Last Sunday, Carolyn and I received our second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations. Carolyn came down with side effects that ended mid-week. I was fine. The shots should eliminate most risk of getting the virus or, if we do, suffering grave complications. Still, I’m left with serious questions.
How many Americans will not have timely access to vaccinations? Johnson & Johnson’s new one-shot vaccine is approved for emergency use, so more lifesaving doses are being shipped and administered. But many seniors and people in low-income communities lack contact with healthcare providers. Further, they often don’t know how to connect online or via phone, or lack the time to make those connections. (Carolyn sat through a 30-minute telephone hold with Sutter Health but did connect and make our initial appointments.)
How many other Americans will refuse to be vaccinated? The anti-vax movement has been around for some time, fueled by bad science, conspiracy theories and outright lies. A third of our military personnel refuse to be vaccinated. Will this movement remain strong? What toll might it take on both public health and national defense preparedness?
Perhaps former president Donald Trump and his wife will inspire some hesitant Americans, but this doesn’t seem likely. They received at least their first shot before leaving the White House—in secret. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported, “Mr. Trump’s concern about the vaccine has generally been about whether he is getting credit for its development while he was president. He never publicly encouraged people to take it while he was in office; the first vaccines were approved shortly after Election Day.”
Another scary question: Will unvaccinated Americans continue to gather without masks as states like Texas open up? (San Francisco, too.) Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, warned, “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”
There’s reason for alarm. New COVID-19 cases have leveled off—but to near 70,000 a day with deaths at almost 2,000 daily. That translates to a projected 60,000 deaths this month alone.
Regarding masks, will many Americans continue claiming that they take away their freedom, deny their humanity? We’re not talking Muslim religious-cultural practices forcing women—not men—to be veiled. (Muslim women who freely choose the veil? Their right.)
Public-health experts ask Americans to wear masks not to forestall evil sexual attraction but to keep a deadly virus from spreading. It’s all about science. Yet South Dakota’s Republican governor Kristi Noem long has opposed masks. I note that while “mask-friendly” California’s COVID-19 death rate per thousand is roughly 1.3, South Dakota’s stands at 2.1. (Sources: Population, worldatlas.com; COVID deaths, usafacts.org.)
Back to Texas, the notion of freedom recently proved how dangerous misusing words can be. The Lone Star State, which prizes rugged individualism, never connected to the eastern or western national power grids, or winterized its power-generating facilities. Result? February’s brutal cold spell left millions of Texans without light, heat and water, while frozen water pipes burst, damaging many homes.
When it comes to COVID-19, a small shot in every American’s arm can provide a big shot in the arm to our national wellbeing. People who question that leave me questioning them.
Read my short-short story, “The Signature,” published online in Flash Fiction Magazine.
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