The month of June marked my reentry into the world without a mask. My friends had mentioned that it felt disconcerting to leave home bare-faced. Last week was my first outing to some of some favorite …
The month of June marked my reentry into the world without a mask. My friends had mentioned that it felt disconcerting to leave home bare-faced. Last week was my first outing to some of some favorite stops in Cook — the thrift shop, the pharmacy, and the café. After 15 months sequestered at home, I felt a nervous, awkward sensation. But it also felt fantastic to see people’s smiles again!
The highlight came that evening when our Northern Progressives group met for dinner at the Crescent Supper Club. We all agreed we were “Zoomed out” after so many meetings staring at on-line faces framed by neon squares. What a joy to sit around a big table together. I thought, “Maybe things really are getting back to normal?” But once home, tucked snugly in my bed, my mind started spinning. I began to second guess the shoulder-to-shoulder indoor seating with no masks. Were we really safe?
I’m fully vaccinated but I still pay close attention to updates from the Center for Disease Control. They’re telling me I can relax, that the chance of my becoming infected with COVID-19 or infecting someone else is very slim, less than one percent. But despite these low odds, they suggest we remain cautious. 40 percent or more of us aren’t fully vaccinated. As much as we want to return to normal, we haven’t reached the recommended vaccination rate necessary for “herd immunity”.
Infection rates have begun to decline, but this is the season when we get visitors. Lots of them, from all parts of Minnesota and beyond. National statistics warn us that across the country there are still “hot spots” where very high levels of infection persist. That means that unvaccinated people from elsewhere can act as potential carriers to others. Not a huge worry for those of us who’ve gotten our shots. But so for those who have not.
Then there are those pesky “variants” creating more risks. Research shows that a complete dose of the vaccine will likely protect us from the most harmful effects of even the new Delta variant that has recently arrived on our shores. It is estimated to be 50 percent more infectious and cause more severe symptoms than the coronavirus we first encountered in early 2020. India, Brazil and England have reported surging infection rates from the Delta variant that have overwhelm their medical systems. Scientists warn that without greater investments to improve vaccination rates worldwide, the coronavirus will continue to morph into variants, keeping the U.S. at risk for similar spikes. We now know that unvaccinated people act as “hosts” where the coronavirus can grow and mutate into new genomic variants that will present new challenges to our immune systems, thus moving the goalpost of “herd immunity” further away.
Efforts are ramping up to address “vaccine hesitancy”, a major barrier to “herd immunity”. For some, the barrier is getting access to the vaccine. Some have fear. Others defend strongly-held beliefs that keep them from seizing an opportunity to better protect themselves from infection while also helping put an end to its spread. Reasons aside, vaccinations remain a necessary ingredient to ending the pandemic, eventually getting us back to our daily routines and improving a disrupted global economy.
Now that it’s here, medical experts predict the Delta variant may reach its highest infection levels this fall, just when students will be returning to school and parents returning to work. Studies suggest that people are more accepting of medical information when it comes from a trusted source, like a family physician or people they know and trust. We’re being asked to reach out to family and friends who may not yet be vaccinated. Offering details of our own experiences may help reduce their fears. Sharing examples of those who we know suffered with symptoms of COVID-19 may help them realize that the risks of the disease are far greater than those of the vaccine. And referring to our nation’s previous experiences with polio, diphtheria, measles, and other diseases that once threatened severe disability or death, but do so no more. These are examples of the enormously beneficial results due to the development of safe and effective vaccines! Conversations like these can help the hesitant.
Vaccines are designed to stimulate our body’s natural defenses against “foreign invaders” like the coronavirus. They teach our immune system to recognize a live version of the virus when it enters the body, and then stage an effective attack. Previous immunization success stories with other serious diseases should give us hope that we can beat this one as well. With over 600,00 deaths in the U.S. alone and millions of cases worldwide, it’s time to conduct an all-out community effort to reach as many people as we can, to keep our region as safe as possible, and move our country closer to “herd immunity”.
People between the ages of 18 and 39 are said to be the most hesitant. Youth are another difficult group to reach. Medical experts warn that not only will children and younger adults become the most likely primary hosts and carriers, but they will also be the most vulnerable to serious infection from these new variants. We are only beginning to understand the long-term effects of the coronavirus. The future well-being of our country rests firmly on the future well-being of our young. We should do whatever we can to protect them.
Granted, it’s difficult to overcome our fears, and even harder to question our core beliefs. But from experience, we know that increased understanding, courage and success build with time. The first half of this journey toward full vaccination was swift. Many of us had seen or heard enough about COVID-19 that we were ready for the vaccine the minute it was available. But rates have now slowed. The next phase in the fight against COVID will be harder as healthcare providers must reach the most remote and reluctant communities. The sooner we reach that elusive goal of 70 percent fully vaccinated, the safer we all will be.
It’s certainly a goal worth supporting. We all have a part to play in putting this pandemic behind us. We’re told we’re almost there. But it’s only possible if we choose to make it so. It’s time. Let’s do this!