Vaccination And Evolution

Okay–today I’m going to make an unkind and snarky point. (That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.) Bear with me.

Natural selection occurs when individuals with certain characteristics/genotypes are more likely than individuals with different genotypes to survive and reproduce. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin argued that if the following conditions are met, natural selection must occur:

(1) There is variation among individuals within a population in some trait; (2) The variation is heritable (i.e., there is a genetic basis to the variation, such that offspring tend to resemble their parents in this trait); and (3) Variation in this trait is associated with variation in fitness to survive.

Then consider reports about the current status of the COVID pandemic, specifically the following item from the Associated Press:

Non-vaccinated people account for nearly all new COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the United States, The Associated Press reported Thursday after analyzing government data from May. About 150 of the more than 18,000 people who died of COVID-19 in the month, and fewer than 1,200 of the more than 853,000 of those hospitalized for “breakthrough” infections, had been vaccinated. The report was based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, although the CDC has not estimated the coronavirus toll among fully-vaccinated people. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday that vaccines work so well that “nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable.” 

There are a number of observations one might make about people who are rejecting the vaccine for non-medical reasons. The refusal has clearly become part of a political stance, and what is most irritating about the grandstanders who insist on their “freedom” to control their own bodies (and infect their neighbors) is the large number of them who are unwilling to extend a similar freedom to others, especially pregnant women.

When a self-identified “pro-life” activist insists on his constitutional right to bodily integrity, hypocrisy is too nice a word…

A number of Facebook memes address other excuses for refusing to be vaccinated. I particularly like the one showing a guy eating McNuggets while proclaiming that he doesn’t want to put “unknowns” in his body. Very few of those memes–or the comments they inspire–have suggested that we look at vaccine rejection in the context of evolution and natural selection, probably because doing so–as I am about to– isn’t very nice.

So–if nice matters to you, don’t read any further.

Let’s look at those three conditions under which natural selection must occur:

The first was variation among individuals within a population in some trait. The trait we are looking at here, I would submit, is the ability to reason. For an individual to recognize a logical argument and differentiate it from an illogical one, that individual needs both a certain minimal level of intellect and–more importantly–a certain degree of mental/emotional health. 

The second condition identified by Darwin was that the variation be heritable–that is,  that there be a genetic basis to the variation, which can be passed along to that individual’s offspring. Both IQ and a number of mental health issues appear to be genetically based, although to be fair, both display an interaction of nature and nurture, so heritability is admittedly less certain.

Darwin’s final condition was that variation in the trait be associated with variation in fitness to survive. The fact that virtually all deaths from COVID are now occurring in the unvaccinated population would seem to be dispositive. (Among the very few cases where vaccinated individuals contract COVID, the disease is much milder and almost never leads to hospitalization, let alone death.)

I would be interested to know what percentage of the people refusing to be vaccinated also believe that Joe Biden “stole” the election, and that the country is being run by cannibalistic pedophiles or Jews with space lasers. I would guess there’s significant overlap.

In any event, assuming Darwin was right, a combination of COVID and natural selection may improve the gene pool….


  1. It’s called social Darwinism. If Alabama Arkansas Louisiana Mississippi and Wyoming the five states with probable centers of Covid Delta where Infections continue to spread, we could actually see a change in a population. Perhaps resulting in even fewer vaccine resistant people, who are more likely to be PPP un educated Republicans. It seems nature has a way of making things work. While I enjoy a bit of schadenfreude thank you.

  2. Seeing the brouhaha at Houston Methodist, IU Health, etc. I can’t help but be amazed at how many of these Darwin Award candidates are in the medical field.

  3. Don’t worry, Sheila, about the “thinning the herd” irony and the hypocrisy of the “it’s my body, my choice” crowd comments because we’ve probably all been thinking it, if not saying it as well. It’s just simply too good to pass up.

    It’s also got our Governor in quite a pinch. Indiana ranks 43rd in their COVID response, which doesn’t surprise me in the least based on reading social media comments. I mean, it was predictable. However, we are now trying to open the economy and forcing teachers and other workers back to work in unsafe conditions because we have a delta variant. Many of us will need boosters soon.

    However, while the governor has been pandering to his base and dragging his feet over COVID, he and his fellow Republicans have granted employers immunity from being sued by Hoosiers if they get sick or die from COVID because they were forced back to work.

    I’m no lawyer, but there is something about negligence and intent here that raises all kinds of red flags to me. I do this journalism thingy, but I think the Governor and Republicans have stepped in a big pile of dog shite.

