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In Arlington, fear helps keep more one-quarter unvaccinated

Uncertainty and fear are powerful forces. While Arlington’s vaccination rate is strong, at 72 percent, that means more than one-quarter of those who are eligible are still not only leaving themselves unprotected but potentially harming others.

Armstrong aids Arlington testingArmstrong aids 2020 Arlington testing.

Christine Bongiorno, the town’s longtime director of town health and human services, says there is no one answer as to why someone is refusing the vaccine. "Each person,” she said, “comes up with their own family story."

That story can include people who are immunosuppressed, filled with inertia, whose political views combine with anti-scientific thinking, hold objections that vaccines do not have final approval and, yes, those who are gripped with fear.

Her office is doing its best to allay those concerns. Seniors fear the shot will make them sick. Bongiorno’s job is to let people know that getting sick with covid is far worse than the reaction to the vaccine.

Misinformation, largely gathered via social media, makes a second group of town residents hesitant.

Bongiorno cites a specific falsehood: that the vaccine affects fertility -- a fear, she said, expressed by both men and women.

When her office hears from expectant mothers, "we let them know that getting the vaccines makes the baby safer," she said.

Bongiorno has also heard from those who avoid shots because vaccines are provided under emergency-use authorization. In the light of the vaccines' overall effectiveness, she views this as an excuse. Unfortunately, she can foresee that even after the vaccines have full approval, some will simply find another reason to resist.

Like the rest of New England, Arlington had a few months of near euphoria, when people felt the pandemic was under control. Masks were off; neighbors who hadn’t seen each other in months greeted each other joyously with hugs.

Unfortunately, the Delta variant has changed all that, and now uncertainty is back, as we have learned that even vaccinated people can spread Covid. Is it OK to eat inside a restaurant or go to an outdoor concert? What about the trip we were planning? We are assured that if you are vaccinated and get Covid, you will have a mild case. But who wants to get sick at all.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine is requiring masks worn in all municipal buildings. On Aug. 18, the Board of Health discusses whether other measures should be taken.

As Bongiorno says, “We can’t afford to wait.”

July 16, 2021: Understanding COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

July 15, 20121: Addressing vaccine hesitancy in Massachusetts’ hardest-hit community

April 27, 2021: Four reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among health care workers, and ways to counter them 

This viewpoint, published Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, was shared for publication with The Boston Globe. YourArlington plans to publish its own version.

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