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Unvaccinated? We think you should look anew at the delta variant data.

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, July 21, 2021  |  Editorial  |  EDITORIAL BOARD

Health (49)

These many pandemic-rattled months, the Tribune Editorial Board has argued many times that the residents of Illinois should shoot off to their vaccination appointments, ideally faster than Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship.

Most wise Illinois heads have quietly read the efficacy data of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, assessed the risks to self, family and community, and done precisely that. No need for any governmental admonition nor lottery prize. According to public health officials, around half the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

But the takeup is hardly consistent. In some Illinois places, such as Alexander County, the Tribune reports that the vaccination rate is only 15%. And, as WBEZ has pointed out, the vaccination rates in some Chicago suburbs, such as Dixmoor, Ford Heights and Riverdale, still languish at under 20%.

Let’s be honest. Adults are choosing not to get the shots. The public health message has been ubiquitous and pervasive. And almost everywhere in the state, free walk-in jabs are available at chain pharmacies, pop-up tents and supermarkets. At this point, you have to be in some measure of active resistance.

So we’re addressing the unvaccinated here.

Why should you change your mind? Simple. In recent days, health authorities across the world have been warning that the delta coronavirus variant, which is roaming the globe and causing havoc in India, Australia and throughout lockdown-weary Europe, is as much as 60% more transmissible than the original virus. Some officials in other countries put that explosive figure even higher. Maybe 80% higher. It’s not yet clear.

What does that mean for the unvaccinated? Your odds of avoiding an infection are significantly less now. Current transmissibility matters more than the history. And as health officials throughout Illinois have said, many times now, the delta variant is only just getting started in the Land of Lincoln. On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned that, if case counts continue to rise, the city may have to “reinforce some of the restrictions that infamously defined 2020 and part of 2021.”

Without your shots, you’re at a roulette table where the losing numbers are spreading over the majority of the wheel. And we don’t like your odds. This is why the stock market is behaving like a croupier, handing out chips and then clawing them back.

Shaming of the unvaccinated is common but hardly productive. We’ve read takedowns of entire states, as if the virus knew where geographical boundaries lie or where blue states end and red America begins.

In some cases, legitimate expressions of vaccine unease and worries about side effects on social media channels have been crudely branded as “disinformation,” which only adds to the destructive politicization of this crisis. Nothing is achieved by squelching debate, railing against Fox News playing to its worried viewers, or pretending that we know more about the long-term efficacy or safety of the vaccines, approved for emergency use, than actually is the case. Better to evangelize for the vaccine that to insult the hesitant.

With every shrill criticism, each patronizing word of politicized disrespect, an unvaccinated person recoils further away from the needle.

As the delta variant takes off in the U.S., this might well result in more restrictions on vulnerable small businesses, increased restrictions on travel to see family and a delay in the return to work that great cities like Chicago sorely need. It might threaten your life or the health and well-being of your loved ones.

This board stands for individual liberty and your right to control your own body and health. We have opposed government-mandated vaccine passports on these grounds, while supporting the rights of private enterprises, like the Lollapalooza promoters, to require them if they so choose. Throughout the board’s history, we’ve rarely used words like “should” or “must” when it comes to private individuals choosing how to live their lives. Freedom and autonomy are core values.

We think that 175-year track record gives us some bona fides when we respectfully say this to our valued, unvaccinated readers: The data this July is rapidly changing in unanticipated ways and it is past time for your shot.

“Should” has entered our lexicon. So has “must.” These are not usual times.

Delta, clearly, is sneakier in its ability to enter human cells and yet more skilled at evading the defenses of the human body. The vaccines may not be a panacea, for nothing in medicine nor life is without complexity, but they are the best way forward. And 20% is not going to achieve emancipation from this scourge.

Only in the hands of ideologues does “the science” say one thing. Actually, it would not be science if it did. But a preponderance of evidence and experts say the window against the pernicious delta variant is closing fast, and we’re all exhausted.

So we respectfully hope you’ll reconsider and give us our shot, too.