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GREG HARTON: Will a shot get us back to freedom?

by Greg Harton | November 29, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Apparent successes in the search for a covid-19 vaccine has people in Northwest Arkansas and across our country dreaming of carefree days, when visiting favorite establishments on Fayetteville's Dickson Street, crowding into the lawn for a concert at the Walmart AMP in Rogers or simply waiting in line at a food truck aren't potential life-altering threats.

Or, even more simply, just gathering with family and friends to celebrate the big and small moments of life.

We'll see in the next couple of weeks whether Arkansans heeded the advice of public health officials to exercise restraint in celebrating Thanksgiving. A lot of people kept their gatherings small and took precautions.

I also took a drive through rural areas around Huntsville and witnessed vehicle counts in the yards of houses that hinted at crowded conditions.

Time will tell how Arkansans did and what the pandemic circumstances around Christmastime might be. On Thanksgiving Day, the Arkansas Department of Health reported a state-record 2,348 new covid-19 cases. Those would have been tests taken before the holiday.

The massive numbers seem a harbinger. They suggest the deeper Arkansas gets into the winter months, the higher case numbers will go. For a lot of people, that will mean only discomfort, maybe some time in bed nursing what may seem a bad case of the flu. And then they'll move past it.

But the Russian roulette nature of this virus also suggests the high case numbers will sustain and, likely, grow the number of people in intensive care and the number who heartbreakingly succumb to the diseases.

Did the lure of joyful gatherings Thursday expand the ranks of covid-19 spreaders now enlisted in an aggressive contagion task force? Will Thanksgiving mark the beginning of some of the darkest days of this pandemic?

It seems to me the approaching release of vaccines should begin the end of this pandemic's hold on our daily lives. So I'm a little disheartened at reporting that suggests many people will resist taking a vaccine.

In recent Gallup polling, 58% of Americans said they would get a covid-19 vaccine. Others worry the rapid development of vaccines might affect vaccine safety, while 12% say they don't trust vaccines generally. About 10 percent say they'll take a wait-and-see approach.

How many people refused to wear masks based on some notion that to refuse them was a defense of Americans freedom? And yet, as we approach vaccines capable of restoring "freedom" by creating widespread protection from illness, there's a serious question as to whether people will take them.

Public health experts are now trying to figure out the best ways to convince Americans to receive the vaccines.

"We're obviously going to lead by example, we're going to encourage, we're going to market, we're going to build confidence in the vaccine," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last week, rejecting a suggestion he might mandate taking the vaccines.

I see tested and approved vaccines through a lens that restores weddings where entire families can safely celebrate, where friends can join a family in mourning the loss of a loved one, where older people are free to show up and watch their grandkids play soccer. I think of Bud Walton Arena being shaken to the rafters by a raucous capacity crowd.

When a vaccine is available, those are the things we'll be injecting into our lives again.

So here's an idea: Let's offer a free Powerball or MegaMillions lottery ticket for each family member vaccinated. If Arkansans are willing to roll the dice by resisting the vaccine, maybe that gambling spirit can be countered with the temptation of a lottery ticket. A vaccine has far more potential for a payoff.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.


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