Roll up your sleeves and get the shot

September 16, 2021 12:02 am

Syringes are prepped with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before being administered at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

TO: All unvaccinated Virginians

FROM: A beleaguered, vaccinated neighbor

I get it. You’re anti-authoritarian. You’re independent, and unreceptive to dictates from the government. Maybe you’re fearful still today – in spite of all the evidence to the contrary – about unlikely risks associated with the shots to fight COVID-19. 

You’re essential in this ongoing battle. I need you to swallow your pride and roll up your sleeves.

For the life of me, however, it’s difficult to fathom why you’re so resistant to protecting yourself – and others, too. Vaccines to fight measles, mumps, rubella and many other illnesses have become standard in this country, without nearly the pushback. 

Your hardheadedness affects not just loved ones, but people you come into contact with at a place of worship, in a grocery store or at the office. 

Especially since more than 664,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. That number includes 12,000-plus from right here in the commonwealth. Stories abound of people nationwide just like you, on their deathbeds, who finally admit they “should’ve gotten the vaccine.” They alert others to protect themselves. 

By then, it’s often too late for the hospitalized.

Do you want to join them? Do you want to say goodbye to loved ones needlessly, including children and grandchildren? Heaven forbid if you should infect family and friends who, because of their compromised immune systems or other complications, couldn’t get the shots themselves.

News stories about recalcitrant Americans are maddening, infuriating. Collectively, we can’t truly return to pre-pandemic living until we end the dying:

A couple in California, both unvaccinated, died recently from COVID-19 after they probably contracted it while on a vacation. Davy and Daniel Macias were the parents of five young children, including a newborn; relatives will now have to take on the enormous task of raising them. Davy Macias was a labor and delivery nurse.

• Medical officials conducted a futile search of 43 hospitals in several states for an Alabama man suffering from cardiac conditions. Ray DeMonia, 73, needed help in an intensive care unit, but officials couldn’t find a spot because coronavirus infections and unvaccinated patients overwhelmed local hospitals, The Washington Post reported. After DeMonia finally was admitted to a hospital 200 miles away from his hometown, he died Sept. 1. 

• The vice mayor of Danville said last month that of 14 people in a local hospital on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, 12 had COVID-19. “None were vaccinated,” Gary Miller said, according to

• Also in Danville, Police Officer Bonnie Jones died after being on a ventilator for a lengthy period. The 46-year-old department veteran hadn’t gotten vaccinated, her mother had said. The funeral for Jones was early this week.

Before the vaccines were ready, we were in lockdown across Virginia. Now that we have the shots, a sizable minority has rejected them.

We’ve known for some time that if you’re vaccinated, you have a better chance of surviving COVID-19 or having less-critical illnesses. The Centers for Disease just published a study saying people not fully vaccinated this spring and summer were 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated.

A handwritten note at a gas station pump near Hansonville. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, in a new educational campaign, says state data show that since Jan. 17, just 0.4 percent of fully vaccinated Virginians have had a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, 0.017 percent have been hospitalized, and 0.0038 percent have died from the virus. A recent analysis from the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker found that 98 percent of U.S. adults hospitalized for COVID-19 in June and July were unvaccinated.

If you’re a betting person, which odds would you take?

Three vaccines are available for adults. Virginians ages 12 to 18 can take the Pfizer vaccine. 

State records showed 65.6 percent of Virginians have received at least one dose, with 58 percent fully vaccinated. Nearly 78 percent of adults have gotten at least one dose. 

I interviewed Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, this week about boosting the rates and why that’s so important. “Vaccines have been seen to be incredibly effective against hospitalizations and deaths,” Avula said. 

He noted that since the delta variant emerged, the bulk of hospitalizations has been for 30- to 50-year-olds. Thankfully, they don’t die at the same rate as people 65 and older, but they strain the available capacity at many hospitals. 

That means less room for people, including the Alabama man I mentioned earlier, who are suffering from strokes, heart attacks and other serious illnesses.

Avula acknowledged there’s huge skepticism and distrust of government among some Virginians. Yet plenty of study and research has gone into the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“The vaccines have been used with more scrutiny and on a larger scale” than any other vaccine, he added.

The doctor said Gov. Ralph Northam has required state workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. And last week, President Joe Biden issued vaccine directives and other plans, including mandatory vaccinations for federal employees and contractors.

Some Republican leaders across the country, almost reflexively, opposed the mandates. In urging individual freedom, they made it more likely their adherents would become infected – or worse.

I asked Avula what he considered the most important thing Virginians should know about the ongoing injection effort. “If you’re unvaccinated,” he replied, “you’re not only at risk yourself; it’s part of what’s holding us back collectively to get to normalcy.” 

Help yourselves and your fellow Virginians. Curb this pandemic. 

You can still question government, if you must. But get the shots. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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]