Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.” When it comes to the pandemic, he had it right.
Today, American society is in a full-blown culture war. Two days ago, President Joe Biden finally hit his initial July 4th goal to have 70% of American adults vaccinated. However, 90 million Americans remain unvaccinated, and many are intransigent to the idea of getting the jab. They cite many reasons – from a misguided sense of individual liberties to flagrant conspiracy thinking.
Similar to convention warfare, the culture war we are now experiencing will only be won once we vaccinate street by street, community by community. Much of last year was dedicated to procuring the vaccine and distributing it to those who wanted it, but now, the strategy has changed to counteracting rampant misinformation and polarization.
Politicians and the media have a role to play, but it is time for local leaders, doctors, and us individuals to step up. We need the involvement of teachers, school boards, community organizations, churches, local businesses, hospitals, to step up and support our doctors and other frontline healthcare workers. News reporting and many polls now show that those who were initially hesitant to get vaccinated were convinced by family members and local leaders they trusted. It wasn’t Joe Biden and Dr. Fauci.
Now that the delta variant is the predominant strain in the United States, our death numbers accelerating without regard to Red or Blue. Deaths the last week in July averaged 354 a day, and 671 Americans passed away on July 30th alone. Nearly all these deaths – estimated between 96 to 99 percent – are from people who are unvaccinated. If last year is any indication, the country is about to lose thousands of more lives as we enter the autumn months and people go inside. All these deaths can and should be prevented.
We are now hearing many tragic stories. There are now tales of unvaccinated Americans becoming hospitalized and beg for a vaccine as they near death. Doctors have only one thing to tell them: too late. Many families will never get over the forever loss that should never have happened.
Vaccine mandates now seem to be the most popular solution amongst the vaccinated who are growing more and more disdainful towards their unvaccinated counterparts. However, do not be surprised if mandates are not anywhere near as successful as supporters think. The partisan lines will drive elected politicians batty, and the blowback will likely be too much for politicians who want very much to stay employed.
For those mandates to be successful, the key support on the road to success will require intense local education and community action. Education is a slow and arduous process, so the hard work in this battle has just started. However, the economy is favorable for the process of vaccine mandates. There are currently several million unfilled jobs, and the unvaccinated will find it increasingly difficult to move to a new job that requires immunization.
The first battles are already starting at the local school boards. There are numerous videos showing parents arguing against mask mandates and other measures encouraged by the CDC. Many of the “no maskers” see their kids be “immune” from serious consequences. True, the risk is low, but the new delta variant is showing that more and more children are getting hospitalized with the virus.
The delta variant has been a great disruptor. The most straightforward way to control delta – or whatever variant follows next – is for millions of more people to be vaccinated. If lifesaving is a goal, millions of the unvaccinated need to line up to get the vaccine now. If there was a magic wand or genie in the bottle that could remove politics from this pandemic, the vaccinations would happen a lot faster and with solid community support. If communities continue to dither and delay, the death numbers will be appalling. Here are some measures that could make that happen:
The FDA needs to fully approve the vaccines. For many of the remaining vaccine-hesitant Americans, the fact that the vaccines are on an Emergency Use Authorization (or “EUA”) has been a go-to defense for not getting the shot. If there are some safety concerns that the FDA has not made public, they should say what they are or approve the vaccine. Most vaccines have extremely rare side effects, including those that are mandatory for our children to attend school. Regardless of what rare conditions may arise, the vaccines have been overwhelmingly effective for the vast majority of the 348 million fully vaccinated Americans.
County health departments should open vaccine centers in every high school in the county. Depending on the city, local leaders have converted many schools and local community centers to vaccination sites, but this should be a common practice nationwide. Have a place where teens, young adults, reluctant teachers, and parents can be vaccinated one or two days a week in each high school. Get those local numbers up.
Open vaccination sites in churches on selected Sundays. If we can have “Souls to the Polls” why not “Souls to the vaccine centers?” supported by your clergy. That may be a particular help in the Black community where vaccinations are lagging, and religious leaders have incredible sway over their congregations. Spiritual leaders become active and visible supporters of vaccination efforts, including The Pope who said that we have a “moral obligation” to get vaccinated. People listen to and have more trust in their priest or minister or rabbi than they do any politician.
Our vaccinated effort should also reach the hesitant where they are. Medical professionals armed with doses should visit homeless shelters and large community events like parades and celebrations.
Recently I read a moving letter to the editor that was published in The Chicago Tribune. The letter was written following the Surfside collapse and the heroic response from the first responders and agencies who acted over politics. The writer asked: “How many lives would have been saved if Trump and Congress and governors and agencies here would have acted in that fashion when COVID-19 exploded? No finger-pointing, no grandstanding by any number of public officials, nothing but a full commitment of the massive resources the US has in going to war against COVID-19.”
As of August 6th, more than 672,000 Americans have been lost to COVID. That number could have been much lower if they didn’t polarize science and risk the health of their constituents. But alas, this is the heartbreaking reality we live in, and we must harness the lessons we have learned to save lives. We are now at the point in the pandemic where it is up to us in the communities to beat back this virus.