Commentary: Ending the COVID Pandemic is Easy: Get Vaccinated, Get Boosted

February 16, 2022 6:00 am
A vaccination clinic at Casa Azafran in Nashville, March 28, 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A vaccination clinic at Casa Azafran in Nashville, March 28, 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

One of my favorite board games for many years now is Pandemic. In this game, players try to discover cures to four diseases while keeping those diseases from getting out of control. It requires a little luck and a lot of cooperation, as everyone wins or loses together.

As we approach two years of living with an actual global pandemic, I realize that the game is not only eerily adept at showing the challenges of a real global pandemic, but also carries an important life lesson for how we successfully come out the other side. Ending the COVID pandemic will only be possible if everyone cooperates. Had we done this in the early days – remember “flattening the curve”? – COVID might have only lasted a few months. But too many of us saw calls to isolate as an unreasonable imposition in our lives. As a result, the disease itself has imposed on our lives for two years and counting.

Additionally, the loss of life has been staggering. Globally, over 5.7 million people have died. In the U.S., over 900,000 have died. That’s more Americans dead from COVID than both World Wars plus the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghan, and Iraq Wars combined (623,762) and exceeds estimates for the Civil War (between 650,000 and 850,000), the deadliest in US history. That’s more than the entire population of several states. It’s as if more than one entire Congressional district died. It’s greater than the individual population of all but one—Shelby— of Tennessee’s 95 counties and it’s more than Knox and Hamilton Counties combined. 

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks killed 2,996 people; in the U.S., the Omicron surge has killed at least this many every other day in December and January alone. If a loss of this scale was to have happened all at once, we would be clamoring for an immediate solution, but because it has been spread out over two years, it’s easy to lose perspective on the enormous loss of life this disease has wrought. 

It did not have to be this way.

We have another opportunity to end this, but as before it only works if we all cooperate. The key to turning COVID into something akin to the flu is for all of us to get (and stay) vaccinated. We have ample evidence now that these vaccines are safe and effective, and versions designed for even our youngest will soon be available. If all of us would get vaccinated, we could end this pandemic.

Last fall, the Tennessee legislature mandated the illegality of COVID vaccine mandates. That makes the choice to vaccinate all the more significant. No one can force us to do it, we should do it out of Tennessee’s volunteer spirit.

I get that early on people had reservations. It was all so new, it seemed to happen so fast, and many people were understandably cautious. We worried about safety. We worried about efficacy. We worried about the unknown.

Now the vaccines have been with us for over a year and many of those unknowns are known; we know vaccines are safe, we know they are effective at preventing severe illness and death, we know that immunity wanes over time and we’ll need to get booster shots. We also know that the only real way out of this mess is via “herd immunity” – and everyone getting vaccinated is the surest way to get there.

Perhaps you have a medical reason to avoid the vaccine, such as being allergic to one of its ingredients. I have a friend who faces this challenge with the annual flu shot. She knows it is important, but she is allergic to eggs and most flu shots are made with egg. She relies on everyone around her getting the flu shot each year to be protected. Similarly, when the rest of us get a COVID shot we help protect ourselves and others.

What of religious or moral convictions to avoid a shot? Our nation respects religious freedom and we should continue to do so. But it should not be as simple as invoking the First Amendment, especially given that leaders of most major religious groups, Christian and non-Christian, have directly endorsed vaccines for their faith’s adherents. Claiming a religious or moral exemption to the vaccine should be supported by evidence of this belief’s application across a person’s life. 

Have you avoided other vaccines for this reason? Or if you object because the vaccine was developed using fetal cells, do you avoid other medical technologies developed using similar techniques? This would include things like albuterol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tums, Benadryl, Tylenol, Sudafed, Preparation H, and Claritin, to name a few. Answering yes to questions like this indicates a consistent belief, and one that our culture should respect; answering no indicates something between hypocrisy and cherry-picking one’s beliefs.

Last fall, the Tennessee legislature called itself into extraordinary session for only the third time in the state’s history in order to mandate the illegality of COVID vaccine mandates. That makes the choice to vaccinate all the more significant. No one can force us to do it, we do it because it’s the right thing to do. Let’s all live up to that Volunteer State ideal by voluntarily doing the right thing, both for ourselves and for each other.

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Shawn Trivette, Ph.D.
Shawn Trivette, Ph.D.

Dr. Shawn Trivette has been a Tennessean most of his life, growing up outside of Knoxville, attending college in Cookeville, and now residing in the Chattanooga area. He earned his PhD in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst in 2012 and has previously held faculty appointments in Louisiana and at UTC. He currently works remotely as a data scientist for a non-profit based in Washington, DC. In his spare time, he has been analyzing Tennessee voting patterns from 2008-2020; more on this project can be found at