June’s theme is hope. Finally, after 15 months of living in fear of COVID-19, and the deaths of nearly 600,000 US citizens, we are turning the corner. With fewer cases and hospitalizations, we are enjoying fewer restrictions and welcoming a new sense of freedom.

Still, with about 23,000 new cases and 583 deaths daily in the United States, the virus is still very much here. Right now, more than half the nation has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 43% of Erie and Niagara County citizens have been fully vaccinated. Our numbers are going down, not because the virus is disappearing, but because our vaccines are highly effective and because many, but not enough people, are helping protect all of us. With 50% still unprotected, we won’t reach our goal of herd immunity anytime soon before more harmful variants may emerge.

I understand vaccine hesitancy. I do. However, I knew people who were crippled by polio. I know about the kids who died of measles. A recent New York Times article breaks people who won’t get vaccinated into categories: hesitant (waiting to see what happens next); cost-anxious (believe the vaccines are expensive even though they are free); distrusters (haven’t been treated well in the past); and skeptics (don’t believe the virus is a threat.) Then there’s me — an enthusiast, incredibly grateful to alive, healthy, and confident that my chance of getting a serious case of COVID-19 is about .06%.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take, but think we need should talk to each other more, keep an open mind, and ask questions of people we trust. One thing I know for sure is that doctors certainly wouldn’t be taking the vaccine if they thought it was dangerous. So, have a wonderful June, get out and enjoy those newfound freedoms, honor your father, and think really hard about what getting vaccinated means to all of us.