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Opinion | Tammy Duckworth: As eligibility opens up, get vaccinated
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Opinion | Tammy Duckworth: As eligibility opens up, get vaccinated

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This week, our state reached an important milestone in our efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic: as of Monday, every Illinoisan 16 and up is eligible to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

It’s an incredible feat, and it is even more incredible when you think back to where we were one year ago.

One year ago, we were in the depth of our first stay-at-home order, disinfecting our groceries before bringing them into the house and wondering when—or even whether—we’d be able to hug our loved ones across the country again.

After more than a year of unspeakable tragedy—families forced to say goodbye from afar, nights filled by too many tears and too much fear—there is hope on the horizon.

We still have a long way to go to beat this pandemic and return to anything resembling what “normal” used to mean, but we finally have our strongest defense and greatest hope of moving forward, and that is something to celebrate.

Right now, more than 20 percent of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated. These 3 million Illinoisans—some of our most vulnerable and most at-risk—have made the choice for themselves and their communities to get protected against this deadly disease. Every day, thousands and thousands of Illinoisans are one step, one day, one shot closer to doing their part in helping end the pandemic. The vaccines don’t simply protect an individual, they can help protect our community, our state and our entire nation.

While I’m so proud of the work Illinois—and Illinoisans—have already done to get to the other side of the pandemic, the unfortunate reality is that we need everyone who is able to receive their vaccine to make an appointment as soon as possible. If our state makes vaccines available to everyone, but Illinoisans don’t actually take them, we will continue to struggle to get COVID-19 under control.

I understand the hesitancy and the concerns many Illinoisans have, due to our nation’s long history of medical racism, the harmful politicization of common-sense public health practices and—this week—after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), out of an abundance of caution, recommended a pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines. While the events leading to this recommendation are extremely rare, we know that, overall, the authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

A recent study of the Pfizer vaccine found it was 100 percent effective in preventing severe COVID-19 outcomes and death. To date, the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system has not detected any patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA. And every day, millions more Americans join the ranks of the vaccinated—trusting the science and pushing our nation one step closer to post-pandemic recovery.

We’ve spent the last year watching with our own eyes the devastating costs—more than half a million American lives lost, as well as millions of jobs—when we aren’t vaccinated. Severe outcomes were even worse in communities of color across the state throughout the pandemic. Last April, Black Chicagoans were dying at nearly six times the rate of the city’s white residents, and the racial disparities continued.

The vaccines now available offer us a much better alternative and a path back to the lives we once lived. We can help bring this awful chapter to a close if we all get vaccinated.

When we were met with the new normal and uncertain future with the pandemic last year, I called on Illinoisans to act with empathy and selflessness to follow stay-at-home orders and social distance.

I referenced one of the founding doctrines of our nation, “We the People,” understanding the belief that there’s nothing more powerful than the will of the citizenry when we all work together. That is the only way we will defeat COVID-19.

Once again, not just as a United States Senator, but as a mother, an Illinoisan and a neighbor, I’m calling on you to do what’s best not just for you, but for your family, your friends, your neighbors and your country. If you are eligible, please get vaccinated.

Perhaps after a year of staying COVID-free, you think you might not need a vaccine, or that if you get it, it “won’t be that bad.” Even if you are lucky enough for that to be true, I’m asking you to think of everyone else in your life—and even those you unknowingly bump into at the grocery store.

This is not just about us, it’s about being a community and taking care of each other. It’s up to us to do what’s right for everyone around us. It’s up to us to get vaccinated.

Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, is a United States Senator representing Illinois.

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