OPINION: Get Your Shot

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was initially written to UFCW Local 655 members. With COVID-19 rates soaring in Missouri and Southern Illinois, infections are on the rise again, and more people dying. This is prudent advice for all our readers. )

UFCW Local 655

I’m disappointed to be writing this column as our community and our state experiences a significant backslide in the fight against COVID.

For several months we’ve seen life slowly returning to normal for many of us. Your Local 655 office reopened, schools began planning for fully in-person classes again, sports were beginning to look like they once did, and fewer and fewer places were requiring strict masking.

Sadly, we are now headed in the wrong direction.

Missouri has gained national attention as ground zero for the Delta variant of COVID. Delta is highly contagious and somewhat more dangerous for younger people. COVID cases and hospitalizations spiked significantly in Missouri in recent weeks and now multiple communities, including St. Louis and Springfield, are bringing back mask mandates.

This has been incredibly frustrating for ordinary citizens, and many of those ordinary citizens have no idea how frustrating it is for the frontline workers like my partners in Local 655. Many of my partners have been working throughout this entire pandemic, enduring its dangers so they can continue to put food on our tables and their own.

There is a mountain of misinformation in the world about COVID, particularly on social media, and this misinformation has sewn doubt about the causes of this pandemic or the reason we just can’t seem to shake it off.

I want to be as clear as I can be in this moment: get vaccinated.

Do you remember 2019, when we never thought about wearing a mask or of not being able to do things we enjoy? I would love to get back to that – wouldn’t you? For some reason, this has become political, and it shouldn’t have. If you are not getting the vaccine for political reasons I would remind you that Donald Trump got vaccinated, and it was under his administration that this vaccine was developed. Most of you know that I didn’t agree with most of President Trump’s policies, but it never once occurred to me to refuse to get vaccinated because it was developed while he was in office. This is not about politics, this is about our health and, most importantly, getting back to pre-pandemic life.

Vaccination for the majority of the population is the only way out of this pandemic. It’s the only way we can turn COVID into a manageable annual nuisance like the flu instead of a lingering pandemic that continues to impact our daily lives.

I know there has been a vast sea of misinformation about the vaccine but that does not change the facts. The vaccine works, its risks are incredibly low, and it is the best way to move on past this pandemic.

There are some people who cannot get the vaccine for legitimate medical reasons. Obviously, this message is not directed at them, but those individuals count on the rest of us getting vaccinated to reduce their risk. You might even know someone in your life like this, whether it’s because they have certain allergies or, more likely, they are immunocompromised due to medication or medical treatment.

For the rest of us, we have a responsibility to get vaccinated. We cannot hide behind the argument that I’ve heard too often: “It’s my own business if I get vaccinated, not yours.”

This simply is not true.

  • First, let’s remember basic biology for a moment: viruses have an easier time mutating in unvaccinated individuals. This means more dangerous strains like the Delta variant will emerge if people continue to refuse to get their shot. These strains could end up being more contagious or more deadly, and every new version of this virus extends the pandemic for the rest of us.
  • Second, as I mentioned before, people who cannot get the vaccine for legitimate medical reasons count on herd immunity to keep them safe, and we can’t achieve that immunity without high rates of vaccination.
  • Third, let’s remember that choosing not to get vaccinated can absolutely affect other people. If a hospital is strained because of a flood of new unvaccinated cases, that hospital has less resources to spend on other patients. An overcrowded and overworked hospital might not be able to provide the best possible care to other patients, which can endanger their lives.

I know I probably can’t convince those of you that have made up your minds to never touch the vaccine, but I strongly urge you not to listen to me, or social media, or even cable news. Pick up the phone and call your doctor. Ask your doctor about the vaccine and listen closely to what they have to say.

This pandemic has been costly and challenging and it’ll be a significant chapter in our history. There is no need to prolong it by refusing to take the right steps. We must put aside excuses and be honest: vaccines work, go get yours.

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