It wasn’t that long ago that people were clamoring for COVID-19 vaccines, with some going as far as lying about their age to secure the much-in-demand but not readily available shots — back when they were meted out by age, oldest first. Now the country is in a whole other, opposite dilemma with plenty of vaccines to go around, but not enough willing people waving their arms to get them. The concern is so great that governments, including Maryland’s, and businesses are trying to entice people with incentives such as food, cash and lottery winnings.
The country has hit a slowdown in demand for shots because of vaccine hesitancy and distrust, so much so that President Joe Biden might not make his goal of at least 70% of eligible people getting at least one dose by July 4. On average, the country is administering fewer than 1 million shots per day, a decline of more than two-thirds from the peak of 3.4 million per day in April, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. At that rate, 4.2 million adults per week must get a first shot to reach the president’s mark.
The figures vary widely by location and politics. In liberal-leaning Maryland, half of all residents, not just those eligible, have been fully vaccinated, and 72% of those over age 18 have received at least one dose as of Monday. Meanwhile, in conservative Mississippi, only 26% of residents have been fully vaccinated.
We can’t ignore former President Donald Trump’s role on that and its lingering effect. A recent Gallop poll found that 24% of Americans plan to never get vaccinated; of those, 46% are Republicans, 31% are independents and just 6% are Democrats.
We can’t help but wonder what those numbers would look like if the virus and vaccine hadn’t become such a political football. As new variants make their way across the U.S., there’s a greater risk of serious illness for the unvaccinated folks who also haven’t had coronavirus and developed natural immunity. To those people, we implore them to think about the risk to death and long-term complications to themselves and others. We also have compassion for those with real fears and mistrust of the medical system of any political stripe. We urge them to look at the number of people who have died from the vaccine compared to the virus. The virus is far scarier.
As a country we can’t give up on attempting to convince the unconvinced or changing the minds of the skeptics. That means each of us who knows someone who is reluctant needs to do our part in prodding them to have a change of heart. Trusted surrogates and community leaders are needed to reach distrustful people, whether it be a church leader or the wise elder of a neighborhood.
Public health officials, too, need to work on more innovative ways to reach those without shots. Maryland is in the process of closing many of its mass coronavirus vaccination sites around the state in the next six weeks and transferring resources to smaller, more targeted clinics. That is the right route to take. If the people won’t come to them, they must go to the people. And keep the incentives coming, from companies, too.
Sure, we’d like people to do what’s right on their own, but some people need a little push, and that’s OK. The White House also used an initiative to offer free child care for those getting the shots, and pharmacies are staying open later to accommodate more people. It will be a hard sell. The Gallup poll found many people had made up their minds and plan to stick with their decision. If we are to make any dent in these numbers, it will be through targeted outreach.
Of course, if the July 4 deadline passes and the magic number is not yet met, that won’t mean the vaccine effort has failed or will stop. The effort must be kept up until we reach a herd immunity, or we risk another outbreak, and the loss of more lives. Life may seem back to normal as people venture back out to restaurants, beaches and unmasked summer vacations. In reality, the virus is still putting too many lives at risk. While cases and hospitalizations have generally declined, people are indeed still dying. And every individual loss is a loss for our country. The pandemic is not yet over and it won’t be, until we all do our part.