    He just got overturned by a Marion County judge for cutting off federal unemployment benefits forcing people to seek jobs in low-paying gigs serving food to unvaccinated customers.

    Isn’t there a law about indifference to people’s lives?

    Me thinking playing politics for stupid people’s votes may be deadly and cause serious negative consequences for oneself.

  4. Your topic today is right in my wheelhouse. I taught this stuff for years. Darwin, and his lesser known peer, Alfred Russell Wallace, both postulated the definitions you posted today. But in the case of COVID/vaccine resistance, I’d say that 95% of those folks are not having a genetics crisis. This “trait” of vaccine resistance is political, social, and LEARNED/TAUGHT. That is the social Darwinism mentioned above.

    Willful ignorance is a CHOICE. Not all of the anti-vaxxers have genetic frailties that will eventually prevent them from reproducing. The condition you’re explaining today is mostly about social evolution vs. biological evolution. The hypocrisy is learned and taught in churches, homes and, in some cases outside the public school realm, private and parochial schools.

    The tenets for that disparity in evolution rates is neatly explained in a book I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, because it relates so often to our social ills: “The Watchman’s Rattle” by Rebecca Costa. I also cite it in my non-fiction books available on

  5. I believe those refusing to be vaccinated will be hoist on their own petard as the Elizabethans would say.

  6. Vernon is a little off the mark in that I believe most of the education occurs on Youtube and Social media. Dealing with my Scout Troop and vaccinations, I am amazed at the variation in the youth that are or are not vaccinated. Some of it is the parents and some of it is the youth.

    There is one 17 year old anti-COVID-vaccer that has been educated by Fox News and was surprised when I showed him a “media bias chart”.

    We have some kids whose parents are saying “we don’t know the long term effects on reproduction”. I have yet to hear that argument about any of the other vaccines that are out there. Death or severe illness does limit reproduction, but that is thousands of time more likely to happen from getting COVID, rather than the vaccine.

    I have one parent that is standing firm on the “it’s not FDA approved”.

    People don’t do well rationally evaluating risks, especially when Social Media is your main source of information.

  7. Right now, it’s the kids we should be worried about, as they seem to be far more susceptible to the Delta variant. They are the ones in the hospitals now. With younger populations there is a tendency to think of yourself as immune to diseases that kill the older, weaker population. They need to wake up.

    As much as I wish we were culling the herd, I fear we aren’t.

  8. It would seem that “making bad choices”, whether it be the result of a lack of reasoning, or being informed by poor sources of information and false information, is still a trait or characteristic in the Darwinian sense that can be linked to a rise in morbidity and mortality. I’m with Professor K.

  9. Give me your tired, your angry, your nothing better to do than vent about “the other” (in this case, MAGA-type folks)…fed/fed up by things they aren’t working every day to change…

    So much work to be done…hot air does little but lift balloons…

  10. I guess that once learned, knowledge is hard to ignore because I can’t imagine the set of thoughts that are in the way of people getting vaccinated. It must be based on “knowledge” that I’ve never been exposed to instead of “book learning”.

    In any case, it seems to amount to a thinning of the herd which, while painful, is apparently necessary.

    To be Republican for a second though: who’s paying for it?

  11. Dan,

    What you “believe” does not make my comment off the mark. Being taught, by any sort of media, is the key issue here.

  12. Governance and giving people the freedoms guaranteed them in the midst of a health crisis is difficult to do and perplexing. Educating people on the MRNA solution and all the false information about it appears to be key toward individuals making the correct decision. We still need to be following a CDC guideline of masking indoors, but only those with health issues are heading this. Reaching herd immunity for one variant can be achieved the real problem we face today is that variants travel faster today. How do you shut down economies continuously without ending up in a Soviet Socialist type of economy with where you have even greater problems than the virus like the pandemic that hit Russia, alcoholism. There is a balance

  13. I say turn about is warranted. If the deplorables of our “citizenry” favor voter restriction laws, as they obviously do, I favor tit for tat: no vote until you serve you country; no vote until you ace a civics course; no vote until you can define Public Good and National Interest; no vote until you can speak English well enough to say what you mean, which requires you to actually know what you mean; no vote until you stop smoking; and no vote until you men stop wearing baseball caps—a child’s cap, unless you happen to play baseball, and start wearing real men’s hats with full brims. Oh, yes, maybe brushing teeth should be required. A car instead of a pickup truck. No cutoff sleeves. No dogs large enough to maim or kill. And most importantly, no vote unless you have four or more years playing a team sport and have affidavits testifying you understand teamwork and fair play.

