What a sad difference three months makes.
In March, Mississippi was among the first states to open limits on vaccination eligibility, allowing anyone 18 or older to start receiving shots to prevent against COVID-19 infections. Despite rampant misinformation and crazy conspiracy theories coming from social media and cable talk show hosts, leaders throughout Mississippi were united in their strong and vocal encouragement for people to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, that was not a sign of things to come. Today, Mississippi ranks last in the percentage of people who have received at least one shot (37%) and who are fully vaccinated (33%).
What’s worse is that most of our leaders in Mississippi – from local to state to federal levels – have grown mostly silent in their calls for people to get vaccinated. This despite the emergence of the more dangerous delta variant and the fact that we are seeing an increase in positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.
On Friday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs held a press conference sounding the alarm about this perilous combination. He and other state health officials recommended anyone over the age of 65 or people with underlying health issues – vaccinated or not – to avoid all large indoor gatherings. Recommendations also included everyone 12 and older be vaccinated and those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.
The push for vaccinations is not a socialist plot or a communist takeover. The government is not trying to take your guns or your Bibles or implant you with microchips via vaccinations. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, or voted for Trump or Biden or wrote in your mama’s name for president.
Unfortunately, it seems that too many in this country believe just the opposite. Recent surveys show an almost partisan divide, with Democrats and Independents having been or are getting vaccinated versus anywhere between 35% and 50% of Republicans who say they are not going to get vaccinated. And the main, overwhelming reason given for the latter is the belief that the push for vaccinations is somehow politically driven.
We need our leaders to step up and start educating people about the realities of our situation. We need them to be vocal in calling out and correcting the falsehoods that are being spread.
We also need leaders to focus on improving vaccination rates among minority populations and in more rural areas that may be lacking in access.
There is little doubt that we will overcome COVID-19 and reach a critical mass of resistance and immunity among our population. The question is how will we get there?
The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer people who will get sick or die from COVID-19, and the quicker we as a nation will put this pandemic behind us.