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April 29, 2022

Best way to get back to normal? Be fully vaccinated as you engage with the people around you.

This opinion piece by Health Fund President David Jordan originally appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal on April 28, 2022.

Right now, it feels like the COVID pandemic is over.

We’re excited that things are getting back to normal. COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths are way down. It’s safe enough in most communities to go maskless inside public places. We’re able to watch our kids’ ball games, visit loved ones and see friends more often.

But we’ve already gone back to normal a few times during this pandemic only to be hit by another wave of infections.

The even more contagious BA.2 version of the Omicron variant is fueling another wave of cases in Europe and Asia. Cases are already rising in the United States and parts of Kansas. This is raising concerns that another wave may follow here.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on rural communities. Compared with urban areas, rural areas have endured higher COVID infection and death rates. This is in part because people in rural areas are typically older, more likely to have underlying health conditions and often live far from health care facilities.

Our rural Kansas communities are also less protected because we’re less likely to be vaccinated. Currently, 61% of eligible Kansans are fully vaccinated, compared with the national rate of 66%. Overall, the vaccination rate in rural areas has lagged more urban areas.

Another wave of infections will also put more stress on our already stressed rural health care system. Many rural hospitals face staffing challenges; an influx of patients with COVID makes it harder to provide the care our rural communities need.

Now’s the time to prepare for another possible wave.

Those of us who live in rural communities pride ourselves on taking care of our own. We look out for our neighbors and lend a helping hand when they’re in need. We check on neighbors when they’re ill.

The best way we can help keep one another safe is by getting all the recommended doses of a COVID vaccine. We’re fortunate to have safe COVID vaccines that work really well to prevent serious infections, hospitalizations, and death. Getting vaccinated also helps protect children under 5 who can’t get vaccinated yet and our most vulnerable, immunocompromised neighbors.

Just as important, vaccination allows us to continue living our lives normally with reduced risk of serious illness.

Father Bob Schremmer spent 45 years as a minister in southwest Kansas. That time taught him to be grateful for your neighbors and your community. Schremmer thanks others for getting vaccinated so that those individuals, their families and their communities can be safe. Getting vaccinated is an act of charity that helps protect others who can’t get vaccinated and who rely on us for protection.

It’s normal to have questions about vaccines. Seek information from credible sources, such as your family doctor or other health care provider. They can answer your questions about vaccines and boosters. You can find information about vaccines in your area at vaccines.gov.

Dr. Bob Kraft’s patients in Salina have heard a lot about the COVID vaccines, and they’ve asked a lot of good questions before making their choice to get vaccinated.  Kraft says: “I’ll share with you the same thing I do with my patients: The COVID vaccine is safe, tested, and free. It’s the best way for us to get back to normal. Here in Kansas, a vaccine has been reserved for you.”

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© United Methodist Health Ministry Fund