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Opinion How to get more Republicans to embrace the coronavirus vaccines

Nurse Natasha Garcia administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Magaly Esparza in a mobile clinic in Orange, Calif., last month. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Last week, I received my second Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, three weeks after being administered the first. My first visit required me to wait in line for probably 30 minutes, despite having a specific appointment. On the day of my second dose at the same pharmacy just one person was ahead of me, perhaps reflecting news reports that millions of Americans are skipping the follow-up.

On top of those who are forgoing the second shot, more than 100 million American adults haven’t been vaccinated at all, and well over half of them don’t plan to do so, according to a recent Post poll. Many Americans won’t get vaccinated because they don’t trust the vaccine — and they see little incentive to take the risk when they’re told that other restrictions will remain even if they get the shot.

I, too, was concerned about a vaccine rushed into the population without the usual years of Food and Drug Administration trials. But what tipped the scales for me was the chance to be mask free sooner. I’ve noted before how troubling I find it that millions of Americans so readily accepted covid-related edicts, with many regarding masks as a “new normal.”

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Millions of others stridently resist such mandates. I was amused by the recent announcement from President Biden and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it’s now safe to relinquish masks in most outdoor settings, since, according to a Gallup poll taken well into the pandemic in August, most people never adopted the practice anyway. Since the beginning, covid-19 advice has too often included mixed signals, continuing with the Biden administration. What’s baffling of late is the recommendation for vaccinated people to continue wearing masks at all, whether indoors or out.

The New York Times reported in March, “The coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are proving highly effective at preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic infections under real-world conditions. … The new study, by researchers at the C.D.C, suggested that since infections were so rare, transmission was likely rare, too.” Additionally, the vaccines “provided powerful protection” against the newer variants of covid-19. The CDC reports that the few vaccinated people who get the virus are likely to have a very mild experience.

Requiring inoculated people to continue to act as if they weren’t vaccinated sends not only a confusing message, but one that provides little incentive for the skeptics out there to line up for the shot. Anthony S. Fauci — who is beloved by many but generally not trusted by Republicanstold CNN last month it is “quite frustrating” that a large percentage of Republicans are hesitant to get a coronavirus vaccine. On “Meet the Press,” Fauci added, “What is the problem here? This is a vaccine that is going to be life saving for millions of people … I just don’t understand.”

Well, let me help. A lot of Republicans — and likely many other Americans — find it “quite frustrating” that he continues to preach restrictions even for vaccinated people. What we are left with is an untenable Catch-22: One reason millions won’t get vaccinated is because even then they’ll have to keep wearing masks and observing other restrictions — restrictions that cannot end, we’re told, until more people get vaccinated.

Clearly, there are Americans who have almost unlimited trust in health officials to get things right during the pandemic. But millions of others chafe at what they see as government overreach. Each side can complain about the misguided politics of the other, but that won’t change the reality or the results of the divide. If the Biden administration, Fauci, the CDC and others hope to convince hesitant Americans to roll up their sleeves, they’re going to have to loosen restrictions beyond declaring the great outdoors a mask-free zone.

But conservatives must compromise, too. What they often refer to as unconstitutional “vaccine passport” schemes are, in fact, reasonable requirements for the short term to accelerate a return to normalcy. In coordination with state governors, a great incentive to get more people vaccinated would be the assurance that, beginning immediately, anyone who shows a vaccine card at the door of a store, office or restaurant can ditch the mask and gather shoulder to shoulder, if desired, with as many similarly vaccinated people as space allows.

In the meantime, insisting that vaccinated people continue to practice strict pre-inoculation safety measures suggests a lack of faith in the efficacy of the vaccines. If government leaders and health officials really want more Americans to embrace the coronavirus vaccine, they’ll start acting like they believe it really works.

Read more:

Leana S. Wen: How to decide what activities to bring back once you’re vaccinated

Letter to the Editor: Local leaders should let us go mask-free outdoors

The Post’s View: The vaccines are working. So is the virus.

Eugene Robinson: Why the ban on menthol cigarettes leaves a sour taste in my mouth

Michael Gerson: Elected Republicans are lying with open eyes. Their excuses are disgraceful.