Don Rogers: A shot in the arm


COVID-19 is the third-leading cause of death in America.

Not the first. Not the second. Not the flu.

We can count by death certificates bearing the words, COVID-19, nearly 350,000 of them at the end of 2020. We can count by the number of “excess deaths,” the 420,000 or so more in 2020 than 2019. Or the 525,000 COVID deaths recorded in the 12 months since the lockdowns began in earnest last March.

Heart disease kills around 650,000 each year, and cancer a little over 600,000. These grim reapers will remain with us at about this rate long after the pandemic fades. If only Moderna or Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson had a little something for those.

And don’t forget exceptional America is COVID central, where a quarter of all the cases in the world have been recorded. Where one in five of all the deaths attributed to the disease have been counted.

It’s sobering. But it’s not quite heart disease. It’s not cancer.

We didn’t shut down all the Wendy’s on account of atherosclerosis. Neither heart disease nor cancer has scared us out of junk food, smoking, drinking, enjoying well marbled red meat barbecued with the edges nicely charred, nor induced very many of us to exercise, eat more fresh fruit and greens, lose some weight.

So aren’t these deadlier diseases and our sad routines in the face of them the bigger tragedy? Why don’t we fear them even more than this one?

Yes, my questions are rhetorical. I know why. So do you. This goes to how we are wired as humans, what catches our attention and what doesn’t.

But they’re also a gift of hindsight. We had no idea as we hustled into lockdown about this time a year ago, only our imagination.


The cavalry is coming! The cavalry is here! The pace of vaccinations is up and building momentum. You can see it in the tracking charts. Higher, higher, an arc great to see for a change.

By now, nearly a quarter of Americans have had their first shot, and nearly 15% their second, their new lease on normal life. That was quick, actually.

Some of these are essential workers, especially medical personnel, along with cops and teachers. Also seniors in assisted living, prison inmates, meat-plant workers and other vulnerable groups. Grocery store workers stepped up to the head of the line last week in our county.

The state is trying to be equitable, but many workers at risk still wait while older, wealthier residents who have been able to ride this out at home — thanks to all the essential support — get their shots first.

And alert, digitally savvy neighbors fortunate with the right connections have capitalized when local surpluses have popped up, before the shipment could spoil.

Unfair? No, not really. The higher value right now is getting those shots in arms. The more the better, and the sooner done, also the better. Essential, older, captive in one way or another, less healthy, and eventually all of us.

Then it gets interesting.


In Israel now, proof of vaccine gets you in the door of a restaurant, the gym, a show. The unvaccinated have become second-class citizens, a sort of pariah. Their government has no qualms about nudging.

At my work, we’ve begun the discussion about whether to require vaccinations for employees as we come back to the office. This is a real question in Colorado, where news media folks are considered essential enough for their shots. We’re still back in the line in California, waiting.

So far, some of our sister offices are all vaccinated and some are, well, how to put this? A few of their people have vaccine hesitancy. Of course, the bigger hesitancy might be returning to the office at all for colleagues who grew fond of working remotely. This management question looms, as well.

The conversation lines up broadly as personal freedom and the right to privacy vs. the best interests of the group. Here’s the ol’ debate over motorcycle helmets, seat belts and smoking inside buildings.

The clarion calls for personal liberty are loud right now. But just as frankly melodramatic comparisons to wars muddy perspective about the pandemic’s toll, this discussion has a clear precedent concerning vaccines: All the public schools in America require immunizations.

Besides the usual undertow of anti-vaxxers, who tend to frighten themselves more than most, hyper partisanship continues to infect health behaviors.

Polls have 30% to 50% of Republicans saying they won’t get their shots. Apparently, this is a Democratic thing now — even though President Donald Trump pushed hard to develop the vaccines and got vaccinated himself. This week he also exhorted supporters to do the same.

You’d think everyone would take a clear-eyed look at the probabilities of dying from COVID-19 vs. dying of bad reaction to a vaccine. It’s not close.

But such is the power of imagination.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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