This isn’t really a parable, but I liked the sound of the title, so there we are.
I wanted to share with you some thoughts about what I think of as two wars being waged simultaneously in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. First, there is the war against the virus itself. Within that, there is also a holy war being fought over vaccine ideology, particularly — but not exclusively — over COVID vaccines, with three major groups — Blue, Green, and Red — involved. The sources are a couple well-known figures who reached out to me when they certainly didn’t have to, so I’m going to respect their privacy by keeping their identities to myself.
To start off, I want to clarify that the vaccine holy war war is not — repeat, not — being fought over the prevention of COVID spread or ending the pandemic; while that’s certainly the preferred end state for two of the three participants (Blue and Green), it’s not the primary focus of the two major combatants (Blue and Red). Instead, it’s a battle over vaccine ideology. I liken it more to the Cold War, which was essentially a conflict over competing ideologies. And much like the Cold War, which featured NATO (Blue) and the Warsaw Pact (Red) as the main players and a host of other countries caught in the middle, the same is true for this war over vaccine ideology, with many people just trying to survive against the virus (Green).
What I cover in this post is obviously not an all-encompassing story. It is also speculative in many ways and should be considered an opinion piece.
The Three Teams
The war against the virus and the war over vaccine ideology have three major factions: Blue, Green, and Red, as determined by their dominant outlook. However, there are many people who do not fall neatly into one of these groups for a variety of reasons.
Team Blue: This team comprises government officials, scientists, doctors, and their allies who are champions of the COVID vaccine cause AND ALSO generally adhere to the “vax and relax” or “vaccine dogma” worldview. Team Blue is focused primarily on defending and projecting the legitimacy of COVID (and other) vaccines, not — repeat, not — on employing all measures that could be brought to bear to end the pandemic.
Team Red: This team comprises anti-vaccine and COVID denialism factions, from political figures like RFK, Jr., to scientists and members of the medical community who can generally be considered as COVID minimizers and anti-vaccine activists and mouthpieces (Leana Wen, Vinay Prasad, Monica Gandhi, etc.). Team Blue sees Red as, to slightly paraphrase, “the true enemy.”
Note that while Teams Blue and Red are largely politically liberal and conservative, respectively, there are outliers and exceptions in both camps.
Those two should come as no surprise. But, as with the Cold War, there’s also a third group.
Team Green: This team is largely comprised of the “COVID-conscious community” and its members are mainly, although not exclusively, lay people (i.e., not medical or infectious disease experts by training or trade, although there are certainly many medical professions who fall into Green). While this community arguably contains different factions or elements of factions (e.g., Long COVID community, disabled community, etc.), the underlying commonality is the focus on employing any and all possible means — mitigations like masking, filtration and far-UVC; vaccines and antivirals; economic relief; etc. — to bring the SARS2 pandemic to a close.
A key distinction between Teams Blue and Green are that Team Blue’s primary enemy is Team Red; Team Green’s primary enemy is the virus.
Note that there are other players, particularly government institutions and big pharma, involved, but they’re largely peripheral to this particular discussion except as associated individuals may drift in and out of the battle (typically in support of Teams Blue or Red).
Discussion: Team Red
I won’t address Team Red in much detail, as their goal is fairly simple and clear-cut: destroy the legitimacy of vaccines writ large, and COVID vaccines in particular, along with stripping the government of any authority to implement future protections such as mask mandates. Completing the destruction of public health that began under Trump and continued under Biden is a complementary goal.
Discussion: Team Blue…and Green
Team Blue, along with its relationship with Team Green, is really at the heart of this discussion.
While former President Trump certainly began the deconstruction of public health, the Biden administration arguably accelerated it, including declaring the pandemic over.
Under the Biden administration, Team Blue has been instrumental in driving the vax-only (“vax and relax”, “vaccine dogma”) strategy and undermining, in tandem with other external players (Moderna and Pfizer, consulting agencies feeding Democratic campaign strategies downplaying the pandemic, the donor class, etc.), the use of other non-pharmaceutical mitigations. Again, while not solely due to Team Blue’s efforts, they have contributed to a pandemic policy under Biden that boils down to this:
“Therefore, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.” – President Biden, 13 May 2021
And this, which was recently seen in a major metropolitan mass transit system:
I believe that, from the ideological perspective, the Biden administration has been tossing overboard non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) and other mitigations (masking, in particular, but everything else, as well) because all of them detract, in the eyes of Team Blue, from the touted power of vaccines. This also dovetails, of course, with the political goal of “ending” the pandemic at the behest of corporations and the donor class to get people back to work without paying for any clean air mitigations, economic support, etc.
Ideologically, the suppression of mitigations is to avoid providing an honest answer to this singular question posed by Team Red:
“If the COVID vaccines work, why do I need to wear a mask?”
The answer from Team Blue, of course, is “vaccines are the most effective way to protect yourself from COVID.” This response is an outright lie (saying this will outrage members of Team Blue), given the abundantly clear evidence at this point that a vaccine-only strategy, given current vaccine technology, will simply not work against a rapidly mutating and extremely transmissible virus like SARS-CoV-2. The only way to bring the virus under control is a global defense-in-depth in which the vaccines play an important, but subordinate, role in assisting the body’s immune system to create a last-ditch protective layer.
We also don’t have to look far to see the disdain Team Blue has for mitigations beyond vaccination: consider appearances by government officials in crowded indoor (and outdoor) venues, maskless and without any other mitigations, and — worse — conferences of infectious disease experts and other medical professionals, which for over a year now have been maskless/non-mitigated superspreader events. On top of that, it’s not terribly uncommon for high profile Team Blue scientists and physicians to appear unmasked on social media in unmitigated public settings where masking would be highly advised.
