We were all warned 18 months ago that COVID-19 would mutate into strains that can spread more quickly and severely unless necessary precautions are taken, and that painful restrictions on daily work and life would continue unabated.
Some of them seem ridiculous in hindsight. Remember washing down groceries with Clorox wet wipes? Wearing a mask outside in uncrowded settings? Avoiding playgrounds and public parks that were cordoned off with yellow tape?
But others are perfectly reasonable, especially when lives are at stake. They include masking up indoors, staying at least six feet apart from others, better ventilation, getting vaccinated and staying at home when felled by COVID-19 symptoms. Public health officials consider these steps critically important in achieving herd immunity.
What puzzles – and deeply disappoints – me is how enough Americans have pushed back against these recommendations lest federal, state and local governments would erode civil liberties. I find it ironic that conservatives, who tend to be cautious as well as big on personal responsibility, teamwork and patriotism, are resisting vaccination more than others. My pre-pandemic guess would have been that free-spirited liberals were the ones downplaying any hysteria and skeptical about getting a shot in the arm.
But the world is upside down, while misinformation and conspiracy theories seem to trump logic, reason and common sense. Trump is the operative word: the former president seeded much of the madness we’re now witnessing, mocking mask-wearing and regional lockdowns. Then after boasting about the historic accomplishment of Operation Warp Speed under his leadership, he has been uncharacteristically silent about this topic on Joe Biden’s watch. It’s yet another opportunity lost for our country and reminder that character matters in a U.S. president.
But it doesn’t take a politician to realize the most important message of all during these perilous times. As Eagles drummer and singer Don Henley recently told concert-goers at Madison Square Garden: “you understand that with freedom comes responsibility.”
If history is our guide, then we can learn some valuable lessons. George Washington quietly ordered U.S. army immunizations to combat a smallpox outbreak that was responsible for American defeat at the Battle of Quebec against British troops. That decision helped us win the Revolutionary War, and as one recently published account suggested, we owe our very existence to an immunization mandate.
But that didn’t stop some Americans from staunchly opposing government meddling in this area years later. By the mid-20th century, there were still pockets of dissension that greeted a mass vaccination campaign against polio. Fast forward to modern times when enough anti-vaxxers spread just enough doubt about the virtues of immunization that several diseases such as measles have made a startling comeback.
We can only hope that clear heads prevail. When I wrote several months ago about the prospect of employers mandating that their workforces be vaccinated or face termination, only about 2% of organizations were expected to pursue this heavy-handed approach. Most top executives were waiting to see what would transpire.
Now the floodgates have opened, and each day we read about more blue-chip brands finally forcing the issue. Employees are also fed up with co-workers who won’t get vaccinated. As many as 41% of workers surveyed by HR consultant Eagle Hill believe that non-vaccinated employees should pay higher health insurance rates.
We need for this groundswell of public opinion in support of vaccination to continue until the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths plummet. What’s so maddening is that enough people who are eligible to be vaccinated at a time when the FDA has finally approved these treatments beyond emergency status are skipping out on the quest for public safety to a point where more than 2,000 of their fellow citizens on average are needlessly dying each week. That brings the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to more than 700,000 – an unthinkable number at the start of this pandemic. To offer some historical perspective, that’s almost twice as many American WWII casualties.
Wake up, America! Your future depends on it.