EDITORIAL: You’re hesitating?

WILL ONE MORE editorial about the pandemic—anything about the damn pandemic—matter? As far as anybody knows, the virus won’t be swayed, not now or ever. But anything that helps us avoid Covid’s reach is worth consideration.

Let’s start on an up note. Jack Mabb is director of the county Department of Health, which is running the local vaccination effort. This week he said, “I think we’ve done really well.” He was commenting on how many people in the county have had at least one shot of a vaccine that protects them from Covid-19. Right now the figure is 72% of the county’s population age 12 and over are vaccinated. That’s at or near the goal required for herd immunity, that magical point when so many people are immune to the virus that it can’t infect enough people to continue spreading on a mass scale.

We still don’t have an approved vaccine for kids under 12 and school begins in a little over a month from now inside school buildings. But only 36% of kids in this county aged 12-to-18 are vaccinated at this point. The schools are planning to take what precautions they can. So far, school districts have received only advice from the state on how to minimize the threat from Covid.

Mr. Mabb has “concerns” about the schools, and to address them he has been talking with all six public school districts in the county. They have agreed to spend $1.5 million in federal funding for equipment in each school district that will provide rapid Covid-19 screening. Officials hope the testing will not only reduce exposure, they believe testing will minimize disruptions caused by removing students from school who are not infected.

And what about grown-ups not yet vaccinated? Mr. Mabb estimates that between 20% – 22% will never get their shots. That leaves “a couple of thousand people” who might.

What will it take to convince those not yet vaccinated? Some experts think it’s what’s called the Delta variant, a mutation of Covid-19 that spreads much more rapidly than the original virus. They predict the next serge will be a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It suggests that even if you’ve avoided the virus so far you won’t escape it forever.

That’s one of the odd aspects of this illness. You could call vaccine hesitation an epidemic of wishful thinking. But a more accurate name would be “risk analysis breakdown.” For example, the government finances and inspects bridges. Sometimes bridges are well kept, sometimes not so much. But most of us assume that public highway bridges are sturdy. If somebody tries to convince you that it’s safer to paddle across that river in a canoe than drive on the bridge, you know you’ll take the bridge. That’s a healthy risk analysis.

Could a catastrophe strike and the bridge collapse? Yes, but it’s so rare that’s it’s big news whenever there’s even a chance of that happening. The same reasoning applies to vaccinations. The government and drug companies have spent huge amounts of money to create vaccines. The government reviews the tests and keeps watch on the results as millions of people get their shots.

Are there risks? Sure, though the odds overwhelmingly favor those who get vaccinated. The alternative leaves you unprotected from a potentially fatal or often debilitating illness.

People can recover from risk analysis breakdowns but the time is growing short.

We know enough now so that the state Education Department should issue specific guidelines for fully reopening schools in ways that require vaccination or frequent testing of all classroom personnel as well as requiring face masks for everyone in the schools.

On an individual basis, here’s one more act to consider for yourself or for someone you know who has not yet been vaccinated. Think about what fighting the virus with a couple shots does for others rather than for you or your friend. By joining the “herd” you may end up protecting those who cannot vaccinate or who are unable to understand the benefit of the vaccine. You’ll never know who those people might be. That’s what makes it a good deed.

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