I was excited a month ago when I finally got my first COVID vaccine and even more relieved two weeks later when I got the second and final dose.

Like many others who have underlying health issues, I spent the last year trying to avoid the COVID virus. When the vaccines were approved, I waited months for my turn to get the shot.

Although I'd signed up at a lot of locations (something that was a massive failure by the state — there should have been one registration website for all citizens to use), I ended up getting my shots at the state mass vaccination site in Clarkesville. The state site included National Guard members and state health workers in a drive-thru setup that made getting the shots easy and quick.

Now, all eight of the state's mass vaccine sites are slated to close by May 21 due to a lack of demand. The vaccine focus is shifting to pharmacies and doctors as the primary providers.

•••

I don't really understand that.

Given the deadly nature of COVID, why aren't people lining up to get a vaccine? It's now open to everyone over the age of 16 and will likely become open next week to those over age 12.

But the demand for the shots, at least in this area, is low. There's now plenty of supply of the vaccine, but a lot of people just aren't getting the jab.

Some of that appears to be politically driven. There are those among us who continue to believe that COVID really isn't dangerous, or that it is something concocted by Democrats to take away our liberties. Declining to get a shot is their way of pushing back, of declaring their freedom from supposed government tyranny.

Same thing about wearing masks; a lot of people have rebelled against mask-wearing, believing it isn't necessary and is only a tool by which "the government" is attempting to control their lives.

I suppose that some kind of karma may be lurking in all of that. Those who refuse to get vaccinated, or wear a mask, will be more likely to get the virus.

Some of us don't want to get sick; I can't understand why anyone would actually court getting a virus that could kill them.

How much "freedom" will the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers have when they're lying alone in a hospital room with a tube down their throat? 

Better to wear a mask and get a shot than to be a rebel without a cause lying in a casket.

•••

Of course, the spread of the pandemic is slowing in the U.S.

Locally, the number of new cases has fallen to around 45 people per week in Jackson County. That's a lot better than at the peak when Jackson County had an average of 101 people getting the virus every day, over 700 per week.

Because of this shift, the last state pandemic rules for distancing are coming to an end. We're almost back to living like it's 2019.

But the pandemic isn't over even if the numbers have fallen.

In April, 10 people from Jackson County died of COVID, bringing the pandemic total to 140 deaths in our community. Over 500 people from the community have been hospitalized. Some people have the "long COVID" with symptoms that linger for weeks or months.

And the virus continues to mutate and a deadlier version could still hit us. New strains may be at the core of the tragedy happening now in India, where new cases are at astronomical levels.

It remains to be seen if the current slowdown is the beginning of the end of the pandemic, or the end of the beginning with more tragedy to come.

•••

Regardless, it just makes sense to get vaccinated.

Jackson Countians have been slow to respond, but finally this week over one-fourth (27%) have had at least one shot and 21% are fully vaccinated.

That's not nearly enough. It lags behind the state and national rates.

But maybe the vaccinations, in addition to those who have had COVID and survived, will give us some herd immunity protection.

Across the state and nation, around one-third of people have been vaccinated. Another one-third have had the virus.

If two-thirds of us have immunity, we're getting closer to the level of immunity we need to end the pandemic.

•••

Still, I'm worried. We're a nation of individualists. We don't do group hugs well. We're not a cooperative culture.

That's the way the West was won — and how individualism came to define the character of America.

But self-interest individualism doesn't work well in pandemics where looking out for the greater good also looks after our own long-term interest.

Get the shot. Save your own life.  Save the life of those you care about.

Nobody's forcing you to be vaccinated.

Just do the right thing.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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