Reporter's Notebook

Get the Shot

Unvaccinated people are driving our nation’s COVID-19 spike, filling our hospitals and leading to unnecessary deaths

By Myers Reece

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, a fervent Donald Trump supporter and not exactly an Anthony Fauci mouthpiece, has an easy explanation for the rise in COVID-19 cases unraveling our nation’s pandemic progress, threatening our economic recovery and killing vulnerable residents: “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.”

Hammering home the point, she added: “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

And she’s right. Unvaccinated people are driving our nation’s spike in the virus, filling our hospitals and leading to unnecessary deaths. That’s particularly true here in Flathead County, where the vaccination rate is the lowest among the most populated counties in Montana. It’s no surprise we’re experiencing the state’s worst COVID surge.

Fueling vaccine hesitancy is misinformation and conspiracy theories. I’ll pass this back to Ivey, who in an op-ed wrote, “I believe those who are pushing fake news and conspiracy theories about this vaccine are reckless and causing great harm to people.”

“The unvaccinated folks are being lied to, and that is just plum sad,” she continued. “This is not political: It’s just common sense.”

Plum sad, indeed.

One problem is the Food and Drug Administration’s slow bureaucratic processes. Vaccine-hesitant people often cite the fact that COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been fully approved, even though the FDA endorses them.

The agency has already cleared the vaccines through an intensive scientific vetting process and encourages people to get them, noting that they meet the “FDA’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.” The FDA needs to do the country a favor and remove a source of potential hesitancy — the emergency-authorization tag — and do it immediately, not tomorrow or next month.

But that still leaves us with the ardent anti-vaxxers whose opinions won’t likely be influenced by approvals or facts. My hope is their numbers are smaller than polling suggests, and that bringing the persuadable hesitant onboard would be enough to ward off big outbreaks and further virus mutations.

I don’t think we’ll ever achieve herd immunity through vaccination in Flathead County, but maybe we can reach a threshold where virus transmission is exponentially lowered, masks aren’t once again recommended, our hospitals aren’t keeping alive more than 20 COVID patients at any given time and a majority of the population is guided by science.

Our country effectively eradicated polio and measles through mandatory vaccination campaigns, only to see measles make a comeback in recent years due to declining vaccination rates. Now there’s a lot of talk about COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including in the workplace. In Montana, however, that discussion is irrelevant because the Legislature passed a law prohibiting employers from requiring vaccines.

I personally know several people who have contracted COVID-19 recently, including a 60-year-old who almost died and was in critical condition in the hospital for weeks. Two others, both in their 20s, were in rough shape at the height of their illness, and weeks later still haven’t fully recovered. The only one who had mild symptoms was a rare breakthrough case. At the very least, it’s a pretty good way to ruin your summer.

Indeed, the FDA’s approval might help. But it shouldn’t be necessary. The vaccine is safe, effective and life-saving. It’s necessary and proven. Get it now.

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