Vaccinations and the power of example

University of Utah Health nurse Christy Mulder called it “an overwhelming day” that Tuesday in mid-December when she became the first person in Utah to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

President Joe Biden, now former Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots at the end of December. Biden received his second dose, as others have, last week, prior to taking office.

Senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over age 70 traveled over to the Salt Lake Health Department and received their first shots of a vaccine this past week.

The week before at the Vatican, Pope Francis and his predecessor, retired Pope Benedict, received their first doses of a coronavirus vaccine, the Vatican confirmed. Pope Francis is 84, and Pope Emeritus Benedict is 93. Pope Francis lost a lung as a young man and there is relief in getting him the protection of a vaccination.

Say what you will about the start of 2021, the season of vaccinations has arrived, starting first with those front-line health care workers, teachers (in Utah) and now those over age 70. The rest of the population will have opportunity in the weeks and months ahead.

Medical professionals, government leaders and faith leaders all have thrown their support behind the need to get vaccinated and are leading by example. Which makes this week’s poll by the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics so interesting and important.

Florida-based pollster Scott Rasmussen conducted a survey of 1,000 registered Utah voters on Jan. 12-15, asking respondents if they planned to get a vaccination. He found that 67% of respondents said yes, 21% said no and 12% said not sure. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Convincing those who said they are not sure may be the key to Utah returning to some semblance of normalcy by fall.

The Centers for Disease Control warned last week that the world will not reach the protection of herd immunity worldwide this year because of the logistical struggle in getting vaccinations to all countries. Herd immunity happens when the majority of a population becomes immune to a virus because they were either infected or vaccinated.

In the United States, “We have to get some 600 million doses into the arms of Americans to control this pandemic,” Dr. Andy Pavia, chief of the University of Utah School of Medicine’s pediatric infectious diseases division, told reporters last week. “We’ve known for many months that this was going to be an enormous undertaking. Unfortunately, the rollout has not gone smoothly,” he said of the national response.

Nevertheless, with the new president’s promise of a dramatic increase in vaccinations, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox putting his full attention behind increasing the number of vaccinations to Utahns (currently focused on vaccinating those in care facilities and those over age 70), the need to convince doubters of the societal necessity of receiving a vaccination could make the difference in Utah.

Consider: The Deseret News poll also asked about the spread of COVID-19 and received the following responses. A whopping 94% of respondents said they now know someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19. Seventeen percent know someone hospitalized with the virus, and 14% know someone who has died from COVID-19. Put another way, the virus is everywhere.

There is frustration mounting by those trying to break through appointment phone banks or online scheduling. But patience will be required during this monthslong process with a single goal and number in mind.

The goal? Vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

The key number? In Utah, get more than 70% of the population vaccinated.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said after that first vaccination Dec. 15 that it likely will be “late summer before we can have confidence that a vast majority of Utahns have taken the vaccine and we can rely on herd immunity.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn speaks at a COVID-19 news briefing at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

Trent Nelson

Whatever precautions remain needed for travel to other states and countries this year, the simple act of getting a vaccination may just be the most important civic responsibility each of us will be able to accomplish in 2021.

This statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released earlier in the week, perhaps offers the best context on the need to be vaccinated:

“In word and deed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported vaccinations for generations. As a prominent component of our humanitarian efforts, the church has funded, distributed and administered life-saving vaccines throughout the world. Vaccinations have helped curb or eliminate devastating communicable diseases such as: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, smallpox and measles. Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” the statement read.

Utahns are generous with their time and money, and many donations have gone toward vaccinating the world. The least we can do is get vaccinated here at home to protect our neighbors.

Doug Wilks is the editor of the Deseret News.