Get the shot, before the coronavirus gets you

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It’s been a little more than two weeks since I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. So, this is as good a time as any to take stock of how the greatest health crisis in hundred years is affecting our lives.

The single most important thing to understand is that the crisis is not over.

Yes, nearly 120 million people in the U.S. to date have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s great news, but it’s not the only news.

For instance, we aren’t even close to achieving “herd immunity,” the percentage of the population that needs to be inoculated to effectively stem the spread of the virus. Herd immunity requires that about 80% of the country’s 330 million people is fully vaccinated.

Nearly half of all adults have reportedly received at least one dose of a vaccine, but children under 16 are not yet getting vaccinated and other populations are still struggling to get their first dose or choosing not to do so. 

And who is getting vaccinated isn’t happening equitably. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of the people in the U.S. who have been vaccinated as of April 13 were white, 11% were Hispanic, 9% were Black, 5% were Asian, and 1% were Indigenous.

Meanwhile, a growing number of people nationwide are getting infected with COVID-19. By mid-March of this year, the number of daily infections had dropped to about 55,000 cases, a massive departure from the 200,000 a day at the peak in January. But this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported new coronavirus infections had climbed back up to more than 75,000 a day across the country.

Why are infections rising again? For one thing, too many people believe the pandemic is over. The nearly 30% jump in the infection rate over the past month is evidence that it’s not.

I get that people are sick and tired of being stuck at home and cowering in fear of this invisible killer. We want our lives back. But foolishly risking your life is not the solution.

Personally, I’m thrilled that I can now go to a grocery store or sit on the patio of my favorite restaurant much less fearful that I might catch the virus and die. But with the exception of when I jog or bike ride, I still wear a mask whenever I go out.

Over the weekend, my wife invited eight of her closest friends, all of whom had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, to a backyard brunch. That’s a pretty safe activity, and in compliance with the CDC’s recommendations. 

But too many of us are engaging in far riskier behavior. Like going to crowded bars or restaurants, or other large indoor gatherings.

Last week, the Texas Rangers baseball team held its home opener at the team’s stadium in Arlington. The stadium was filled to capacity, or about 40,000 seats. It’s been just over a month since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, ended the state’s mask mandate and called for businesses to get back to business. 

Guess what happened? Most of the Rangers fans in the bleachers that day didn’t wear masks.

That was beyond foolish. It was irresponsible and it was a major health risk. 

Again, two-thirds of Americans have not had a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine yet.

In Arizona, infection rates and the number of coronavirus deaths have dropped dramatically in recent months, and we’re doing a better job than most getting shots in arms. On Thursday, state health officials reported “460 new COVID-19 cases and 14 new known deaths.”

We should feel good about that. But this is no time to get careless. Arizonans do not live in a vacuum. Air and road travel have skyrocketed. And the more people travel, at least until enough people get vaccinated, the more the virus will spread.

What has not helped is the insistence by a handful of almost exclusively Republican governors, including Gov. Doug Ducey, that they kowtow to the Trump base while also paying homage to the almighty dollar and the bottom lines of the corporate bigwigs — even though many of their companies suffered during the pandemic — who traditionally back their campaigns, as if that matters more than the public’s health.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, because we shouldn’t forget that thousands of Arizonans and likely hundreds of thousands of Americans might still be alive today if not for the short-sighted, self-serving political agendas of former President Donald Trump and governors like Ducey, Abbott, Florida’s Ron DeSantis and others.

Ducey, like DeSantis, wants to be president. But the only way either of them can win the Republican nomination is to genuflect before Trump and his supporters, a large percentage of whom not only think their guy lost the 2020 election because of massive fraud, despite any lack of evidence whatsoever, but are also hesitant about taking the vaccine. 

A recent national survey found that nearly half of all Trump voters said they would refuse to take the vaccine. That’s madness. Are people really willing to risk their lives (not to mention the lives of people around them) for a guy who deliberately downplayed the lethality of the virus and then secretly took the vaccine before leaving the White House?

Finally, it’s no small matter that the people administering the vaccines — and I love them all — are in a life and death race against the inevitable mutations of the COVID-19 strains. Mutating is what viruses do.

The truth is the longer it takes us to reach herd humanity, the greater the chance that a new strain of the virus will resist one or more of today’s miraculous vaccines.

So, if you haven’t been vaccinated, do it before it’s too late. The cold, hard reality is that the virus doesn’t care who it kills or how many of us die in the process.

If you don’t believe me, ask the millions of friends and family members of the more than 564,000 people in the U.S. alone who’ve been killed by COVID-19 in the past 13 months.

Get the shot. If not for you, do it for the people you love.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.