“Green on Blue Attacks”
The above-mentioned Team Blue behaviors bring us to the subject of “Green on Blue attacks,” which I found rather revelatory.
A Green on Blue attack is typically where Team Green members speak out to Team Blue members, most often over questionable public mitigation behaviors. Although there are different types of “attack,” a typical scenario is where a Team Blue member posts photos on social media of themselves and/or colleagues unmasked at a venue where masking would be well-advised, and members of Team Green raise this as a concern.
If you’ve never heard the term “green on blue attack,” it has its roots in the war in Afghanistan, “when an Afghan policeman or soldier fires on coalition forces,” as noted in this article by International Business Times. I’ll defer to the interpretation of veterans who fought there, but from the article, this term came across as extremely pejorative, with Blue seeing Green as backstabbers or traitors to what Team Blue believes is a common cause. The Blue-Green relationship also (IMHO) implies a lack of parity between the two teams: Blue does not see Green as being on equal terms, and often feels justified in dictating “what is right” to Green.
During an “attack,” other Team Blue members will often circle the wagons in solidarity around their member(s) (the “victim”) who is being called out, regardless of the circumstances, and often will use similar pattern phrases in their collective reactions:
- We shouldn’t take a “puritanical” approach or apply “purity tests” (this is a perennial favorite)
- Stop shaming [the victim]
- We’re on the same team [No, we’re not]
- We’re on the same side [Often, but not always]
- Give [the victim] some latitude/a break/grace, because <reasons>
- I understand the optics, but <caveats>
- [The victim] has done such great things or is so important, they deserve <exceptions>
- The perfect is the enemy of the good (and variations)
- Let’s focus on the *real* enemy (Team Red) (and variations)
- Various patronizing responses
- Refusal or unwillingness to actually listen to and consider Green’s concerns
Some Team Green members and non-affiliated individuals will also decry these “attacks,” lamenting that “we’re attacking one of our own (or one of our ‘leaders’),” when this is not actually the case. Members of Team Blue are not modeling — leading by example — the defensive strategies Team Green would like to see because, again, they’re not on the same team and they don’t share the same perspectives. This is why Team Blue rails against “purity tests” by Team Green, while Team Green is looking for leadership by example from Team Blue, with both teams frustrated and disappointed.
In most of these “green on blue attacks,” the “victim” refuses to accept any responsibility for questionable actions or engage in constructive introspection or behavioral change, and in at least a few cases has had spectacular public meltdowns. Further, fellow Team Blue members generally refuse to hold any amongst their number accountable for behaviors called out by Team Green.
Team Blue also refuses to acknowledge that these questionable actions translate directly into potential harm by modeling high-risk behaviors, but the truth is they don’t see it that way: they’re the “experts” (credentialism) and they know better than the lay people who make up the bulk of Team Green.**
Another group of players who are arguably (or often) members of Team Green are scientists and engineers outside the medical sphere whose viewpoints are “hard science-driven” and in some cases at odds with Team Blue. Aerosol scientists are a good example.
Ironically, a number of these Team Blue experts have had confirmed COVID infections, despite being up to date on their vaccinations (in at least one case, a Team Blue supporter then trotted out “hybrid immunity” as being a beneficial result), and many individuals at infectious disease and other medical conferences have reported testing positive after engaging in blatant high-risk behaviors; some of them were actually surprised that, to paraphrase, “COVID is still around.”
Winning the Hearts and Minds
The most fascinating facet of these conversations was Team Blue’s belief that Team Red followers (versus key influencers such as RFK, Jr., Vinay Prasad, Monica Gandhi, etc.) and unaffiliated individuals can potentially be wooed to Team Blue’s side by a “soft touch” and gentle proselytizing, versus “hard-liner Puritanism.” This has been going on since at least early 2021, when some then-key Blue Team influencers were lobbying for the media to stop reporting daily COVID case counts, because the case numbers gave the impression the vaccines weren’t effective and was providing ammunition for Team Red. Ironically, these Team Blue influencers did not consider that spinning — or outright lying about — vaccine effectiveness provided even more powerful ammunition to Team Red.
The mindset reflected in these assertions reminded me very poignantly of the failed American campaign to “win the hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. No amount of “soft touching,” especially in public messaging, is going to bring any more than a handful of anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers over to Team Blue (note: I know personally how deeply entrenched anti-vax behavior can be, as a family member, who definitely is not on the right politically, is an anti-vaxxer), and I suspect will win few staunch supporters from among the unaffiliated. The ignorance and naïveté of this Team Blue mindset, especially in light of all that has transpired in the last 3-plus years, is astonishing.
The point of this post is mainly to lay out these critical assertions:
- There is a very clear distinction between the ideological priorities of Teams Blue and Green that members of both teams typically are unaware of, which leads to confusion and friction.
- While these two teams are generally on the same side, they have different enemies: Team Blue’s primary enemy is Team Red; Team Green’s primary enemy is the virus.
- Members of Team Blue are not “leaders” of Team Green. They may be excellent sources of information, but they are not “one of our own.” Team Green has its own leaders, but because they’re typically lay people who are not credentialed in the infectious diseases sphere, they are generally not recognized or accepted as such.
- Team Green should not expect accountability from Team Blue members who demonstrate questionable or high-risk public behaviors; they will consistently be disappointed.
- Team Blue members don’t understand why Team Green calls them out for high-risk behaviors, and – based on my personal experience – are very poor listeners when it comes to Green’s explanations of their concerns.