Redditors Give ‘The Herman Cain Award’ to Anti-Vaxxers Who Die of COVID

Although the Herman Cain Award wasn’t created to encourage people to get vaccinated, it’s helping anti-vaxxers change their minds.
September 22, 2021, 1:00pm
Herman Cain, dressed in all black, looking off into the distance.
Image Source: Herman Cain

The Herman Cain Award subreddit is all about the schadenfreude of seeing people who proudly proclaim to be anti-vax contract COVID-19 and, in some cases, die. And all that death is changing some people's minds.

Last week, Reddit user PaulEqualsFriendship posted an image of their appointment time for getting vaccinated to the Herman Cain Awards with the title "I do not want to be added to this sub."

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"To be clear, I’m not an anti-vaxxer," PaulEqualsFriendship wrote in a comment. "I’m a stay-at-home mom and have been breastfeeding for the past 17 months. I had my hesitations because I’m still nursing, but we are now in the process of weaning. That, and this sub scares the living daylights out of me."

It's not hard to see why. The subreddit is named after Herman Cain, a former fast-food executive, Republican presidential candidate, and co-chair of Black Voices for Trump who contracted COVID-19 and died shortly after refusing to wear a mask, including at an indoor Trump rally. The Herman Cain Awards, then, aren't actual awards, but more akin to the Darwin Awards, a celebration (of sorts) of stupid ways people have died that originated on Usenet in the mid-'80s. You "win" a Herman Cain Award if you proudly refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, post about it on social media, and then die from it. 

Most posts on the subreddit are compilations of Facebook screenshots that all follow a sad pattern. The first few posts are mean-spirited memes about the libs, and then there is the announcement of a COVID diagnosis, then, often, photos from the hospital and posts about how awful their case of COVID is, and finally a screenshot from a friend or family member saying that the original poster has died.

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The difference between the Darwin Awards and the Herman Cain Awards is that while many of the people featured in the Darwin Awards died in silly or predictable ways, they didn’t necessarily do anything that led to their deaths. There’s a very reliable way to not get a Herman Cain Award, though: by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. As much as people are reveling in the morbid schadenfreude of other people's deaths, though, there's also an aspect of real grief to the subreddit. For some posters, the deceased are from their own Facebook feeds, and they know acutely how the loss will affect that family

Stories like PaulEqualsFriendship's have become a common occurrence in the subreddit, and are a welcome respite from the wall-to-wall horror of all the people still dying from COVID-19 because they won't get vaccinated. Posters sometimes call it "declining the award," as they take themselves out of the running by being inoculated. The forum has started using the shorthand "IPA" to refer to these kinds of posts, which stands for "immunized to prevent award." Sometimes people post on behalf of parents or spouses who have finally changed their minds.

"I caught COVID-19 back last year. When Delta came about, I did not think that I should get the vaccine, seeing that I was anti-vax," one such poster, Toothhurtee, wrote. "I’ve been lurking around a lot and I don’t want to get an award, so I’m going tomorrow for my first shot."

Although the Herman Cain Awards wasn't originally created to encourage people to get vaccinated, at this point the moderators of the subreddit consider it one of the sub's core tenets.

"This subreddit exists to make an attempt to get people to see the error of their ways and get the jab," MightyCaseyStruckOut, a moderator of the subreddit, wrote in a comment earlier this week. "As the vaccine became more readily available and the subreddit became more popular, this has been a stated goal by the creator of the subreddit, and the entire moderation team is behind this goal, as we have stated on more than one occasion."

The good news is that it's pretty easy to make sure you won't win a Herman Cain Award. Get vaccinated and wear a mask in public spaces, unless you'd like to be presented with one of these upon your death.