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How vaccines protect the vulnerable

As we observe the anniversary of the United States’ dramatic shutdown due to COVID-19, there are many things we could not have predicted at this time last year. 500,000+ deaths, long-term shutdowns, virtual schooling, and a prolonged lack of contact with loved ones were certainly not things I expected. But on March 11, 2020, when I checked my phone after a women’s Bible study to discover the NBA had suspended its season and Tom Hanks had tested positive, I got my first glimpse. The dominoes continued to fall with aggressive speed in the following days. 

While most of us couldn’t have predicted those aforementioned circumstances, we couldn’t have predicted the speed and efficacy of vaccine development either. Yet by the grace of God and the efforts of many, the vaccine for this terrible virus is effective and increasingly available to many who need it most. 

Our varied experiences with COVID-19

In the early days of our nationwide quarantine, I heard someone say we were all encountering the same virus but we were experiencing it differently. I have thought of this often in the past year. For my family, quarantine meant making space for each other as my husband transitioned to working from home, and we began homeschooling our children. Our proximity to high-risk family members meant more caution and care on our part so that we could see them. But compared to many, our life change has been minimal. We have experienced the past year quite differently than have many others. For a lot  of people, a return to a “normal” life is impossible without vaccination. 

My friend’s aunt, a resident in a nursing home in Georgia, has not left her room for eight months, except twice a week for bathing. With nursing homes closed to visitors and often short-staffed, there is little accountability for care. Patients are regressing socially, physically, and emotionally. 

A family member living in a lower-income community in Midwestern Indiana paints a picture of the past year that is vastly different from our experience. The lifestyle of her community does not often allow for virtual work, social distancing, or proper hygiene. Outbreaks are high, and the community suffers more than most from closed schools and lack of employment. 

Light at the end of the tunnel

These are just two examples of millions who will not live anything close to a normal life without the vaccine. Older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and caregivers for both the latter and former will be greatly served by vaccination availability. Some racial and ethnic minority groups are at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Vaccination is a light at the end of the tunnel for those living in isolation and fear for the past year. 

In my more myopic moments, I easily forget that my experience of the past year is not universal. Because I do not see how others live, I can’t fully appreciate the sorrow and fear they have felt. But I have seen the relief on friends’ faces as they take their aging parents to be vaccinated. As my parents receive their first doses, I am thanking the Lord for sparing their lives and giving them a chance to hopefully return soon to a semblance of normalcy. 

For the good of others

I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and encountering many passages in which God calls His people to care for the vulnerable in their midst—orphans, widows, sojourners, immigrants, and others. Many of these calls to compassionate care are still relevant to us, but the vulnerable in our midst also include those who are more susceptible to sickness and death. The principles of care that required the Israelites to sacrifice for the vulnerable in their community find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. He sacrificed His life for the sake of those vulnerable to death because of sin. 

We must emulate this example as we look for ways to help those in our communities access the vaccination and consider what neighborly love requires of us in the coming days. We may be called to sacrifice further, in all  kinds of ways,  but we follow a Savior who willingly laid down His life for us. Greater love has no one than this, and this is the love that compels us to serve our neighbors. All of us may not have experienced the past year in the same way. But by God’s grace, we can experience the same joy as we set aside our preferences and desires and act for the good of those around us.

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