Meat Processing Shortage

The author says that, in the late 1700s, an English country doctor named Edward Jenner noticed that local dairymaids somehow had escaped an outbreak of cowpox, a cousin of smallpox. He credited their luck to hanging out with infected cows. So, he injected a number people with a dollop of cowpox pus and they developed immunity to smallpox. Thus, Jenner gave us not only the modern concept of inoculation, but also the word “vaccine” — from the Latin for “cow.”

I was able to snag an appointment, but my wife wasn’t. She went along anyway, just in case. Sure enough, the nurse checked our IDs, smiled broadly and gave both of us coronavirus vaccinations.

We were thrilled. We felt invincible.

Hope you’ve had your shots. They’re lifesavers, for you and those around you. But, some people aren’t so sure.

Only 29 percent of adults in Berkshire County are fully vaccinated, versus 33 percent for the U.S. as a whole. Both numbers are alarmingly low.

Even more worrying is that the pace of vaccinations is slowing. In many parts of the country, there are now more doses than takers. To increase the latter, our president just announced a plan to open more pop-up and mobile vaccination sites, especially in rural areas, and to start inoculating 12- to-15-year-olds as soon as possible. Whether such efforts will persuade the reluctant to get their shots is an open question — though hardly a new one.

In the late 1700s, an English country doctor named Edward Jenner noticed that local dairymaids had somehow escaped an outbreak of cowpox, a cousin of smallpox. He credited their luck to hanging out with infected cows.

So, he injected a number people with a dollop of cowpox pus (ugh!) and, sure enough, they developed immunity to smallpox. Thus, Jenner gave us not only the modern concept of inoculation, but also the word “vaccine” — from the Latin for “cow.”

Despite those gifts, opposition to Jenner’s discovery was intense. Anti-vaxxers of that era falsely claimed that recipients fell ill and even developed cowlike features. A widely reprinted 1802 caricature depicts Jenner’s clinic full of people growing horns and other bovine deformities.

Two centuries later, we’re still fighting Jenner’s battle. More than a third of American adults say they have no plans to get vaccinated.

Why not? Some hesitators worry that coronavirus vaccines were developed too quickly and may have yet-undiscovered side effects. That’s unlikely, since the testing process was exhaustive. Besides, hundreds of millions of shots have been given around the world in the past half-year, with hardly any deaths or lasting complications. Oh, and the vaccines are 99.99 percent effective at preventing infection, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Better than cowpox pus.

Other people have heard that most vaccine recipients suffer temporary chills and headaches afterward. The key word here is “temporary,” and this fleeting inconvenience is far outweighed by the agony of actually having the disease and the related disabilities that can linger for months afterward. Or the deaths: 580,000 and counting, just in the U.S.

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Some reasons for avoiding a shot are more entertaining. A few folks worry that Bill Gates might try to sneak microchips into their bloodstream. Others believe mass vaccination is a government plot to destroy freedom. Young people argue that COVID-19 strikes mostly the old and frail, not strapping specimens like them. That was once true. Today, most new patients are younger than 34.

In fairness, the bulk of vaccine shunners are probably just lazy, busy, distracted or unsure how to get an appointment. For the latter, there’s good news. Many vaccination sites, including some in the Berkshires, now accept walk-ins. In any case, appointment slots are going begging in many towns. Grab a jab at getvaccinatedberkshires.org.

If you don’t, we’re not going to get to “herd immunity,” the point when so many people have been vaccinated that the disease can’t find enough new victims and begins to die out.

When COVID-19 first hit, experts thought we’d reach that immunological sweet spot when about 70 percent of us had shots. But, the appearance of new, more contagious variants has pushed the target toward 80 percent. If we don’t get there, the disease will keep reappearing, in increasingly dangerous variants.

So, how do we persuade recalcitrants to get the shot? A new UCLA study of unvaccinated Americans shows that appeals to fear and generosity don’t really work, though greed just might. A third of respondents said they would get a shot if offered a sufficient incentive.

Many companies now give workers paid time off for getting vaccinated. West Virginia is offering $100 savings bonds to young people who get the shot. New Jersey has launched a “Shot and a Beer” program, which combines a jab with a free brewski.

Why stop there? Retail businesses could offer discounts for proof of vaccination, which would surely boost traffic for both sides. Sports and arts organizations could offer preferred seating at events. Localities could give rebates on property taxes, or exempt the vaccinated from masking and social distancing requirements. Cold cash is even better, and would greatly stimulate local economies.

Or how about just setting a good example? A Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows that the biggest indicator of one’s willingness to get a vaccination is whether a friend or family member did.

Makes sense. We value the judgment of somebody we know, certainly more than strangers opining on TV or the internet. So, if you love your friends, your family, your country and humankind in general, become one of those people somebody knows.

Don’t just get that coronavirus shot. Talk about it, brag about it, shout it to the heavens. Tell the world how thrilling it is to feel, in a very real sense, invincible.

Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and co-chairman of the advisory board. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.