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Editorial: For the good of all, we should continue to listen to our shepherds amid the ongoing pandemic
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first death attributed to COVID-19 in the United States came on Feb. 6, 2020. Nearly 20 months later, amid a devastating fourth wave of the deadly pandemic, more than 675,000 people across the country have died — a number that marks two major (and tragic) milestones.
First, now 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19. Second, on Sept. 20, it was reported that deaths in the United States attributed to COVID-19 have surpassed the number of deaths attributed to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu 100 years ago — something that seemed almost incomprehensible 20 months ago.
To put the tragic loss of life into a more recent context, just weeks ago, Americans marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. In a comparison meant not to trivialize those deaths but to impart the grave nature of this virus, since March 2020, the United States has suffered a loss of life equivalent to 9/11 nearly every other day.
While these numbers may seem shocking, they could have been worse. The relatively quick availability of the COVID vaccines has saved countless lives. According to the CDC, 64% of the U.S. population eligible to receive a vaccine (ages 12 and up) is fully vaccinated; nearly 75% has gotten at least one dose.
Among those who identify as Catholic, the numbers are even higher. According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than 82% of Catholics eligible to get the shot have gotten at least one dose — outpacing even the segment of the population that claims no religious affiliation (75%). Sixty-six percent of Protestants have gotten at least one dose.
In its report, published Sept. 15, the researchers at Pew did not speculate as to why Catholics have gotten the vaccine at a significantly higher rate than Protestants, but it’s hard not to walk toward a logical conclusion. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Pope Francis and leaders of the U.S. Church have been outspoken about the need for Catholics to see the pandemic as an opportunity to care for their neighbors. In April 2020, while much of the world had been in quarantine for weeks, Pope Francis said, “Let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn’t return.”
At every opportunity, Francis — along with many bishops across the United States — has urged the faithful to take precautions that benefit the whole of society. He has strongly encouraged Catholics to get vaccinated in order to protect one’s self and their community. In a recent advertising campaign aimed at promoting vaccinations, Francis said that receiving the shot “and contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love — love for oneself, love for one’s family and friends, love for all people.”
In all times, but especially in times such as these, we are reminded of the importance of belonging to the true Church established by Christ, who placed at its head a figure of authority — the pope. After his resurrection, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples, asking St. Peter, our first pope, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” To this, Jesus replied, “Tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16).
The COVID-19 pandemic continues. By no means are we out of the woods. Infectious disease experts and health care workers are bracing for another winter surge. According to the University of Washington’s well-respected model, 100,000 more Americans are projected to die by the end of the year.
Pope Francis and our bishops have tended their sheep by encouraging the faithful to protect ourselves and others during this ongoing crisis. For the good of all, we should continue to listen to our shepherds.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young