State of Mind: A Shot in the Arm

Hard-won progress in the wake of the pandemic is made harder by those who refuse the help available.

The trajectory of the COVID-19 vaccines from need to done deal was a near-miraculous achievement. In less than a year, the global scientific community developed and tested the vaccines, and business and governmental entities effected their production and distribution – all despite some pretty formidable obstacles.

It was cause for celebration and even some old-fashioned civic pride. Scientists from Emory University, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University played a part. It was an unprecedented, multifaceted, fast-tracked effort that succeeded.

In the early stages, people were pinning their hopes on a safe and effective result; as incremental successes were announced and vaccine types approved, many were clamoring for them. But not everyone.

There are those in the African-American community who remember the 40-year-long Tuskegee experiment conducted by the U.S. government to study syphilis. It used Black men in Alabama as subjects and withheld treatment from them. The experiment ended in 1972, but a deep mistrust of public health officials and vaccines endures in some quarters. In poor neighborhoods, any resistance is compounded by a lack of transportation to vaccine sites; some undocumented immigrants may fear deportation if they show up for shots.

Such mistrust and fears are understandable. Education and outreach – by healthcare professionals, clergy, social workers, community leaders, elected officials and celebrities – can help. So can making sure the places where vaccines are available are accessible and the times they are open are well-publicized.

The resistance I don’t understand comes from those who have no particular reason to be afraid, but whose hackles rise at the thought of being told what to do by the government or by scientists, or those who have complete confidence in their own immune systems. Even if people trust in their superior constitutions, why would they not accept the “extra” protection available?

I’ve heard parents express doubt about getting their children vaccinated. Of course, they want to do what’s best for their kids, but why not talk to a doctor about the vaccination instead of simply “waiting for more information” as some say they are doing? I was among those who spent long hours searching for a vaccine appointment, and I was lucky enough to get my two shots within a year of the March 2020 shutdown. I resisted the impulse to hug the kind gentleman who administered my second shot – and advised me that a quick exhalation as the needle was going in would make it easier. It was already pretty easy, but I thanked him for the vaccine and the helpful tip. I felt like I had won the lottery.

Vaccines and the varying reactions to them, sadly, are emblematic of divisions in political and cultural areas of our lives. Those are hard to overcome.

When there is a change of heart among the hard-core resisters, the turning point often seems to be being personally affected – coming down with COVID oneself or seeing a family member suffering. How many videos have we watched of recovering patients tearfully begging us to get vaccinated or of family members of those who died indicating they didn’t take the threat seriously enough?

In Georgia, 37% of the population had received at least one dose of a vaccine and 30% were fully vaccinated by mid-May, but demand was waning. I hope the CDC’s announcement that vaccinated people can safely go without masks or social distancing in many situations will entice a lot more unvaccinated Georgians to roll up their sleeves.

We can’t force people to get the vaccine, but we can redouble efforts to educate and encourage them and address their fears. And we can impose regulations to keep the anti-vaxxers from endangering the health of others.

Governmental agencies can require their re-opened facilities to enact and enforce basic safety precautions, for as long as health officials advise. So can schools, places of worship, retail establishments, restaurants and bars. No apologies should be needed for measures that keep the population safe.

I understand that people are tired of the long months of isolation, just as I understand that businesses need to get back on track. We are making progress. But it’s hard-won progress, made harder by those who refuse the help available and disparage those who accept it.

The best solution? That’s not hard. Just roll up your sleeve and exhale.

Categories: Opinions, State of Mind