Wednesday, 16 December 2020
Written by John Hood
Despite the current spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths, there is good news on the not-so-distant horizon. Three effective vaccines are in the pipeline. Some North Carolinians — those battling coronavirus on the frontlines as well as those put at greatest risk by infection — will being vaccinated in the coming weeks.
When vaccines become more widely available, will you be among those who get the shots? A large share of the general public won’t say yes, at least not yet.
According to a late-November survey by the Pew Research Center, 29% of Americans said they would “definitely” get vaccinated if the vaccine were immediately available. Another 31% said they “probably” would. That’s a majority, yes. But with 39% saying they would definitely or probably reject it, there are grounds to wonder whether enough people will get vaccinated to establish the herd immunity required to get us past the pandemic stage.
These are countrywide findings, admittedly. But North Carolinians appear to be, if anything, even more skeptical than the average American. In an October study by Elon University’s survey team, only 37% of registered voters in our state said they would accept a COVID-19 vaccine, with 36% saying they wouldn’t accept it and the rest unsure.
I think it is possible these poll respondent aren’t being entirely honest — or, to put it another way, that they aren’t accurately predicting how they will feel when the opportunity for vaccination actually arrives.
Some Democratic-leaning North Carolinians who are suspicious of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed project to speed the approval and distribution of vaccines may be more willing to get their shots when a different president is in the White House. And some Republicans who tended to downplay their risk of contracting COVID-19 during election season may alter their perceptions of the risk for the same reason, because the political climate has changed.
Moreover, as December turns into January, and winter into spring, those worried that vaccine development was unsafely rushed during 2020 may get more comfortable with the final product. Millions will already vaccinated by then, likely with few or no side-effects. That will be reassuring.
Still, if we want some semblance of normalcy to return to our economy, our communities, our households, and our personal freedoms, we cannot afford merely to assume that vaccination rates will be high. To the extent some of our fellow citizens maintain a deep suspicion of medical providers and drug manufacturers, or continue to see the vaccination issue through partisan lenses, our leaders need a well-planned, sustained campaign to respond to their concerns.
That’s why three former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — have volunteered to get their shots in front of television cameras. That’s why Hollywood and Madison Avenue are getting involved. We need different messages for different audiences, addressing the different sources of public skepticism.
That skepticism isn’t limited to a single group. For example, the Pew survey revealed that 69% of Democratic-leaning voters said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, vs. 50% of Republican-leaning voters. That’s a partisan gap, to be sure. But that still leaves lots of Democrats in the “no” camp.
Indeed, Pew also found that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are far less likely to say they’ll get vaccinated (42%) than are whites (61%), Hispanics (63%), and Asians (83%).
Widespread vaccination will be necessary to put this public-health crisis behind us. It’s the main way we’ll save the businesses, jobs, and community institutions threatened by the virus itself and by the cumbersome regulations governments have enacted to combat it while vaccines were being developed.
Even so, I believe neither that we should use force to get everyone their shots nor that such a recourse will be necessary. While the vaccination rate must be high, it need not be 100%. Some individuals have real health conditions or adverse immune-system responses that merit special consideration.
But for most other objections, I think persuasion will be a proper and effective response. Let’s begin.
Tuesday, 15 December 2020
Written by Margaret Dickson
Food plays a major role in our lives, especially during what we call “the holidays.”
We kick off the season with Thanksgiving turkey and all the “fixins,” whatever that means, at individual celebrations. Right now, we are in what I think of as the goodie phase of the holidays. Neighbors share divine treats — toffee, salted nuts, homemade holiday cookies with icing, even fruitcakes, and we love them all. Many of us have big Christmas dinners, maybe not the proverbial English goose and “figgie” pudding, but our own versions of feasting nonetheless. We top off the season with New Year’s bubbly and greens and black-eyed peas for good luck.
We also have huge problems with the systems that produce our food. Food production in the United States and in other parts of the world has become so industrialized that is endangering us and our environment. Food production of both crops and livestock is so mechanized that it bears little resemblance to the crops our forebears grew or the animals they tended.
What does industrial food production actually mean?
Since the mid-20th century, crops of all sorts have been increasingly grown with the use of machinery, irrigation and especially the widespread use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This growth takes place on huge fields of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of acres and often lacks crop diversity or crop rotation. This system is efficient and has been profitable for the large corporations which use it, but at a high cost to our environment. Agriculture accounts for as much as 90% of fresh water use in some parts of the nation, and farming the same crops in the same way year after year depletes the soil. In addition, it leaves behind chemicals and elements and, in truth, no one really knows the long-term impacts on our earth or on us. There are lakes and other bodies of water in our nation where swimming and other recreational activities are no longer allowed, dead zones where no plant or animal life exists because of agricultural chemicals.
Ditto for livestock — cattle, poultry, seafood — production, which is so industrialized that some animals’ feet never touch the earth. They go from “house” to “house” as they grow in size until the day they meet their maker and their body parts begin journeys to our neighborhood supermarkets, a practice known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFO. These packed-in animals grow up on antibiotics, hormones and vitamins, whose effects on us or our environment are not always clear. Eastern North Carolina, including Cumberland and surrounding counties, have ongoing experience with this sort of livestock production and its consequences. No matter what we call them, “lagoons” of animal waste dotting the North Carolina landscape cannot be a state asset.
Industrial food production is efficient but unsustainable, with preserved food traveling sometimes cross-country and internationally before human beings consume it. We cannot continue this way without severe and long-lasting environmental damage and negative effects on the human beings in proximity to such operations. We do not really know the effects on those who consume these products, both plant and animal. Quantity may not be more important than quality.
To be sure, there is growing concern about industrialized food production, and increasing numbers of Americans are turning to more sustainably produced food, grown in more traditional and more humane conditions. Such food, however, is unavailable in some communities and when it is available, it is likely to be more expensive than industrially produced food.
Among the many challenges facing our nation and the world in coming decades is developing more sustainable and more humane food production and making it both available and affordable. Earl Butz, America’s Secretary of Agriculture in the 1970s, famously said to farmers “get big or get out,” and that has largely happened. It is time now to pay attention to a quote attributed to various 19th century Europeans, “we are what we eat.”
All I can say is that this American is trying to eat cleaner and closer to home this holiday season, goodies and all.