As we seek to safely reach herd immunity and truly get COVID under control, it bears repeating: Overcoming the pandemic requires a successful vaccination campaign, and the progress that the commonwealth has seen so far is thanks to Bay Staters putting up some good numbers on the COVID shots scoreboard.
As of earlier this week, the state Department of Public Health said that Massachusetts has vaccinated 3.5 million people — more than half of the population. As a result, all of the leading indicators, from positive test rate to hospitalizations and deaths, continue their downward trend.
Against a viral enemy like this one, we are truly all in this together, and the Berkshires are fortunate to have county health care leaders whose tireless, life-giving work has made for a relatively smooth vaccine campaign in our neck of the woods.
Some of those leaders gathered for a panel Thursday hosted by The Eagle to discuss all things COVID-19. Joining the discussion were Dr. James Lederer Jr., chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Berkshire Health Systems; Dr. Mark Pettus, director of population health and community care at Berkshire Health Systems; Michelle Derr, director of South Berkshire WIC and family services with Community Health Programs; and Heather Barbieri, director of emergency management at Fairview Hospital and coordinator of the Berkshire Collaborative COVID-19 vaccine clinics and testing sites in South County.
The conversation, which is available on The Eagle’s website, is certainly worth a watch for anyone looking to become more vaccine-informed — especially those who remain hesitant. The panelists offered perspectives from their respective roles within the county’s COVID response effort, tackling a range of subjects from vaccine efficacy and distribution equity to the potential “long-haul” effects of contracting COVID and post-restriction guidance for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. At the intersection of all these topics, though, one critical question continued to rear its head throughout the experts’ chat: How can we reach those who remain skeptical about getting a free, highly effective and remarkably safe shot to better protect themselves and their families against a deadly pandemic?
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of misinformation and sensationalism out there to distort people’s perceptions about this deadly pandemic and the vaccine that offers our best shot to vanquish it.
Fortunately, Berkshirites can avail themselves of some expert voices who are not only armed with the right information but are working every day to protect our communities from this public health crisis. Yes, we’re probably not going to reach 100 percent of holdouts who have fallen victim to conspiracy-mongering about microchips and Bill Gates. But to those vaccine skeptics who claim to care about the truth: Listen carefully to this panel of local experts.
These are not talking heads on a cable news show or spurious meme-mongers flooding your social media feed with falsehoods. These are public health experts who also happen to be your neighbors, who care deeply about protecting the vulnerable in our communities as well as in their own families.
Listen to Ms. Derr, the vaccine coordinator for CHP’s mobile health unit, talk about forgoing her lunch break one busy afternoon so that she can bring the unit to a grocery store parking lot and vaccinate 10 more people. Listen to Ms. Barbieri talk about the 14-hour days spent managing the county’s vaccine clinics to get shots into the arms of Berkshire residents, some crying tears of relief after she helps them get their jab.
COVID might be in retreat, but to fully rout it we must continue the vaccination progress that Massachusetts is seeing. As we in the Berkshire do our part, our regional public health leaders are helping to beat back the virus one shot at a time, but the experts on The Eagle’s COVID panel discussion also offer another key weapon in the battle: knowledge.
Cut through the noise, have a listen and arm yourselves.