By Walter Albritton
The word “herd” became an acceptable part of my vocabulary in childhood. My dad was an honorable man who served others by farming. By the sweat of his brow, he wrestled with the ground to produce the food with which he fed his family. Beginning with a bull and a few cows, dad finally came to own a herd of cattle. There is no telling how many bales of hay I helped him feed that herd with until I left home at age 18.
A few years later the word “herd” took on a negative connotation for me. An early mentor, E. Stanley Jones, convinced me that an authentic Christian must not follow “the herd” but follow Christ. Of course Brother Stanley was not speaking of cattle but people whose beliefs and behavior are determined by their group, or gang, or mob. The herd mentality is the way of the prevailing culture, which usually conflicts with the ways of the Lord. To live in “the Way” of the Lord, I must reject the influence of the herd and let Christ guide my life.
This meaning of “herd” comes to mind often these days when I come across the phrase “herd immunity,” which is the goal of the current vaccination effort in our nation. We can achieve herd immunity when a major part of our population has been vaccinated. At that point most of the population will be immune to the deadly COVID-19 virus, thus bringing to an end the current pandemic. So, in this sense, the word “herd” has regained a positive meaning for me. We need a herd mentality when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic!
Last fall my dear friend Jere Beasley introduced me to Dr. David Thrasher, a highly respected physician in Montgomery whose counsel regarding the coronavirus has been a valuable resource to our community. My wife, while a patient in a local hospital, tested positive for the virus in late November and died at home 19 days later. Two days after my wife’s positive test, I also tested positive for the virus. With the approval of my personal physician, Dr. Spencer Coleman, I met with Doctor Thrasher at Jackson Hospital and received the infusion which he recommended. I had zero side effects and praised God for the kindness and encouragement of Doctor Thrasher. After waiting the recommended 90 days, I received in April the first and second Moderna vaccine shots at Adams Pharmacy in Wetumpka, and again have had no side effects.
This week Doctor Thrasher, in a COVID-19 update, shared a disturbing response to the question, “How close are we to herd immunity?” As April ends, 95 million Americans, about 29% of our population, have been fully vaccinated. Thirty-seven percent of adults over 18 have been fully vaccinated and 68% over 65. Forty-three percent of our population have received at least one vaccine shot. In recent days our nation has administered more than three million vaccine shots per day. Doctor Thrasher estimates that herd immunity will not be achieved until 75 to 80% of the population has been vaccinated.
While this is good news, it is disturbing to learn from Doctor Thrasher that “Alabama is dead last in the number of people vaccinated. Only 22% of Alabamians are fully vaccinated and only 56% over the age of 65.” Nineteen percent of Alabamians have received at least one shot.
I am not surprised that our state is last among the other states in vaccinations. I hear people say they are not going to get vaccinated for several reasons. Some say they don’t need it because they are younger than 65, but that is foolish; more and more younger people are contracting the virus. Some say they have had the virus and are now immune. That is faulty thinking; a person can get the virus more than once. Thrasher says he “has personally seen seven patients that have had the virus twice and one of them died.”
Doctor Thrasher offers a compelling appeal to fellow Americans to get vaccinated so that we can achieve herd immunity. I join him in that appeal and invite all of us who are fully vaccinated to encourage others to get vaccinated. There is now an adequate supply of the vaccine in our country and anyone in the United States who wants to get vaccinated can do so. Now that I am fully vaccinated, I will continue wearing a mask in public places and use what influence I have to encourage people to get vaccinated.
What does it mean to love your neighbor? In these days, one specific way to love your neighbor is to get vaccinated. It is a small but significant way for each of us to do our part to help America reach herd immunity. Few of us will ever get invited to walk out on an athletic field and sing “God bless America.” But you can hum it while you are being vaccinated!