This week, Americans are commemorating the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic as it surpasses the once unimaginable 1 million mark.
Some of the pandemic skeptics will quibble with the count, claiming that it’s inflated by government and academic trackers who have included in the total both those who died from the virus and those who died with the virus.
Others will claim instead that the deaths are undercounted because they don’t consider those who died from other causes — such as suicide, heart attack and substance abuse — that were directly related to their anxieties about the virus or the depressing isolation imposed on them by government efforts to slow the spread of the highly contagious disease.
Regardless of whether the count is a bit on the high side or the low, a heap of people have died in this country, officially more than anywhere else on the planet. There is little consolation in knowing that this dubious distinction is probably unearned, since at least three nations — India, Russia and Brazil — have been fudging their numbers. Whether the United States is No. 1 in deaths globally or No. 4, it is tragic that more Americans have died than should have been the case.
This nation led the world in developing in record time effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. The speed of their development — something few experts thought possible at the onset of the pandemic — was a mixed blessing, however, saving lives while at the same time feeding the paranoia that caused many Americans to take their chances and go unvaccinated.
Hundreds of thousands of victims — and their families — would come to regret that decision. In the past 11 months, even though government-funded vaccines have been widely available in this country, more than 400,000 Americans have died. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 of them were unvaccinated.
Think about that: 300,000 deaths — roughly equivalent to the entire population of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or St. Louis — were probably preventable but fell victim to political polarization, racial distrust, inconsistent messaging from the government and a general vaccine hesitancy.
Mississippi — a state with a large conservative population and a large Black one — fell victim to all of those forces working against vaccination. It’s why this state, for all of Gov. Tate Reeves’ hollow bragging about how Mississippi responded so well to the pandemic, has wound up with the nation’s highest death rate per capita from COVID-19 — four times higher than the states with the lowest death rates.
Even though the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, the nation should be cautious about breathing any huge sighs of relief, according to the medical experts. They are predicting another surge in the fall and winter, when people spend more time indoors and when the immunities acquired from past vaccinations or previous COVID infections will be waning.
Based on the current science, the best way to avoid getting deathly sick from COVID-19 will be the same as the best preventative from the flu: to get vaccinated annually. The vaccine makers are currently working on updating the COVID shots in anticipation of warding off the variants expected to be the most prevalent in coming months. The best science will only work, however, if people are willing to roll up their sleeves and get inoculated.
With 300,000 preventable deaths and counting, let’s hope Americans have learned their lesson. There have been way too many sad stories of people on their deathbed regretting that they listened to the conspiracy theorists rather than to the scientists.
By then, the conversion is too late.