It is so disheartening that too many people in Tennessee — and in fact in most "red" states — still seem to be allowing themselves to be wagged by political dogma as they shrug off COVID vaccines and other simple protections.
What's even more disheartening is a new study commissioned by the Tennessee Department of Health that concluded that those attitudes are unlikely to change, at least anytime soon. The survey was made to help state health officials find messaging that persuades vaccine-hesitant Volunteer State residents to "volunteer" to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
Bottom line? "Those that are unwilling will largely remain so," according to the study authors' summary. Only a quarter of those surveyed believe that herd immunity could be reached if enough people get vaccinated.
In other words, they just don't believe the science. They don't believe the scientists and medical experts whose jobs are to calculate how many vaccines will get us out of this. And if they don't believe them or their work, then their attitude seems to be why bother.
The Tennessee study found that the most common objection to the vaccine was the perception that development was rushed and they might be comfortable getting a shot in "5-10 years maybe." According to the survey, many respondents said, "But I still wouldn't get it because COVID most likely wouldn't harm me any more than the flu anyway."
This is not just bad for them and their families. It's bad for everyone.
COVID-19 has killed more than 12,000 Tennesseans in almost 13 months. That means this novel coronavirus has killed in one year about as many of us as the flu prior to 2020 killed over seven years — an average of 1,632 each year.
That's science. That's fact. Please believe it. COVID is killing seven times the number of us that flu kills.
Get your shot
To make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, visit covid-19.tn.gov or vaccinefinder.org to find a local vaccine provider. In Tennessee, call 866-442-5301. In Georgia, call 888-357-0169. In Alabama, call 855-566-5333.
Here's more science: Experts estimate that around 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to return to "normalcy" through "herd immunity." But Tennessee, with a mere 17.11% of us vaccinated, remains among the bottom five of all states in tallies of residents fully inoculated, according to the Johns Hopkins vaccine tracker.
It all seems to come down to a matter of trust, according to the findings of the Tennessee survey.
And we cannot help but believe the messaging our vaccine-hesitant fellow Southerners heard initially from an untrustworthy leader is the messaging they still choose to believe. Former President Donald Trump falsely told us all over and over "it will just go away" and "it's just like the flu." Even after he was hospitalized with the illness, he made light of it and downplayed its deadly and dangerous impact. He even kept secret for weeks the fact that he later was vaccinated against the virus shortly before he left office.
In the country overall, coronavirus shots are now in the arms of nearly half of American adults. But the parts of the U.S. that are excelling with shots and those that are struggling are increasingly looking like the nation's political map: deeply divided between red and blue states, according to The Associated Press.
Out in front is New Hampshire, where 65% of the population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following close behind are New Mexico, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts at 55% or greater. All have a history of voting Democratic and supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, at the bottom are five states where fewer than 40% have rolled up their sleeves for a shot. Four of them — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and, you guessed it, Tennessee — lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall. The fifth is Georgia, which has a Republican governor and supported GOP presidential candidates for nearly three decades before narrowly backing Biden.
For the South, it's not a matter of shot shortages. Tennessee health officials have been begging people to show up for shots, and appointment slots still go unfilled.
Nor in the nation overall does it appear to be a fluke of geography. An AP-NORC poll in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12% of Democrats.
As for Tennesseans, our state-specific survey found that 49% to 58% of respondents would be most willing to take the vaccine for their family, and 40% to 64% were more convinced to get the vaccine based on the statement that the vaccines are up to 95% effective.
So, what are we all waiting for? We don't need science to know we want to protect our families. We don't need science to know that death doesn't lie, and COVID-19 in Tennessee kills seven times the number of people flu does. COVID-19 vaccines are proving safe daily, and they are up to 95% effective.