As San Antonio enters the fifth month of the COVID-19 vaccination program, it’s evident now that herd immunity, when 80% or more of the population will be vaccinated, is not going to be achieved anytime this summer. My fear is that we will never get there unless we take extraordinary steps to change public perception.

As of this writing, 40% of all Bexar County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated. Getting the next 40% to that point will be exceedingly difficult. Local numbers are actually significantly better than the state’s current level of 30% fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Tribune’s Vaccine Tracker.

That’s no reason to celebrate.

I wish the city and county were mounting a more robust public service campaign to convince people to line up for the now widely available vaccines. The state should be doing its part, too, by leading such efforts, but no one in the public health field locally expects state officials to do anything.

What is needed is a campaign reaching every television, radio, and internet user, every social media user, a campaign that appears on highway billboards, in mailers, and on the front doors of every public building, retail store, and business. Smartphones should get text alerts. Thousands of vaccine doses are going unused.

Months ago, I received multiple inquiries every day from people assuming incorrectly I might have an inside track on locating scarce vaccine doses. It’s been at least one month since anyone has asked me about vaccine supplied in the city, or complained that they were unable to get an appointment at one of the central vaccination sites.

It’s hard for elected officials and public health leaders speaking through the media to counter widespread vaccine hesitancy and apathy, much less dissuade those with an anti-science mentality driven by extreme political views and online disinformation campaigns. Those interested in learning more of the facts can access the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention vaccine explainer. Thursday the CDC issued a significant update to its guidance, saying those fully vaccinated no longer need to wear facial masks in most circumstances, even indoors.

It makes we wonder: What would life in the United States had been like in the second half of the 20th century had people failed to line up for polio, smallpox, and measles vaccines?

As a baby boomer, my childhood memories include images of polio victims encased in claustrophobia-inducing iron lungs. A few grade-school classmates disappeared after contracting the virus, never to be seen again. My parents, both working in medical and health care fields, needed no convincing to take family members to get what the British call “the jab.” I don’t remember ever hearing a teacher having to urge students or their parents to get inoculated against communicable diseases. Everyone just fell in line back then.

That was a half-century before the advent of the internet, which gave birth to the age of disinformation, which now defines a polarized electorate where a significant percentage of the population doubts science and climate change, claims to actually believe a soundly defeated incumbent president was cheated out of victory, and falsely argues that voter fraud is a real issue in Texas and other red states.

The political posturing of the state’s top elected officials, who stalled on shutting down Texas to control the spread of the virus, who resisted calls for mandatory mask use and social distancing, and who pushed for premature reopening, are responsible for a higher rate of contagion and a greater number of COVID-19 deaths. They are doing little now to campaign for widespread vaccination.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met Wednesday and signed off on the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids as young as 12. University Health announced Thursday it is offering the vaccine immediately for this age group at the Wonderland of the Americas mall with no appointment needed.

As public school educators prepare to ramp up for summer school sessions that some superintendents predict will be double in scope of pre-pandemic summer classes and services, making sure students get vaccinated is critical to the complete reopening of campuses for the 2021-22 academic year, especially as viral variants demonstrate a capacity for complicating suppression of the coronavirus.

Here at the San Antonio Report, my colleague JJ Velasquez has done an excellent job through the pandemic producing our evening newsletter The Curve, which will be reimagined once COVID-19 is controlled here. If answering any question or doubts you might have about the vaccines will get you to reconsider your decision to be vaccinated, JJ or I would be happy to answer any questions you might send us.

It’s going to take a greater effort by many more of us if we are going to regain momentum in San Antonio and Bexar County and make certain our families, neighbors, and co-workers are truly safe and protected from the spread of COVID-19.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.