Dying for a principle

Mike Maltais

Robert LeMay, the Washington State Patrol trooper who became somewhat of a public figure for not only defying a COVID-19 vaccination mandate imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, but also for inviting the Gov. to kiss his hind parts, lost his job as a result of his defiance last October.

LeMay gave up his 22-year career as a member of Washington’s finest law enforcement department to prove a principle: that some decisions, beliefs, or convictions transcend personal sacrifice.

Last month LeMay carried that sacrifice the ultimate step beyond when he gave up his 51 years of life to COVID on Jan. 28, unintentionally to prove a point: that COVID is no respecter of principle regardless of decision, belief, or conviction.

LeMay leaves behind a wife and four children, and I extend to them my deepest condolences over their loss. LeMay now joins the more than 300 police officers who perished from the disease in 2021, almost five times more than the 63 who died by firearms.

People the world over die daily for their beliefs and convictions. Some we endorse and admire, others we reject and criticize, and a few we struggle just to see the point. I’m in the last group where it comes to the late Mr. LeMay.

Did his death vindicate his objection? Did it elevate the debate? Did it change a single mind?  What did it prove beyond the fact that COVID is an equal opportunity killer?

When COVID first emerged so did a public clamor for a vaccine against it. When one was developed at record speed social media provided a corresponding platform for skeptics on every corner to voice doubt and distrust. While the arguments are endless the journey through a COVID diagnosis is not. For many it ends in an intensive care ward, hooked up to a ventilator and what comes next is often – and unnecessarily - heartbreaking for all involved.

As of Feb. 2, the U.S. is the leader (76,516,202) among 223 countries that have reported their confirmed COVID cases (382,270,389), according to the website Worldometer. While I am not naïve enough to accept that all countries are reporting fully and accurately, it remains an alarming statistic. How does the world’s greatest country, among the first to have access to an approved vaccine, wind up having the most confirmed cases and deaths in this race to the bottom?

As more prominent opponents of COVID vaccination succumb to the consequences of their choices – Denver pastor/talk show host Bob Enyart, Daystar Television founder Marcus Lamb, “Mr. Anti-Vax” radio host Marc Bernier, Orange County CA District Attorney Kelly Ernby - social media circles continue to whistle their tune of personal freedom past the graveyard.

Dr. Frederick Southwick, an infectious disease specialist in Gainesville, FL, said this:

“Scientific policies have been politicized. The word “freedom” has been linked to government mandates for vaccine use, the wearing of masks and other infection-control measures. If you are for “freedom” you are opposed to mandating infectious disease practices.”

It is this mindset plus the larger implications of a future threat to humanity that troubles me. As the number of our friends, family, and fellow Americans who have died from COVID and its variants approaches the one million mark (913,924 as of Feb. 2) it still remains far from the worst that could confront our species from a truly lethal outbreak. Consider the 1918 flu as a mild example.

Adjusted for population growth – 103 million then, 330 million today - the 1918 flu epidemic would have killed more than 3.5 million Americans by now, and not just the vulnerable with preexisting conditions. The 1918 flu – for which there was no vaccine, remember - killed indiscriminately young and old, vulnerable and healthy, and it did so quickly.

When the 2014 Ebola outbreak occurred in West Africa, the fortuitous combination of its remote location and the rapid intervention by the Gates Foundation prevented a widespread outbreak from migrating to our shores.

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) kills from 25 to 90 percent of those infected but now there is a vaccine for it. By contrast, statistics from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center show that the U.S. COVID mortality rate is only about 1.2 percent – 270 deaths, give or take - per 100,000 infections. Tame by comparison.

But imagine for a moment the emergence of an Ebola-like virus pandemic where more than half of our citizens exercise their freedom of choice not to be vaccinated. If our health care system is over-taxed now dealing with a large majority of unvaccinated COVID patients, picture a scene where the holdouts realize too late that only intensive-care medical intervention will save them.

The COVID pandemic has established one fact: the freedom of the anti-vax folks to opt out does not extend to a corresponding opt out of hospitalization for those same folks who catch the virus.

To my way of thinking a living, engaged, contributing American is the most valuable asset of modern civilization, and I have history to back me up on that score. What this country has given - and continues to give - to the world is immeasurable. We have divisions to heal, problems to solve, and perhaps, even humanity itself to save and we can ill afford to squander a single, precious American life toward those ends.

As Michael Lewis pointed out in his must-read book The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, the COVID crisis may prove a blessing in disguise if it convinces our government leaders, health care officials, and citizens in denial to prepare for a future worst-case scenario; one that is not a question of “if,” but rather, “when.”

That said, I predict that this opinion piece will not sway a single mind, not even in my own extended family. And that, regrettably, is where the country is.

All good medicine, citizens.


" My opinion" and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of NCW Media, Inc.

User menu

NCW Media Newspapers