Column by former Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen: Please get vaccinated


"With much of the U.S. in shutdown mode to limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease, a debate has sprung up about when the country might 'reopen' commerce, to limit economic fallout from the pandemic. But as a new study co-authored by an MIT economist shows, taking care of public health first is precisely what generates a stronger economic rebound later.

"The study, using data from the flu pandemic that swept the U.S. in 1918-1919, finds cities that acted more emphatically to limit social and civic interactions had more economic growth following the period of restrictions."

- "The data speak: Stronger pandemic response yields better economic recovery," by Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office, March 31, 2020

In his poem "The Road Not Taken," Robert Frost wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." Frost was talking about a making a difficult choice. He chose the more difficult road. It was the right thing to do.

Most of us accept "sayings" or maxims, like "nothing good comes easy" or "you get out of something what you put into it" as wise advice. President John F. Kennedy observed that we Americans do not flinch at challenges. We do things "not because they are easy, but because they are hard," he said.

We are in a time when many challenge the legitimacy of expertise. Too many believe a "talking head" on television and reject the knowledge of a doctor who has spent his adult life studying and understanding a problem. Is it a commentary on our values that the television personality probably earns much more than the epidemiologist who has amassed the knowledge that can save lives? I think not, because I have known many public servants who could have earned much more in the private sector but who just want to help people.

I do not know the methodology of the MIT professor who performed the study referenced at the beginning of this column; but his conclusions make more sense to me than musings I hear from some about how to deal with COVID-19. Many keep looking for an easy way out. One of the hardest lessons learned in life is the necessity for "delayed gratification" - doing something hard today to realize success in the future.

There is no easy way out of this pandemic. We socially distanced, wore masks and developed a vaccine. For a while, it looked like we were "over the hump;" but then the virus pivoted, to a new and more infectious variant. The MIT study suggests that localities that made tough decisions about separation and limitation of activity during the flu pandemic of 1918-19 rebounded from the economic and human loss sooner and stronger than those that did not. We should know by now that there are no shortcuts in fighting COVID-19.

There is a way that we can beat the virus. We have vaccines that can end the pandemic if we will just get vaccinated. But too many are not doing this. An article in The Sumter Item (Aug. 10) quotes a local doctor as saying that of the 26 patients presently hospitalized in Prisma Health Tuomey for COVID-19, 23 (89%) are unvaccinated. The national statistics show that those being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 these days are overwhelmingly unvaccinated. As the governor of Mississippi said recently, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

In Sumter, 71% of people over 65 years of age are fully vaccinated, and only 40% of people over 12 are vaccinated. This would seem to indicate that people under 65 are getting vaccinated at a very low rate. More and more young people and children are being infected. (Incidentally, Florence, Kershaw and Richland counties are doing much better with vaccination than Sumter.)

I plead with everyone who is eligible for vaccination: Get the shot; and, until we get to at least 80% fully vaccinated, wear a mask when you go into public places. I plead with employers: Give your employees time off with pay to get vaccinated; and have your employees who are exposed to the public and co-employees wear a mask. I ask local leaders and health care professionals to think of ways to make getting vaccinated easy. If we can get most people vaccinated, we can prevent suffering, save lives and beat COVID-19. If I cannot convince the skeptical to get vaccinated, I plead with them to stay away from public places and wear a mask when they must be around other persons.

Here are two more "sayings": "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is." "Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy." I do not claim to understand the mysteries of COVID-19, but I know enough to believe that vaccination is the closest thing to a silver bullet that we have for dealing with it. You can find lots of information on the South Carolina Department of Health website and others. If you have hesitated to get vaccinated for medical reasons, then ask your doctor for advice.

Let's do this, even though it is hard, because the reward will be great: normalcy.

Joe McElveen is a former longtime public servant. He served 20 years as mayor of Sumter until his retirement in December 2020.