  14. What Vern said. Darwin’s findings have been proven and are now facts; social Darwinism is prone to the likes of Faux News and the gullibility of anti-vaxxers. Personally, I prefer Darwinism over Faux News propaganda.

  15. Those that have chosen to not receive the Covid-19 Vaccination and contract Covid-19 and are treated for it, will find one unpleasant side effect will be the For Profit Health Care System. The For Profit Health Care system will be relentless in it’s pursuit of restitution for treatment.

    I have met people who believe the Covid-19 death toll is wildly inflated, i.e., a conspiracy among Doctors and other medical professionals to line their pockets, or scare people. Naturally, these conspiracy types have no medical back ground and no facts to support their position.

  16. Now, now, ML…we all know that liberal media and scientists are liars. Listening to a bunch of indoctrinated losers makes you a cult member.

    The only truth worthy of our brains comes from the Anonymous QAnon who passes along information in meme format to organizations that only include the word “patriot.”

    Anything else is propaganda.

    Btw, have you heard about Disneyworld being the epicenter of child trafficking for the Satanic Cabal that runs this country?

  17. Social Darwinism is undoubtedly complex and nuanced. Family therapy addresses the dysfunction in familial systems. It’s still a mystery to me that some children of parents with severe bigotry manage somehow to realize that bigotry is destructive. As they move into adulthood, they refuse to embrace their parents’ bigotry. Not all of those children are college educated. Some of them simply escaped the disease of bigotry by befriending those who are different. I was lucky because even though my father was extremely bigoted, my mother was not. I went to nursing school and realized that I had to treat all my patients regardless of their beliefs, race, sexual orientation etc. with the same competent care.

    There certainly is no doubt in my mind that the divisiveness in our country has further contributed to the anti-vaxxers. I suspect that many of them previously refused to vaccinate their children against measles, polio etc claiming vaccines created autism. There is no scientific research that confirms that belief.

    Are the people who refuse vaccinations ignorant, stupid or is it a failure of our education system? Did they have parents who did not trust the government, who had a paranoid Weltanschung? Has our failure to address the concerns of people who felt left behind contributed to their mistrust of the vaccine? Has the high cost of health care led to a belief that the health care system cares more about profit than the welfare of patients? Are they so caught up in self-reliance and the self made man that they will not accept help from any government agency because only weak, dependent people do that or people who want something for nothing? Are their subcultures in America that put themselves at risk because they are highly reclusive?

    I not only think about social Darwinism, I also think about the earth’s ecosystems and the delicate interdependence of the creatures and plants of those ecosystems. I think about biological systems that are powerful enough to respond to threats of the earth’s existence. I wonder sometimes if, in fact, some of these forces are responding to our overpopulation. I don’t know how many people will die of COVID. I am waiting for the stats to show if, in fact, this pandemic is reducing the global population. I sometimes feel like the human race is a destructive virus that the earth is trying to limit or eradicate. The pandemic has already reduced the average lifespan of Americans.

    Carl Sagan raised the question in “Cosmos.” Will the human race survive or will we self-destruct through war, willfull ignorance, and greed that leads to the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems and consequently, the human race?

    Finally, we are already seeing that there is global inequity in the distribution of the vaccine. Africa is now seeing a huge surge of COVID as is South America and Indonesia. 3rd world countries are being left behind. I have not heard of anti-vaxxers in those countries. No doubt system racism plays a part in this inequity. Even India, sent vaccines to 1st world countries instead of vaccinating its own population. Go figure.

  18. If those not getting vaccinated were just hurting themselves, I’d have no problem with them making that choice.

    The problem is if they don’t get vaccinated, and we, as a result, don’t reach herd immunity, Covid-19 lives on in host bodies, mutating to the point where it can get around the vaccines that anyone with a functioning brain got to protect themselves. And those mutations could be much more deadly than the original virus.

    So I don’t buy that the unvaccinated getting Covid-19 are just proving Darwin right. Unfortunately, we’re all in this public health crisis together and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. And we have a lot of weak links.

