My Turn — Massachusetts: Protection for myself and others

  • FROST FROST

Published: 1/8/2021 3:45:15 PM
Modified: 1/8/2021 3:45:00 PM

Editor’s note: Two voices, two viewpoints on Covid-19 vaccination from Hands Across the Hills: Jay Frost, recently of Leverett, and Gwen Johnson from Eastern Kentucky coal country. Hands Across the Hills formed in Leverett after the 2016 election and bridged with Letcher County KY to foster understanding between communities that differed widely in politics and attitudes. Three long weekend visits to each others’ towns and continuing Zoom meetings keep the dialogues, conversations and friendships growing. This is the first in a series of dual essays on topics meaningful to both communities.

By JAY FROST

I will confidently schedule my COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it becomes available in my community. I am over 70 and in good health, and I want this to happen sooner rather than later. I know that administration of the vaccine may be accompanied by mostly mild side effects, but that in trials these occurred only in a small percentage of subjects. I am willing to accept the risk.

For me, like most others in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere in the Northeast, my choice to vaccinate is influenced by two factors: the desire for my own protection against the disease, and for the protection of those with whom I come in close contact. I believe that if the majority of our population chooses immunization we protect the community-at-large and can put an end to the pandemic.

Like many others of our generation, my wife and I have long believed in the benefits of vaccines commonly administered in the U.S. — for polio, MMR, DTaP, flu, and so on — for ourselves, our children, and the general population. Awareness of medical science plus a lifetime of personal experience have convinced us that common vaccines are safe and effective, protect us from serious (sometimes deadly) diseases, and prevent epidemics.

Unfortunately, vaccination has become yet another hot-button issue fueling the political and cultural divide that threatens our country. The fault lines are familiar — Republican vs. Democrat, red state vs. blue state, rural heartland vs. coastal elite.

From a Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in mid-December: Among Republicans, 42 percent of respondents said that they would probably not or definitely not get the vaccine even if it was free and determined to be safe. Only 12 percent of Democrats said they would decline the vaccine. In the same survey, among rural residents nationwide, 35 percent expressed hesitancy about the vaccine, 8 percent more than suburban residents and ten percent more than urban dwellers.

Here in Massachusetts, according to a Boston Globe survey published in early December, 85 percent of interviewees said that they planned to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available or would wait until others have been vaccinated.

Reflecting the above numbers, during a December Hands Across the Hills dialogue (via Zoom), our Kentucky colleagues indicated that a significant percentage of resident in their rural area opposed getting COVID-19 vaccinations.

(Note: The above surveys and conversation occurred just before the release of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Several polls published since suggest that higher percentages of people plan to get the vaccine.)

For me, my COVID-19 vaccination cannot come soon enough. It will represent the first small step in the return to “normal” life, a time when — eventually — our group from Leverett will meet again with our Kentucky friends, to embrace them, and to share once more the stories, songs, potlucks, and home visits that have helped our project actively address the barriers that divide our country.

Jay Frost is a retired freelance writer and former Leverett resident who recently moved to New Hampshire. He is a founding member of Hands Across the Hills and remains active in the project.

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