James M. Berklan

Back in my days of better knees and a lighter footsteps, I was a cross-country enthusiast. As in running — through parks, streets, snowstorms … you name it.

I have my former fifth-grade teacher, J.C. Teeple, who was also a high school coach, to thank for it. One of the finest, most supportive gentlemen you’ll find anywhere, he encouraged his favorite past time to many of his students, even if they were big, slow lugs like me.

It might not have been pretty. (No, I can guarantee you it wasn’t pretty.) But it was a form of exercise that didn’t require a gym membership, scheduling with others or special equipment. In addition, I could do it any time of the day, which is especially helpful when working second shift.

It also reinforces the notion that you don’t always have to “beat” anyone else to enjoy success. You just have to get to the finish line, and to do that, you merely have to keep running.

The same can now be said of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said as much to an engaged group of long-term care professionals Monday on a LeadingAge Coronavirus conference call.

In fact, Adams maintained several optimistic themes for providers, and Americans in general. 

“We need to remain vigilant, but we also should have hope,” Adams told moderator Ruth Katz and hundreds on the line. “We have lots of reason for optimism, even amid a terrible surge. The finish line is in sight. We just all have to keep running to make sure everyone makes it across that finish line.”

By that he means continuing to wear masks around others, practicing social distancing, washing hands and following other best infection control practices. That’s because his main message was that the nationwide vaccination picture is going to get a whole lot better soon — and probably isn’t now as bleak as some skeptics make it out to be.

Statistics always lag, he pointed out. For example, he said that there was likely “a big gap” between the 4.2 million shots reported and the actual number that had been administered.

He anticipated a third vaccine, from AstraZeneca, to apply for an emergency use permit by the end of the month. And J&J’s single-dose vaccine might not be far behind.

“Take whichever vaccine you can get,” he emphasized, “because if it’s authorized, we know it will be safe. The more people we get vaccinated, the sooner we get through this.

“Even in the best of scenarios, this was going to be the hardest vaccine distribution in history,” he added. “Despite people saying this is going to be a disaster, the timeline is exactly what most health experts predicted based on H1N1” (swine flu) outbreaks.

Major hurdle 

Adams, who is Black, said that the vast disparity between Blacks consenting to the vaccine and whites doing so needs to be overcome. He noted there are “real reasons” for distrust among Blacks, given the way some were experimented on or abused in the last century.

“You have to sit down with them and explain controls are in place. The benefits far outweigh the risks,” he said of the vaccine. “We need to acknowledge (abuses that) happened in the past, address it and talk with trusted gatekeepers in the community.”

He said the country is only starting to experience a two- to three-week surge in cases and deaths that can be attributed to holiday get-togethers and traveling. But after it crests, conditions should improve greatly.

“I expect that most adults in this country who want to get vaccinated, based on an aggressive, but I believe, achievable timeline, will be vaccinated by this summer,” he said. Some 125 to 150 million people could be vaccinated by June, he calculated.

Not all members of the broader public need to take part, he pointed out.

“You can have herd immunity in smaller arenas. That’s what we’re trying to do in nursing homes, trying to achieve herd immunity within that nursing home setting. Think about smaller communities where you can get that [vaccinated] number up to 80% or 90%.

But first it comes down to turning the tide by the end of January, when infections should drop and vaccinations soar. 

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Adams noted. “There is a finish line in sight. But you can’t afford to stop running.”