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Op-Ed: Uncle Sam wants YOU! (to get vaccinated)

An illustration of a syringe on a patriotic background
(Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

In my world, the anxiety and anger of the COVID winter is starting to lift, replaced with a giddy taste of hope.

We’re busy in the emergency room, but now it’s with our usual car crashes, strokes, overdoses and heart attacks instead of case after case of COVID-19. And we’re vaccinated, every one of us.

Losing the fear of death, it turns out, makes work a lot better.

But this fight is far from over.

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Hundreds of people are still dying from the virus every day in the United States. And in some states, cases are surging again. Worldwide, the outlook is grim.

If you think we can finally relax, you’re not paying attention.

Yet, just at the moment when it’s crucial that we pull together, doomsayers are stirring up doubts about our best weapon against COVID-19: vaccination.

In my Los Angeles hospital, month after month, I saw the devastation wrought by the virus; I saw people near death who rationalized the risk of taking off masks to celebrate a birthday with friends or attend church or eat in restaurants; I met the neighbors and coworkers who paid for other people’s rationalizations with their lives.

They died surrounded by our caring strangers while their children grieved by cellphone.

We need to defeat this virus for good.

We are quite literally at war with a microbe, and it is the patriotic duty of every American, no matter your politics or fears, to get vaccinated. This virus is racing to outwit existing vaccines, and every day counts if we want to wipe it out before a dangerous variant emerges.

In just a few more days, all Californians 16 and older can be vaccinated, so there will be no excuse for delaying.

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We need to crush this thing as fast as possible, and only vaccination can do that. The math is simple and terrifying: Unless we can vaccinate more than 60% of the population, we will be stuck in this crap for years.

Don’t you want jobs, shopping, restaurants and vacations back? How about just the feeling of walking around safely unmasked? Do you want to protect yourself for your children? Do you want to stay out of the hospital?

Wouldn’t you like a kiss again?

Say yes.

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In this war, you have a risk-free way to be in the fight. It’s also free, and a lot less inconvenient than getting COVID.

Book appointments to get you and your family vaccinated. Then, if you know anyone who’s eligible but doesn’t have computer skills or time to book an appointment, volunteer to help. Think you don’t have the time? Nothing is more important right now — for the country, your business, your family and friends.

Meanwhile, continue to mask everywhere and social distance. Be a soldier for the common good.

The new president and vice president publicly extended their arms for the vaccine. President Trump got vaccinated, privately, in the White House, but now he’s come out: He told Fox News recently, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it. … It’s a great vaccine, and it’s a safe vaccine.” That’s true for America, red or blue.

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We love our families, whatever color hats they wear, and the virus doesn’t distinguish between political parties. If you’re a patriot, Democrat or Republican, you owe it to your country to extend your arm now.

I keep thinking about the hometown sacrifices of World War II. Back then, facing a mortal threat, Americans came together. We did it for those fighting overseas, and we did it for the duration — without regard to party or state. We did our duty, conspiracy theories and unfounded rumors be damned.

Small towns and cities on the Pacific Coast willingly blacked themselves out at night. Federal rationing rules became a way of life. Families grew vegetables in victory gardens planted on hardscrabble vacant lots, and kids collected bacon grease for five long years.

Americans sent sons and daughters across the globe, the fear of loss heavy in their hearts. Families who lost children displayed their pain with flags bearing gold stars hung in front windows. Death arrived sewn on red cloth — a visible symbol of sacrifice.

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And you’re worried about a vaccine?

With COVID, the virus is still attacking the unvaccinated and vulnerable, every day. Without gold stars, it’s easy to ignore other people’s losses.

We must tell our stories to those who don’t believe there’s a war on, to try to change some minds in honor of those we’ve lost. We can’t bring back those who died from COVID, but we can make their deaths meaningful by learning from them. It’s now in our power to prevent more deaths — if we heed their warning.

So roll up your sleeve and extend your arm. Let the deaths of so many guide you to becoming a patriot.

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And when you get that jab, wear your vaccine status proudly. You don’t need a gold star in the window to identify a hero: a Band-Aid on a shoulder will do.

Mark Morocco is a Los Angeles physician and professor of emergency medicine.


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