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“Patients with COVID-19, most of them unvaccinated, are packing Wisconsin hospitals at levels not seen for a year, a worrying development even before the new omicron variant has been detected in the state … ” (AP). Ominously, it was reported that California residents at a Milwaukee County wedding had been infected by the omicron variant. Separately, a Wisconsin resident later had an omicron infection.

The CDC reports: “Variants are expected. The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection by taking measures to protect yourself (and your family and friends), including getting a COVID-19 vaccine … .” But too many Wisconsinites have ignored medical guidance — 40 percent of residents are not even partially (1 shot) or fully (2 shots) vaccinated. Moreover, many adults with 2 shots have not yet gotten a recommended third shot. And, children remain acutely under-vaccinated.

COVID-19 has set 2021 one-day records for hospitalizations and cases – over 5,000 last week. The toll has been grim and largely preventable: almost 900,000 cases and over 9,100 deaths in total. Moreover, over 140,000 children have been infected. Many infected adults and children face possible long-term medical problems (heart, lung and neurologic).

Vaccinations are our roadmap to end this nightmare. Unvaccinated Wisconsinites are five times more likely to get COVID-19, eleven times more likely to be hospitalized and fifteen times more likely to die than the vaccinated. Moreover, the third booster shot for adults is recommended as vaccine efficacy wanes, allowing breakthrough infections. That is even more true for those who became immune after an infection.

The delta variant surge and likely spread of the omicron variant demand an ‘all hands on deck’ effort. Everyone needs to step up to persuade others to get vaccinated. Former GOP Governor Scott Walker, who has been vaccinated, should be a messenger to answer questions and promote vaccinations in rural Wisconsin. Other vaccinated Republicans such as state Senator Robert Cowles and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke must join Walker. The model for effective persuasion is UW System President Tommy Thompson.

Most importantly, these and other Republicans could let Wisconsinites know that conservative and mainstream religious leaders support COVID-19 vaccination. Evangelical Rev. Franklin Graham said: “I have been very clear about my support for vaccines. As a Christian, I am pro-life, and I believe vaccines are tools that are being used to save lives.” Earlier, Graham said: “I think if there were vaccines available in the time of Christ, Jesus would have made reference to them and used them.” And, Wisconsin Catholic Bishops said: “We encourage those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to do so because it is the most effective way to combat this virus.”

Wisconsin remains a long way from “herd immunity”. But farmers get their animals vaccinated and children get vaccinated for measles, mumps and polio. So to end the pandemic and enjoy normal activities without fear, we must talk to friends, neighbors and relatives about protecting themselves and others by getting vaccinated.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.


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