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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Throwing away our shots

by John Brummett | March 28, 2021 at 8:58 a.m.

This should be a big week for virus and vaccine news in Arkansas. Some of it will be iffy. Some will be good. None will be indifferent.

First. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has made clear for several days that he expects, indeed intends, to lift the statewide mask-wearing mandate at the end of March, which is Wednesday.

He wants to oblige the cussed independence of the typical Arkansan to the extent that he can.

But it's an iffy thing to do. Even with mere scores of new cases a day in the state, which is happy news, the virus still lives among us and has a better chance of regenerating to spread more widely if it encounters fewer masks.

This should go without saying, but let's say it for the record: People can still choose to wear masks absent a state mandate to do so. And they should keep wearing them for the time being even if fully vaccinated, for the benefit of others and the general welfare.

I'm giving thought to wearing a mask for the rest of my days. Age has taken a toll on my looks, which were low-average to begin with, and I haven't had so much as a head cold in a year, knock wood.

And the lifting of the mask mandate is iffy because we'll be relaxing at the very time Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compilations show that our state is using the 50th lowest share of its vaccine allocation among the states and the District of Columbia, besting, at week's end, only Alabama.

Masks off, shots not gotten--that's not the wisest one-two.

That ranking is a simple measurement of a state's good sense to come in out of the pandemic. And we have more sense in that regard only than a single state with no more sense than to elect Tommy Tuberville to the U.S. Senate.

We have more than a half-million vaccines that sit idle while appointment slots at pharmacies and clinics go unfilled. And we're promised a 32 percent increase in vaccines this week, and that we'll have all we'll need for everybody by the end of April.

Yet we seem to have more than we need already, at least through the approved categories of persons over 65, persons under 65 with health conditions, and persons in certain types of employment or high-risk situations.

There are number-crunchers, one recently in touch with me, who say Arkansas is really not doing as badly as all that. They say our percentage of the population receiving both shots is within two percentage points of the national average.

But positive spin about being below average is not the best positive spin. And our state's lagging gap will only widen if we don't step up the percentage of our people making appointments, or simply walking in, to submit their arms.

So, here is the other news likely this week: Hutchinson will announce that any and all adults in Arkansas are now eligible to get their shots.

If so, stampede safely, please.

The governor said last week that he was monitoring closely the stagnant demand and that time was drawing close for turning everyone loose on these appointments slots going unfilled.

The goal of vaccinations is herd immunity, the only real solution. And if Arkansas is leaving vaccines unused under its approved restrictions, then it may as well chase herd immunity with its full population.

We also can look, one hopes, for a more active state and local effort to inform people of the vaccine eligibility and to provide walk-up, non-appointment service.

There are folks who simply do not navigate computers well. If this newspaper was able to go around the state drawing crowds for iPad instruction in accessing and using the paper's app, then state government ought to be able to go to the people to get them vaccinated against a virus that can kill them and overwhelm our hospitals.

Look for special mass-vaccination events at large venues, a few of which have happened already.

I have a clear recollection of standing as an elementary-age child with my folks in a long and slow-moving line outside the nearby junior high school to get vaccinated, probably against smallpox. We need events like that now for grownups, assuming there is a sufficient number of willing shot-takers to form a line.

Speaking of things that should go without saying: You get vaccinated to prevent a disease in yourself and to do your part in a common effort to eradicate that disease for everybody. You do not get the vaccination as a cure when infected with the disease, as someone seemed to misunderstand just the other day.

It's very simple: Get your shot for yourself and others. Keep your mask on for others.

Wait for happy days.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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