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Sometimes these Pocono Mountains deserve praise and sometimes not, such as in the Summer 2021 when we zoomed to the top 10 of Pennsylvania counties with rising rates of COVID-19. Monroe County had an alarming 69.2% jump in cases the week of July 11-18, and then a 100% increase the next week.

Pandemic in the Poconos: Monroe County's COVID cases up 18.2%; Pennsylvania cases surge 70%

The blame for our mountains moving in the wrong direction falls almost exclusively upon the unvaccinated.

I understand the anger of those who have followed science and official guidelines only to find their families and children at risk because the recalcitrant refuse vaccination. After making sacrifices by staying cooped-up, wearing masks, conducting school from home, etc., it is vexing to still languish in danger.

With over 600,000 dead Americans, trillions of dollars spent, businesses closed and schools shuttered, the stubbornly unvaccinated threaten to selfishly make us waste these sacrifices.

They may have the right to risk death and life-crippling effects for themselves, but not to endanger others. Ominously, infections made rampant by such recklessness may spawn mutations that undercut vaccine efficacy.

I have given up trying to debate someone who is "loco en el coco", as we say in Spanish for people who lack rhyme or reason. But I admit there are rational neighbors who profess valid reasons for refusing vaccination. Unfortunately, the reasons are often built on half-truths instead of the full story.

Common objections

Here are the answers to the most common objections:

“Government shouldn’t be telling me what to do.”

The purpose of government is “telling people what to do” so as to “provide for the general welfare.” Getting yourself vaccinated does not violate the US Constitution, but rather proves your patriotism.

“These vaccines have been developed too quickly to have been tested adequately.”

On January 10, 2020, the Chinese government supplied to the World Health Organization the genome of the virus, thus enabling countries to immediately develop vaccines.

President Donald Trump assured payment for successful research through Operation Warp Speed. Yes, the time taken to develop COVID-19 vaccines is far less than in the past, but new technology is always improving on past performance. For instance, today’s smart phone is far faster than versions produced 10 years ago. Because making something faster does not automatically mean inadequacy, the rapid development of vaccines should be celebrated, not disparaged.

“I don’t want a vaccine that will change my DNA.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not change DNA. They add a synthetic messenger called “RNA” to the immune system, enabling quicker response to infection. Think of an alarm system: when intruders cross into your property, warning bells are triggered.

“I want to control my own body.”

This is the same argument as for abortion. But, like abortion, more than one life is affected by this choice.

“The vaccines don’t work.”

Much like seat belts in a crash, vaccines mitigate but cannot eliminate injury. However, their 90+% protection rate is a historic high.

“Dr. Fauci lied about vaccines, and I don’t trust him.”

Some vilify Fauci and others vilify Trump: neither personal attack answers the question.

Strategies to conquer the virus ought to change when the virus mutates. Don’t confuse failure to explain a changing situation to the public with a malicious “lie”.

“These vaccines come from the aborted fetus of murdered babies.”

Some current vaccines were developed from fetal tissue that came from elective abortions – procedures considered sinful by religious believers such as Roman Catholics. That much is true.

However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not use these cells. Thus, support for abortion is not involved with these vaccines as stated by Pope Francis, who also declared vaccination a moral obligation for Catholics. Most religious leaders concur.

Fact check: COVID-19 vaccine 'morally acceptable,' Vatican says, but some claims missing context

Honest dialog rather than recriminations, I believe, will move reluctant Poconovians towards vaccination. To achieve the desired herd immunity that brings victory over COVID-19, we would do well to remember the counsel of Edward Everett Hale: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo holds a doctorate in Catholic Theology from Fordham University and authored a column on religion for the Washington Post from 2008-2012. He is also Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York. He serves on several community boards in the Poconos, including FLECHA, the Federation of Latinos/as for Education about the Cultures of Hispanic America.



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