The Washington Post Sunday

A reminder as games begin

After getting vaccine for coronaviru­s, cheer has replaced fear

- Thomas Boswell

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a person 65 to 74 years old, such as me, has a 1,100 times greater chance of dying from covid19 than someone 5 to 17 years old. So you can bet that I have been paying attention.

This month, my wife and I got our second vaccinatio­n shot. On Friday night, we went to a local French restaurant to eat dinner — inside. That last happened 346 days ago.

As soon as a movie theater opens near us, as theaters will in New York next week, we will be there. We will figure out mask-plus-popcorn later.

We already have made reservatio­ns to visit our son and

his wife in the Midwest in May. Visit a spa? We deserve a massage. We haven’t gone 40 miles from home together since 2019.

In fact, even the smallest things now seem wonderful. The sun has been out this week, the snow melted, and I have been walking. Wearing a mask, of course. But unlike during any walk for a year, I have felt weight-and-worry lite.

Why? Because the best thing about the vaccines is not that they are 94 to 95 percent effective in preventing you from getting the disease, although that is great.

What’s more important is that after you get the shots and that cheerful vaccinated glow, you don’t die. You’re more likely to be eaten by a whale. Also, it’s almost certain you won’t be hospitaliz­ed.

There are new virus variants. The data to date says all the vaccines work against them, too, in the most important ways — against death and hospitaliz­ation. But the exact degree of efficacy is being analyzed constantly.

Data aside, there’s a psychologi­cal inoculatio­n, an emotional relief that comes with those shots. You don’t feel like the defenseles­s target in a virus shooting gallery.

Right now, our vaccinatio­n progress is infuriatin­g. Everybody eligible to get the vaccine knows that getting a place and time for a shot is a nightmare.

A friend, who must grasp things such as “collateral­ized debt obligation­s” in his job, spent weeks wrestling with vaccine sites on his computer, just as my wife and I did. This week, in a lottery-winner voice, he said, “I got a shot!”

What on earth do you do if you don’t own a computer or smartphone? Or if you live in a remote rural area or a povertystr­icken, underserve­d neighborho­od? How long will it be until you get the shots that you are entitled to?

Just as a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday showed that 55 percent of Americans have either been vaccinated or want a shot “as soon as possible” (up from 47 percent a month ago), the least well served are also the least well-informed about the vaccine’s benefits.

“Black, Hispanic and rural Americans will be left behind unless special efforts are made to increase vaccine confidence in those communitie­s,” foundation president Drew Altman said.

As exasperati­ng as getting vaccinated is right now, the view from 30,000 feet is entirely different. Every day, on average, about 1.5 million people are getting a shot. Somebody is getting that appointmen­t somewhere or waiting in a line at a drugstore or ballpark to get punctured.

Much of the system seems a mess. But 10 million people per week are getting a shot. That rate may rise toward 20 million shots per week, according to Washington Post reporting.

Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez will try to convince as many Nats as possible to get the shots when they are eligible. But they all won’t. He can’t make it mandatory.

If we want to know how soon society will be back to something like normal — and how soon sports will have significan­t crowds — it will depend on how many people are lucky enough to get a vaccine, as I was. I’m not bragging. I’m begging. That same Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that a core 15 percent of adults “definitely” don’t want the vaccine — and that number has barely budged in the past two months, even as the give-me-ashot-right-now group has grown from 34 percent in December to 47 percent to the current 55 percent. Also worrisome: Another 22 percent want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works and what side effects it has on others.

Spectator sports, large live crowds and the very financial viability of leagues and franchises are tied together. That means the success of vaccinatio­n and the return of recognizab­ly normal sports are joined at the hip.

You can find a wide range of estimates on when normal life might return (and what normal means). Last week, a Johns Hopkins surgery professor wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the United States would reach herd immunity by April. Stephen Colbert mocked that the prediction was first published in “the New England Journal of Telling You What You Want to Hear.”

President Biden has mentioned normal by Christmas. But we all have our own definition­s of normal. In sports, is that stadiums and arenas being half-full? At capacity?

This week, Bill Gates, appearing on Colbert’s show, seemed sensible. “If we can convince people to trust the vaccine . . . our fall will be pretty normal,” he said. “Maybe some masks, maybe not big public events, but all the schools, restaurant­s at some level.” A July Fourth party? “That’s on the margin. If you like social distancing, probably still at that point.”

A party in “just” four months. Sign me up. But that “trust the vaccine” hurdle is a huge one.

Gates once saw a country split 50-50 on vaccinatio­n for polio, similar to U.S. vaccine ambivalenc­e now. It was Nigeria. Gates got the sultan of Sokoto, the country’s top Muslim leader, to back that campaign. The sultan had his own children take the vaccine. His followers got the message. Now polio is almost eradicated in Africa.

How does our vaccine battle stand? Right now, about 47 million have gotten at least one shot. Based on the polling, this is not hard math. And it should make many smile. Within two months, it’s plausible that almost everybody who wants a shot will have a chance to get it.

Then the job is to try to convince as many of the unvaccinat­ed as possible that they should join us as we try to reach herd immunity. Experts estimate the threshold for herd immunity could lie somewhere between 70 and 85 percent. The new variants could push that number higher. The faster we get to herd immunity, the fewer future mutations. Cut the virus off at the pass.

That day may arrive faster than we think. The CDC estimated that only one in four coronaviru­s cases has been identified with a positive test — typical in a pandemic. If so, we will have 100 million with immunity from recovering.

The past year has been dismal. Nothing has altered my sense of diminished life, of restricted options in every hour of every day, of isolation from friends and family, and of vague dangers such as permanent damage to health even if you get covid-19 and recover.

Nothing, that is, till those two shots went in my arm. Never has a slightly sore arm for 24 hours felt so good.

The course of this pandemic — and, as a small piece of that, the return of normal sports — will be decided by those millions who still aren’t sure. Will they be health patriots, joining our herd?

To many, all of this seems obvious. But, just as clearly, not to enough.

It doesn’t hurt. It works. The vaccinatio­n system is still a cluster, but keep trying. Help others figure it out.

Then experience a compositio­n of feeling you had almost forgotten: relief and happiness bound together.

The course of this pandemic — and, as a small piece of that, the return of normal sports — will be decided by those millions who still aren’t sure.

 ??  ?? Cars lined up as people awaited a coronaviru­s test at the Nationals’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. The ballpark became a testing site in March, just a few weeks after last year’s spring training was stopped.
Cars lined up as people awaited a coronaviru­s test at the Nationals’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. The ballpark became a testing site in March, just a few weeks after last year’s spring training was stopped.
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 ?? PHOTOS BY TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST ??
PHOTOS BY TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

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