In an ominous early scene of the movie Jurassic Park, a cow is lowered into the velociraptor pen at the main compound. As it happens, archaeologist Alan Grant asks the game warden about deadly prehistoric predators’ intelligence.
“Do they show intelligence?” Grant asks game warden Robert Muldoon. “Extreme intelligence. Problem-solving intelligence,” he replies. He then goes on to explain how they are continually looking for ways to escape. “They were testing the fences for weakness systematically.”
While the coronavirus doesn’t have the intelligence “to test the fences” of our immune system, it has the sheer numbers to bring them down. Give it a million tries, a billion tries, and one of the hundreds of mutations will “learn” to get around our vaccinated immunity. It will learn to evade the antibodies our own defenses create when we contract the disease.
Our ultimate goal is to give the virus fewer opportunities to find the right genetic code to become more transmissible, more deadly, and to leave its living victims with longer-lasting side effects. To reach that goal, we must get to over 80 percent “herd” immunity. When the virus runs into too many dead ends it fades before spreading and mutating.
One of our significant challenges in America is that too many say they will not get the vaccine, especially in rural areas.
“Individuals living in rural areas in the U.S. are significantly less likely to say they will get a COVID-19 vaccine,” a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says.
While just over 30 percent of rural residents say they will definitely get the vaccine when they have the chance, 20 percent say they absolutely won’t get it. Another 15 percent saying they are not likely to get it. That potentially 35 percent who won’t get vaccinated leaves rural America vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and makes us a source of future mutations.
In talking with local residents who say they won’t get the vaccine we’ve heard a variety of reasons why – they aren’t worried about getting COVID-19; they don’t need it because COVID-19 isn’t real; they just don’t want it; it’s not proven safe; and they don’t trust any vaccines.
Kaiser’s study found that in rural America, reluctance to get the vaccine was also tied to education levels, age, “and – notably – their political party identification. Republicans are much less likely to say they will get a coronavirus vaccine compared to their independent and Democratic counterparts.” And rural Republicans are less likely to say they will get the vaccine than urban Republicans.
Kaiser’s study also found that rural residents see getting immunized as a personal choice rather than a community responsibility. More than half of urban residents believe just the opposite.
There is one bit of encouraging news in the Kaiser survey: 86 percent of rural residents trust local medical providers regarding the vaccine. They will play a key role in publicly getting out the message about the need to get vaccinated.
“Effective messages need to be delivered by trusted messengers and take into account these strongly held beliefs in order to have successful vaccine uptake in rural America,” Kaiser says.
“Addressing hesitancy in rural America will require convincing rural Americans about the seriousness of the pandemic and then reaching them with an almost second amendment-like appeal: that the vaccine is a way to protect you, your family and your way of life,” Drew Altman, Chief Executive Officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said.
For rural America, this means placing advertisements in the local community newspaper and a broad social media campaign.
Concern about new strains
The coronavirus is constantly evolving. We have the U.K., South African and Brazilian variants with many more likely already circulating that we don’t know about.
“We’re seeing these mutated viruses are much more infectious and do actually produce much more serious illness. And I anticipate over the next six to 14 weeks, the darkest days of this pandemic are going to occur,” Dr. Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Minnesota Public Radio.
The spread of the new variants should be a “wake up call” to Americans, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.
Fauci is particularly concerned about the South African variant, which has shown to lower vaccine effectiveness. It may also be finding ways around the natural immunity provided a person once they have contracted the disease and recovered.
“All it’s going to take is a couple more mutations … and you’re really going to have to start worrying,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health told The Washington Post.
Vaccines and acquired immunity from having had COVID-19 aren’t the only ways to slow the virus’s spread. Wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and social distancing are also proven ways to slow it. But we are seeing an increasing number of people no longer wearing masks.
Osterholm fears what has been happening in Europe will soon happen here. “We are seeing England, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, all these countries in basically total lockdowns. Schools are closed, businesses closed, transportation is reduced to bare minimum, people are ordered to stay in their homes. And we still see transmission increasing in some locations where that’s going on.
“So, I think we just need to have our state’s residents understand what’s coming. And it is going to come, and I just worry that, we’ll be surprised again, and we won’t put into place the kinds of restrictions we’re going to need to until our hospitals are virtually overrun,” he said.
If we act as if this fight is over, if we don’t get the vaccine when it’s our turn, we may live the European reality before long. Rather than ending this pandemic, we may see it unnecessarily lengthened as new variants arise. Do you want to start this whole pandemic fight over?