When it comes to fighting COVID-19, we have no patience for cant, and even less for partisanship. So it was disappointing this week to see North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, indulge in both when he added his name to a letter demanding that the Biden administration update its vaccination strategy.
The letter — co-signed by three other Republican senators — raised some valid issues. The most notable was its inquiry about the planning for the future vaccination of children against the virus, should efforts to validate the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness for the under-12 set bear favorable fruit.
That matters because, as reported on Sept. 21 by the journal Science, experience in Israel has begun to suggest that the existing vaccination regimen, and prospective booster shots, might not suffice to bring the pandemic under control as long as children remain unvaccinated.
Government advisers in Israel worry that the combination of unvaccinated children and large family gathering gives the virus a near-ideal avenue to keep spreading. The fact that children under 12 accounted for 42% of the new cases seen in Israel during a single week earlier this month only added to their concern.
So it’s an extremely good time for a check on the progress being made here in the U.S. on the potential to extend vaccinations to younger age groups.
What was neither needed nor justified, however, was the letter’s accusation that the Biden administration has “created confusion and exacerbated vaccine hesitancy.”
The administration’s message about vaccines — get the shot — has been plenty clear to us. And we’re not sure what more it can do to overcome hesitancy when vaccine supplies are abundant, you can get your shot for free in your local drugstore or Walmart, and millions of us are walking around perfectly healthy after already receiving it.
And let’s be clear that any issues surrounding the timing, availability and approval of boosters have nothing to do with vaccine hesitancy. Nothing about a third shot accounts for the refusal of some people to get the first.
When even Donald Trump is getting booed for urging people to get vaccinated, at this point it’s probably going to take person-to-person missionary work to persuade at least some of the until-now unpersuaded to roll up their sleeves.
Fortunately, here in Henderson groups like City Councilwoman Melissa Elliott’s Gang Free Inc. are taking on this work. Gang Free has added community health workers, offered financial incentives in the form of gift cards and operated at dozens of vaccination sites.
Its aim is to make sure the vaccines are even more widely available to demographics, Blacks and Hispanics namely, that are less likely than others to have ready access to health care. But it’s also there to offer a friendly hand on the shoulder and some words of clarity to those who may need both before doing the right thing.
That kind of work has to occur from the bottom up, not the top down. The community groups doing it need support from the top, but as far as we can see, they’re getting it.