vaccines

Protesters in New York rally at a demonstration Wednesday against COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

LENOX — It’s possible to have a friendly, nonconfrontational conversation with a COVID vaccine hesitator or resister, although the outcome is likely to be disappointing.

I had that unsettling experience recently, during a private chat with an employee of a major local business who’s face-to-face with at least 100 members of the public every day. But, there was no meeting of the minds, and that’s a cause not for anger, but for deep frustration verging on despair that the pandemic will be in our collective rearview mirror any time soon.

This individual did acknowledge going for weekly tests (not an adequate substitute for a vaccine) but was unmasked, since it’s not required by the employer, and had no intention of getting the shots, since there’s no indication of an employer mandate for that, either.

Why not go for a free shot, easily available for anyone now?

In this case:

• Because it was not fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Actually, it was the day after the conversation, confirmation if still needed that the vaccine is safe and effective.

• Because “many people who were vaccinated get the virus anyway.” Actually, “breakthrough cases” among the fully inoculated remain extremely rare, less than 1 percent, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of official state data.

• Because of allergies to shellfish, and “there are shellfish ingredients in the vaccine.” The reality: COVID-19 vaccines are safe for most people with allergies, including those who have allergies to eggs, peanuts, shellfish, latex, penicillin, animals and other common triggers. The risk of a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines is minuscule — the risk of possible life-threatening allergic reaction to these vaccines is about 1 in 200,000.

Because resistance to COVID vaccinations is based on emotion, often combined with political ideology, scientific evidence carries little, if any, weight with many of the 80 million Americans still not inoculated. Only 52 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated; of Americans currently eligible (12 and older), it’s just over 60 percent.

The current, disquieting surge in cases and hospitalizations is the worst in many areas since the peak of the pandemic last winter.

A quick look at the coronavirus tracking data as of Friday, driven by the delta variant:

• More than 150,000 new cases a day, on average, nationwide, up 24 percent since two weeks ago.

• Close to 100,000 patients hospitalized, more than in any previous surge, except last winter’s.

• An average of more than 1,000 deaths a day nationally, for the first time since March.

• While much of the South contends with its most serious outbreak, Florida has been hit particularly hard, with cases and deaths there surpassing earlier peaks in the pandemic.

• Some Western states with relatively high vaccination rates also have struggled with delta. Cases in Oregon have remained at record highs since mid-August, and in Hawaii, the current case average is more than twice as high than at any other point.

In Berkshire County, according to The New York Times database, “cases have increased recently and are very high. But the number of hospitalized COVID patients has fallen and deaths have remained at about the same level. The test positivity rate in Berkshire County is relatively low at 3 percent, suggesting that testing capacity is adequate for evaluating coronavirus spread in the area.”

Because of the high rate of transmission here, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks inside in public spaces. (The Eagle’s The Checkup has the latest updates).

Of course, no amount of scientific or medical evidence is persuasive for the hardcore anti-vaccination group. So, most students will return to school and college in a few days here with face coverings required indoors until further notice (at least Oct. 1 for public schools).

For many public employees, and at some private companies, vaccine mandates are increasing. Public health is not a matter of individual choice, it’s the common good in a well-functioning society for the health and survival of our family members, friends, neighbors and work colleagues, as well as visitors and strangers in our midst.

And, beginning Sept. 20, booster shots will be widely available and recommended for those among us who got their first jab roughly eight months ago, though that’s a somewhat arbitrary guideline.

I’ll be one of the first in line. Hope to see you there.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.