The dam had burst and the river was rising fast. The pious man sat on the roof of his farmhouse as the floodwaters approached.
“Climb aboard!” called the soldier on the National Guard amphibious vehicle.
“No, thank you,” replied the man. “The Lord will save me.”
“Climb aboard!” called the sheriff’s deputy in the power boat an hour later.
“No, thanks,” replied the man. “The Lord will save me.”
“Climb aboard, you old fool!” called the neighbor in the rowboat as the sun set.
“No,” replied the man. “The Lord will save me.”
The man drowned. Standing at the Pearly Gates, he demanded to know why, despite a lifetime of prayer and devotion, the Lord did not save him.
“For goodness sake,” replied the Lord. “I sent three vaccines.”
So that wasn’t the original punchline. But the flood of the COVID-19 pandemic has not receded and, unless we are quite vigilant indeed, it could very well rise again. And the three rescue boats — the three kinds of vaccines approved for use in the United States — are ready to save us.
If only enough of us will climb aboard.
Some of us, apparently, will need more encouragement than just an offer. As Utah is already demonstrating, it is time to go beyond large vaccination centers accessed through online appointments. We will need more walk-in clinics. We will need more mobile clinics. We will need more clinics in schools, now that the minimum age for a vaccine has dropped to 16 and may soon go to 12.
Employers must help, with at least paid time off for employees to get their shots, or better by sponsoring workplace visits by health care workers, even cash bonuses to employees who roll up their sleeves.
One example to follow would be the one set at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Eager to get fans back into the seats, the New York Mets and New York Yankees baseball teams are not only offering free vaccinations in their stadium parking lots, they are offering free game tickets to those who take advantage of the offer.
Unlike the man on the roof surrounded by floodwaters, those who refuse offers of help do not just risk their own lives. Denying the insidious novel coronavirus the breeding grounds of the human respiratory system — any human’s respiratory system — is the key to knocking it down, not only so it cannot spread but also so it cannot mutate into variants that may prove even more contagious and more deadly.
Medical experts, government officials and business leaders have the same message for all of us. We all want to get back to normal. Back to school. Back to work. Back to ball games and plays and movies. Back to family gatherings and not being stricken with worry about our grandparents. And the way to get there — as soon as this summer — is by vaccinating, basically, everyone.
A year ago, when the ramifications of COVID-19 were becoming clear and the prospect of a cure or a vaccine was fuzzy, we hoped for something called “herd immunity.” That’s what happens when a sufficient number of us have contracted, and survived, the virus and thereafter carry a natural immunity to it. But it is becoming clear that there will be no natural herd immunity, not unless the virus strikes perhaps 80% or even 90% of the population, and the death toll from such a spread would be catastrophic.
So mass immunity, if we are to get there, will only come via the jab.
At week’s end, the number of eligible Utahns fully vaccinated surpassed 1 million arms, or nearly 44% of the population 16 and over. Nationally, we’re only to about 34% fully vaccinated. Worse, the number of vaccinations given per day is leveling off, threatening to open up a breach in our national immunity into which the virus will once more attack.
The trend has been compared to the release of a new smartphone. Those who really want it are willing to stand in line for hours or, in the case of the vaccine, wait on hold, deal with slow websites or drive to other counties in order to get their shot. After the initial crunch, when the early adopters have gotten theirs, it is time to make extra efforts to attract the rest of the market, some of whom will be highly, even irrationally, resistant, more of them just waiting until getting their shot is easy.
In parts of Utah, it is getting easier. It needs to be easier still. And fast.