  19. Sheila, we all probably wish you were right but I think you did write that just a bit tongue and cheek. Unfortunately all of the indicators are at Vernon guess the prize for hitting the nail on the head

  20. Well once again Google autocorrect didn’t correct.
    So second attempt
    Sheila, we all probably wish you were right but I think you did write that just a bit tongue and cheek. Unfortunately all of the indicators are that Vernon gets the prize for hitting the nail on the head

  21. AIDS “only” reached epidemic levels in some areas but weren’t there eventually laws in some states against knowing you have AIDS and not informing sexual partners? A world-wide pandemic killing millions and disabling more millions who survive should be dealt with using laws to protect humanity. Add to the equation the resulting variations of the original virus should be considered; especially regarding those health care providers who treat other patients. They should be required to notify patients they have not been vaccinated prior to providing treatment. Are they even required to be tested…preferably tested daily. Just sayin’

  22. Hmm – I think it is covered

    Thank you Sheila for the snark – (ignoring for the moment not wanting evil to befall bad people – I just wish them to have a revelation, give away their worldly goods, and spend the spend their lives aiding and comforting lepers or whatever) – it would be nice to imagine all of the QAnon crazies going extinct.

    Thank you Vernon for the reality of it all.

    Thank you Paul – that is my real concern – I am fine with anti-vaxxers being hoist on their own petard, but they are incubators for the viral evolution – I don’t fear the delta, or the epsilon variants (when epsilon appears), but eventually the omega variant will emerge, very deadly and evading the immunity provided by vaccines and prior exposure. I don’t want to see that.

  23. More than 200 million Americans have either had a case of Covid-19 or have been vaccinated. We are approaching herd immunity, which kicks in (we think) at about 70% (230 million). Some states with low vaccination rates will not enjoy the benefits.

  24. I believe that Vernon is correct, but, in any case fewer Republican voters, especially by their own insistent hands does not seem so bad to me. Sorry, if that offends anyone. It’s like accelerating the loss of the Faux News network’s watchers, by their own choice, again, not so bad to me.

  25. Sheila: IMHO, you don’t have to look to Darwin for the answer as to the reason why at least SOME aren’t taking the vaccine, and that’s because they are Trumpsters. Alt-right media keep questioning mainly the safety of the vaccine, claiming that because it received emergency use authorization only, it’s experimental. They also put out claims that within a matter of months or years those of us who got vaccinated will die from the vaccine because it alters our DNA. Some of them believe that the vaccinators are implanting us with tracking devices, proven, they claim, by magnets sticking to the injection site (which is an old vaudeville trick–put some lotion on your skin and after it absorbs, a coin will stick to the area). I have a Trumpster neighbor who told me, with complete sincerity, that the vaccine causes Bell’s Palsy, and because she has a family history of Bell’s Palsy, the CDC advises against vaccination. (not true at all, but she is immune to facts).

    Well, anyone who falls for the Big Lie and who depends on alt-right media for their daily affirmation, can be induced to believe anything. See, they don’t understand nor care to learn about mRNA technology. Facts don’t faze them. The real reason for at least some vaccination hesitancy and outright resistance, I believe, is that Trumpsters want to do everything possible to deny Biden a successful presidency. They want to help suppress the vaccination rates because Trump won’t get credit for “saving” us from COVID. These people are demonstrably nuts, but also dangerous to the rest of us as others point out. The more COVID infections, the greater the opportunity for the virus to mutate. Current mutations are covered by existing vaccines, but eventually, there will likely be a mutated strain that doesn’t trigger the immune system of those who are vaccinated. This can only be stopped by eliminating opportunities for new infections.

  26. Many of the “personal freedom (to infect others)” folks are not stupid, their behavior re: vaccination (and the Big Lie, etc.) IMO falls on the “nurture” side of the “nature vs. nurture” argument.

    Evolution only works if a deleterious characteristic is not passed on – in other words, if susceptibility to stupid arguments is heritable (I think not, see above), if it is to be selected out they have to perish before they can reproduce. But from what we’ve seen, they’re old enough to have children and grandchildren, so we’re stuck with them.

    I have a habit of reading a paragraph or two, then predicting where a piece is going, then continuing to read and see if I’m right. This time I guessed wrong. Before I got into the actual argument Sheila was making, I was expecting to see a discussion about how the unvaccinated are a reservoir for not only the initial strains of the virus but also for others that are potentially more lethal, more transmissible, or both. In other words, they’re sabotaging the progress the scientists and the vaccinated have made.

  27. I agree with Warren. Many of the people that have perished have passed child bearing age, or died before a vaccine was available, or have somehow remained lucky despite dangerous behavior and beliefs, but have still already had children (who are now being indoctrinated into the same beliefs as their parents). Evolution takes a long time- many, many generations. I see no evidence of the masses who do not use critical thinking decreasing- au contraire. I see many more of them

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