The effort to get Wisconsin residents vaccinated against COVID-19 has relied heavily on self-interest and a message that getting the vaccine protects you. Recent statements veer more into carrot-and-stick territory with reminders that normal events only really come back after virus numbers are suppressed.
But we think there’s a better carrot to remind people of. The more people who are vaccinated, the more likely family reunions become.
For many families the past year-plus has been a time of separation. Not within households, but between generations. Vacations or trips to visit grandparents or other relatives have been postponed or cancelled. While technology helps, with phone calls and even video chats more common than ever, nothing can replace the fundamental joy of being physically with loved ones.
Simply put, get the shot and you get to hug your grandchildren again. You get to see elderly relatives and those from who you’ve been cut off again. You get to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and everything else together in a way that hasn’t been prudent for more than a year.
Some have called recent warnings about routine activities this summer being largely dependent on getting vaccines in arms and virus levels down threats. The implication is that officials are holding events hostage in an attempt to force people to get the shots. That’s a misreading, in some cases intentionally, of what officials are trying to do.
Let’s face it, the message “get the shot so you can keep wearing a mask and staying away from people” stinks. It offers little incentive. It’s not well crafted or particularly well thought out. But for the past couple months that’s largely what health officials offered. Even when it wasn’t phrased that way, the reminders that people can’t yet abandon protective measures en masse often came across that way.
What’s happening now is a recalibration of the message. Officials are trying to remind people of what awaits if we are finally able to get the virus suppressed. That’s a large part of why federal guidelines were revised this week to indicate fully vaccinated people don’t generally need to wear masks outdoors.
But while people might resist getting vaccines if the carrot is a stroll along the riverwalk in Eau Claire or the opportunity to briefly remove the mask when walking from one store to another downtown, think about how much further the opportunities go.
For 14 months we’ve heard stories about how the separation of families which had people in assisted living or care facilities hurt. We’ve run photos of families saying hello through a window, saying hello through a phone. It wasn’t much, but it was what people could do in an effort to stay connected.
Even younger families have been separated. Visits between grandparents and grandchildren, even reasonably healthy ones, have been put off. There have been stories of guilt felt by people who risked a brief few hours together, only to find out luck wasn’t on their side. That’s not the way anyone wants to live. That’s not the way people are supposed to live.
Science and medicine have overcome incredible hurdles to bring us to this point. The development of the vaccines built on work that was already underway in a bid to deal with other coronaviruses, and that offered a springboard for remarkably fast development. The result is multiple vaccines with effectiveness that surprised even the experts.
Now, with a genuine opportunity to push the virus down far enough that it isn’t the threat we’ve lived under for more than a year, we find that we are the last remaining hurdle. That people are becoming the challenge. Unlike those hurdles we have already overcome, this one can’t be addressed by statistics and studies. Humanity is the only solution.
There’s a lot waiting for us on the other side of this pandemic. We’re close. There are immensely positive signs, but also some cautionary notes. There’s still work to do.
But think of the reunions, the hugs and the smiles on the other side of that work. Think of what we get back, the dreams we’ll share to replace the nightmares of the past year.
Let’s get this done.