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My sons and I plan to catch a Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer game Sunday night as a Father's Day outing. We'll be at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge shoulder-to-shoulder with other fans.

A year ago, with the pandemic simmering around us, this would have seemed reckless. Now, on the longest day of the year, it feels like we are finally basking in the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Earlier this month, I drove our two sons, ages 19 and 14, to the Tennessee Riverpark to get their second COVID-19 vaccinations. The day we arrived, there was no car line. Back in March, I had waited about an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic for my first shot.

As we sat in the car for our 20-minute post-inoculation timeout, I could feel my shoulders relaxing for the first time in about 15 months. (Full disclosure: Our youngest had a sleepless night filled with fever and chills after his second shot, but 48 hours later he was as good as new.)

As of this writing, only 42% of Tennessee adults (18+) are fully vaccinated, which means a majority — about 58% — are not. Polls this spring have consistently shown that about a quarter of Americans say they won't get vaccinated — "ever don't ask!" — which leaves an important middle group on the fence or just waiting for a convenient opportunity.

It's my opinion that if there are non-vaccinated folks that you care about, the best thing you can do is to nudge, don't push. Listen to their concerns with a sympathetic ear, and supply information if they ask. As for the hardcore holdouts? Respect their decision and back away.

I think there are several reasons persuadable people are unvaccinated. Here are my ideas, and some suggested nudges.

* Some people feel invulnerable. Maybe nobody near or dear to them has gotten sick, and with new cases trending down, they think "What's the point?"

What to tell them: Two things. Be thankful nobody you know has gotten ill with COVID. Plenty of us have had dear friends get sick and die. And, yes, the worst might be over, but for the last couple of months there have been one to four deaths per week, still, in Hamilton County.

Meanwhile, getting vaccinated has never been easier. Getting jabbed is quick and easy at health department vaccination sites (no appointment needed), and some local pharmacies have begun giving walk-in shots, too.

* Some people fear needles (and/or side effects from the shots). About 20% of Americans have some fear of needles and about 10% are full-on phobic, experts say.

Phobias are by definition irrational. I'm not sure I'd have gotten vaccinated if it involved getting the shot near the edge of a cliff. My fear of heights is real.

What to tell them: The tiny needle used to deliver the vaccine is almost painless. Most people just get a sore arm, and a few people feel sick and achy for a day or two. Compared to the torturous symptoms of a severe case of COVID (imagine feeling like you are suffocating for days or weeks on end), the shots and their side effects are small potatoes.

* Some people distrust authority, especially government authority.

To some people, the whole vaccine effort has been framed as an exercise in government coercion. Some people don't fully trust the CDC and think the vaccines have not been vetted for long-term consequences.

What to tell them: Life is a risk. The vaccines, without question, mitigate the risk of getting a virus that has killed about 600,000 Americans. But ultimately it's a personal choice.

Caveat: The government used to tell us that UFOs are a hoax, too. Now, not so much.

* Some folks are just contrary, as my people in Middle Tennessee used to say. Maybe it's cultural.

Consider this: Four states among those with the lowest adult vaccination rates are clustered in the South. Near the bottom in percent of adults fully vaccinated (as of last week) are Louisiana (43%), Tennessee (42%), Alabama (39%) and Mississippi (36%).

If you overlay a map of the geographic distribution of people of Scots-Irish descent, it shows high concentrations of us in these states. As a member of this group, I can tell you we tend to be headstrong and independent, instincts honed over centuries.

If you want to argue with us, pack a lunch.

Otherwise, just leave us alone and we might eventually change our minds but only if we are good and ready.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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