Editorial: Shaming wrong approach to boost vaccines

Now that more than half of Americans have received at least one COVID vaccine, this is a milestone we should all celebrate. The Biden administration is marking the moment with a partial rollback of masks. It’s the easing of these restrictions that may encourage more people to seek the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday lifted its outdoor mask recommendations, which are relied on by many governors in their own policies. The guidance offers the most leeway to individuals who are vaccinated, but eases restrictions for everyone.

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“If you are fully vaccinated, things are much safer for you than those who are not yet fully vaccinated,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said about the changes.

As the country and states like Michigan have made it through initial rocky rollouts of the vaccine, the COVID shots are now available to anyone over 16, and it is much easier to book appointments than earlier in the year.

Yet supply is no longer the issue in most places. Rather, the new challenge is waning demand. Vaccine hesitancy remains stubbornly around 25% of the population, and this is true across demographics.

This is a problem as the nation seeks to reach herd immunity, yet state and national officials should be very careful in how they try to reach this part of the population.

Insulting them is not the right approach, as some reports, including a recent one from Kaiser Health News, have done in singling out rural, conservative strongholds such as Hillsdale County, Michigan. Trying to make “COVID denialism” and vaccine resistance a Republican problem could make these individuals dig in their heels more, especially if criticism is coming from Democrats.

It’s also a misleading narrative. Vaccine hesitancy in Hillsdale County is slightly less than that in Wayne County, and is on par with many others in southern Michigan. COVID rates in Hillsdale are similar, too. In Detroit, less than 30% of residents have received at least one shot — and it’s not because of lack of vaccine availability.

People need to see that in getting the vaccine, they will reap new freedom and “normalcy” in their daily lives.

Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Portfolio, recently posed an excellent question: “If you can’t take off your mask and life can’t go back to normal, what is the incentive to take a vaccine that has an ‘emergency use authorization’ from the FDA?”

Right now in Michigan, there isn’t much incentive on that front.

Mask mandates and gathering limits remain in place, regardless of vaccination status, and state workplace safety bureaucrats are crafting permanent rules that could well live on even after the Health Department’s epidemic orders go away.

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This is the wrong message to send to citizens.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can encourage people to get the vaccine, but she also needs to let them know how their lives will tangibly improve if they do.