We have come a very long way in the 17 months since COVID took over our lives. We have moved from fear, confusion, isolation, masks and interminable hand washing to an emerging sense of an ability to return to “normal.”
That sense of optimism is based upon the impressive success of our nation’s vaccination program and the protections it has provided. We saw that our low-tech methods of defense were no match for the dreaded COVID-19 virus. Lives were lost. Forced isolation, economic loss, disruption of our educational system and fears for safety were all taking a serious emotional toll on our society.
Vaccines are the welcome answer. They are free. They are easily available. And they work. The statistics are impressive. Nonetheless, a stubborn minority of Americans — a mix of political, racial, religious and social communities — still refuse to be vaccinated. And they maintain that intransigence even as reports indicate that 99.5 percent of the people who died from COVID-19 since January were unvaccinated, and even as the new, highly contagious delta variant of the virus is spreading rapidly.
If the reality of 608,000 Americans dead and 4.09 million dead globally isn’t enough to motivate the wary to take the vaccine, what can we do? How do we deal with those who have deep-seated and genuinely held belief that vaccination offers more danger than protection? For them, submitting to the vaccine is more threatening than the alarming statistics of illness and death they risk by not doing so.
There is no simple answer. Creative efforts to encourage the reluctant haven’t achieved great success. As a result, our path to a return to “normal” may be a bit more rocky, and the range of our newfound “maskless freedom” may be limited.
For example, Los Angeles County just reinstated its indoor masks for everyone rule, explaining that the reason was not punishment, but prevention. That’s because 40 percent of the county population has not been vaccinated. And, of course, children under the age of 12 aren’t even eligible for the vaccine, which increases the number of potential carriers.
Given our interconnectedness, the risks in one part of the country affect us all. People travel, and so does the virus. So unless we figure out some way to significantly increase vaccine compliance throughout the country, chances are good that we are going to see a return to mask mandates in our communities — even if we will be able to open our lives in several other respects.
There may be good reasons why some people are refusing to be vaccinated. We accept that. But the remainder of those who have refused are jeopardizing their own health, and the health of everyone else. If you know someone who is refusing to be vaccinated, talk with them, and explain why immunization is the least risky option. And if it’s you who is holding out, dummy up, and head over to a pharmacy right now.