable health conditions, the argument for denying care to the unvaccinated is a short-sighted ploy that sets a medical precedent few are willing to defend.