After months of chafing under tough restrictions to battle the coronavirus pandemic, who among us isn’t ready for more relaxed times, especially as the summer nears? For tens of millions of Americans, vaccination means new safety and freedoms, notably for long awaited closeness with loved ones.
But are those allures and more enough to coax the resistant and reluctant to get the shots, as tens of millions of us already have?
The Biden Administration and health officials across the country may need to give the unvaccinated not only altruistic but practical reasons for joining a campaign that has achieved the notable result of getting shots for 100 million of us.
Those inoculations, experts say, appear to be a major reason why coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending downward in most of the country, though they have stubbornly plateaued, and Oregon and the Pacific Northwest are grappling with severe outbreaks, notably among younger people and the middle-aged.
To put the infection even in greater control, however, laggards must be swayed, so disease variants cannot flourish, especially in hotspots or enclaves where the disease rages.
Vaccinated can do more, safely
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on scientific evidence, is, candidly, privileging the vaccinated, bit by bit, allowing them a greater return to normality than those who lack inoculation safeguards.
The agency has said the vaccinated may forego masks when mostly alone outdoors, including when running or biking. They still may need to wear face coverings — which have become politically disputed gear to many, for counter-factual reasons — when mingling in crowded areas.
Masks are here to stay, for now, when we move indoors, including when traveling on public transportation, including buses, trains, and planes.
The rise of the vaccinated and the decline of coronavirus cases in many areas of the country is allowing even more businesses to re-open, at greater capacities, and in more normal fashion. Sports teams, like the Nationals baseball team, are telling fans about how pro athletes are getting the vaccine. The Dodgers have opened special sections in their Los Angeles stadium for vaccinated fans, who also get ticket discounts. Is optimism growing slowly, even among experts about quelling the pandemic in this country?
The mayor of New York, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, has forecast a “summer to remember” in his metropolis, fully reopened he says by July 1 and rapidly returning to some its best days. Gov. Gavin Newsom already has said, conditions willing, California will fully reopen in mid-June.
Businesses that were slammed by the pandemic, including travel and hospitality (hotels, restaurants, and tourism), are expressing optimism, and seeing surging activity. The CDC has even talked about an imminent return of ocean cruises for the vaccinated, the leisure travel that was crushed early in the pandemic by dire outbreaks and almost symbolized officials’ inability to come to grips with what fast became a global nightmare.
Pandemic taking terrible toll on countries globally
While President Biden addressed Congress and told lawmakers that the United States is rebounding fast from months of sometimes desperate circumstances — and that more needs to be done in this country — the coronavirus inflicted new and brutal damage on other parts of the planet, notably in India and in Latin America and especially Brazil.
U.S. officials, who are trying to offer aid to other nations, find themselves in an uncomfortable position, where declining numbers of Americans are seeking vaccinations, as health officials have urged them, while people elsewhere around the globe are clamoring for vaccines.
In India, foreign correspondents are filing grim dispatches about a wave of coronavirus infections and deaths that has overwhelmed the subcontinent’s health resources. This has resulted in families and officials scrambling to find anything to burn so masses of bodies may be incinerated in pyres on city streets (see photo above, courtesy the Associated Press). In Latin America, notably in Brazil, the infection also is taking a ghastly toll, and governments of poor and developing neighbors are struggling not only to support foundering public health systems but also to secure globally precious vaccine supplies.
Journalists in this country are not only detailing a growing optimism about the battle against the coronavirus, including the milestone re-opening of a popular spot like Disneyland. They also are reporting the head-scratching reluctance or resistance to vaccines — in rural part of the country, as well as in areas known for their staunch Republicanism and support of President Trump.
Public health experts, who already have endured hellish times in fighting the pandemic, say they have no choice but to cajole the unwilling and to keep pushing to reach those stymied from vaccination by equity and access challenges. But how long can an already impatient, frustrated, and even angry public stay a smart, reasonable path of keeping many health restrictions for all, especially as more people get vaccinated?
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including:
- dangerous drugs
- risky and defective products
- abuse and neglect in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- and car, motorcycle, and truck crashes.
In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may press victims to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering. It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. Please get vaccinated when it’s appropriate for you to do so. All medical interventions carry with them risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to outweigh their harms. Consult your doctor if you have concerns. Don’t hesitate to talk with loved ones and people you respect if you have doubts.
There is a certainty, however, that the pandemic and our divisive public policy fights in recent times should have taught us all about our health and health care: We don’t do well in isolation and self-created bubbles. We need to work together and to look out after not only ourselves but each other to stay healthy and to thrive. We have much work to do to return not to our previous normality but to an even better world.