How We All Get to the Finish Line … Together

Dr. Jean G. Gispen

Sixty-one years ago, in the summer, my father took my siblings David, Robert, Johnny, Steve and Cathy on a car trip out West. Cathy was, I think, 8 years old. This means that I was almost 5 years old.

Old enough to go on a car trip out West without my Mama, in my opinion. Old enough not to have to stay home with Mama and Doug and baby Jimmy.

I don’t know all the places they saw, but I know they went to Carlsbad Caverns. Cathy came home with a cardboard box, about the size of a blackboard eraser, that had green translucent plastic film in it. She put it on the desk in our room underneath the light, and the cardboard box lit up and looked like the caves she had seen. Caves that I still have not seen. Not that I am in any way resentful.

Like Miniver Cheevy, I was born too late.

If I were not yet eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, I think I would be as unhappy as the 4 1/2-year-old Jeannie who was left home with the babies. I would be particularly unhappy if my town decided that masks were no longer mandatory in public spaces, thereby leaving me at risk.

Those of us in Mississippi who have already gotten our vaccines are not better or more important or more necessary to society than those who are still unvaccinated. We’re simply older or sicker or in a health profession. And we have no right to not protect the unvaccinated ones who come behind us. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that fully vaccinated people – those who are two weeks out from the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks out from the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine – may gather inside in small groups without social distancing or wearing masks. Fully vaccinated people may meet indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or social distancing unless anyone of those unvaccinated is or lives with someone who is at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Fully vaccinated people may not meet indoors with unvaccinated people from more than one household without social distancing or mask-wearing because the unvaccinated households are risks to each other.

Hurrah for the vaccinated, who get a part of normal life back, but we can’t abandon masks and social distancing yet. Do masks and social distancing make a difference in the spread of respiratory infections? Just ask any physician how little influenza we have seen this year. In trying to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we protected ourselves from influenza very effectively.

So, we must continue mask wearing and social distancing because we can’t abandon the unvaccinated until everyone who wants a vaccine has had a chance to get one.

When I was little, the milkman used to leave crates of empty glass bottles under a tree on Meadow Road, about halfway between our house and what later became the Hanging Moss Swimming Club. I don’t know why. Sometimes after supper, we would make a family expedition to the milk tree, just for fun. Mama would push a stroller with the youngest in it. Daddy would walk using his crutches. Others would be barefoot or on skates or on a bike, staying carefully away from Daddy so that we didn’t accidentally knock him down.

The skates and the bikes were faster than the bare feet or the stroller or the crutches, so they would zoom back and forth up the street, down the street, till finally they went to the milk tree when the bare feet and the stroller and the crutches got there. The point was for everyone to be at the milk tree at the same time.

The point now is for all of us to get vaccinated, and for those of us with bikes or skates who got vaccinated quicker not to mess with the rules that protect those with bare feet or crutches or a stroller.

Dr. Jean G. Gispen is a staff physician at the employee health center within University Health Services at the University of Mississippi.