Commentary

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy with FOMO

June 16, 2021 12:02 am

Maria Briscoe, a volunteer with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, vaccinates Bristol resident Aaliyah Belcher at a library vaccine clinic. (Kate Masters/Virginia Mercury)

Too many people in Virginia and nationwide are refusing the COVID-19 vaccines that can help us quash the current pandemic. It’s a dying shame. 

That’s not a misprint. As I write this, about 600,000 Americans have perished since February 2020 from the disease. The rate of deaths, though, have dropped considerably since the advent of vaccines over the past several months.

Many folks still don’t believe the shots are right for them, however. If only they understood how much they could return to pre-pandemic activities – safely – by just rolling up their sleeves. More on that later.

Maybe it’s fear – though doctors and health-care experts say the possible side effects of the vaccines are nothing compared to the deaths, awful intubations and long-term medical complications caused by COVID-19. Maybe it’s a distrust in government, some of that stoked by politicians who crave power more than the well-being of their constituents. 

Or maybe it’s a simple intransigence for which facts, medical science and common sense can do little to combat. 

All of these factors are making it difficult for communities, states and regions to reach the vaunted goal of herd immunity – the number or percentage of vaccinated people needed to reduce the chance of vulnerable people coming into contact with the virus. Even as some statistics provide ample reasons for hope, other markers indicate we have far to go:

The Virginian-Pilot reported Norfolk and Portsmouth are tied for the lowest percentage of people vaccinated against the novel coronavirus in Hampton Roads, with only about three in 10 residents fully inoculated by last week. State Department of Health figures placed Northampton County at the highest rate in the region, at nearly 53 percent. 

According to some experts, about 70 percent of people in a community need immunity to gain herd protection.

Law-enforcement officers around the commonwealth are among the groups lukewarm about getting the vaccine, even though — because of their jobs — they’re at a higher risk of coming into contact with infected people. The Washington Post reported this week that officials said less than half of Virginia State Police troopers are vaccinated, and about 50 percent of corrections officers have been vaccinated. That’s even though nearly 500 police officers across the country, including five in Virginia, have died from COVID-19, according to the Fraternal Order of Police

My colleague Kate Masters at The Virginia Mercury noted recently that demand for vaccine doses in the state has dropped dramatically. “Many counties in Southwest and Eastern Virginia … have less than 40 percent of their total populations vaccinated with even one dose,” she wrote June 7.

And in yet another ominous sign of continuing problems with the virus, The New York Times reported Tuesday that “hundreds of thousands of Americans have sought medical care for post-COVID-19 health problems that they had not been diagnosed with before becoming infected with the coronavirus.” The most common new health problems were pain; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure.

The immediate former president certainly could help sway followers to get the vaccine. Some supporters of Donald Trump would be convinced to get the shot if he’d make a full-throated, unambiguous endorsement. He’s declined.

The general public didn’t know he and Melania Trump had gotten vaccinated in office in January until several weeks later. No photos were released. And an ad campaign by the former living presidents urging people to take the shot didn’t include Trump. 

No surprises there. The Orange One is petty to a fault.

Maybe the following anecdote could convince at least a few folks. It’s about my mother-in-law, who initially resisted getting the vaccine. 

She lives with my wife and me, and our discussions begging her to take the shots ended in stiffened spines all around. She’d made up her mind, and no CDC report or news account would make a difference, thankyouverymuch.

Grandma, now 88, had seen her world shrink noticeably during the pandemic. She was stuck at home most of the time except when grocery shopping with me, with her choice of mask. Boredom was a big part of her day.

She also has FOMO — “fear of missing out” — big time. When she learned some of her buddies were returning to everyday activities, she slowly relented. Roger Jr. pushed her over the top in May, setting up an appointment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a local pharmacy. 

I did a happy dance — out of her view, of course — after the deed was done.  

She’s now back in the pews at church. The trips to the local YMCA for low-impact water aerobics have restarted. And her weekly dinners in restaurants, suspended since early 2020? She’s taking part in them again, too.

Grandma’s happy. And so am I.

I know Americans pride themselves on their rugged individualism. It’s something I wrote about late last year. Yet that mentality played havoc across the country before the vaccines were available.

We have a chance now to do something to help ourselves and each other. 

Life would be better — and safer — if we all agreed to take the jab. It’s the fastest way to put this horrible scourge behind us.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]

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