George Gresham Credit: Contributed

There has been a lot of talk over the last few months about vaccination. The pros and alleged cons of taking the vaccine are all over social media and news broadcasts. New York City is pulling out all the stops to encourage residents to get vaccinated––including requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining and offering financial incentives. Despite these incentives, only 61% of New York residents have been vaccinated. Back when I was in school, 61% was a D: barely passing. We are barely passing this fight. With the Delta variant on the rise, we have an extremely small window to get a handle on COVID-19 before things get back to 2020 levels. My friends, I say this with all of my heart––it’s’ time to get vaccinated.

I don’t know how fighting a deadly virus got to be so political. Maybe it is because the world has not faced anything like COVID-19 in our lifetimes; an unseen, deadly killer from which no one is immune, that can quickly be passed from person to person. Maybe it was the inaction of the Trump administration, and the continued inaction of state leaders in Florida and Texas. What I do know is that the window for defeating this virus in the near future, and the even more contagious Delta variant, is rapidly closing. This is why federal, state, and local governments, as well as some of our nation’s largest corporations are requiring their employees to get vaccinated.

I received my first dose of the vaccine on January 20, 2021. I was among the first in my family to get vaccinated, but I wasn’t the first. My daughter Siana, an 1199 member, received her first dose before me, and let me tell you that I couldn’t have been more thrilled. As the proud father of three healthcare workers, and the proud Pop-Pop of four grandchildren, it is critical to me that we defeat this pandemic. My oldest grandson, Jayce, just started Pre-K. He was so excited to start, and even took his time to show me his new sneakers, backpack, and lunchbox. He was so cute and reminded me so much of his dad, my only son Rakim, on his first day of school. Jayce’s first day photos look different than Rakim’s, as Jayce’s outfit also included a tiny mask to help protect him from COVID-19. At four years old, Jayce is too young to get vaccinated, as are his baby sister and baby cousin. I know many of you are in the same boat with little ones whose smiles and sweet voices melt your heart. If you’re anything like me, you’d literally do anything for them. If you haven’t already, I’m begging you to add getting vaccinated to that list of things you to do protect them.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that getting vaccinated is a cure-all, because it’s not. But the vaccines offer us the best defense available against this deadly plague of a virus, and a path forward back to some semblance of normalcy. Statistics show that the fully vaccinated get less sick, and fewer of the vaccinated who do catch it die from it than the unvaccinated. Read almost any news story about the COVID waves now washing over several southern states and one fact immediately stands out: doctors say the vast majority of people now dying from COVID are unvaccinated.

I keep wondering how these people must feel, to be lying in a hospital bed, fighting for each breath. I’ve even heard reports of COVID patients asking for the vaccine as they lay dying, only to be told that it’s too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can still fight this thing to protect ourselves, loved ones, our neighbors, and our communities.

Our 1199 members have been on the frontlines of this pandemic from the beginning. It is safe to say each of us know someone who had COVID. Far too many of us have watched this horrible virus take a life or felt the unimaginable pain of being unable to be in the hospital room as a loved one fought for her or his life.

And COVID is still killing, ironically now much more in those states where governors and residents have rejected vaccines and mask wearing requirements.

Viruses don’t care about politics. We cannot forget those terrifying first months of 2020 when there was no vaccine. Back then we didn’t know how COVID killed, and health officials could only speculate how it was transmitted from person to person. Let’s not forget a time when treatments were uncertain, and we were told unless we could not breathe, not to come to a hospital emergency room.

We must never forget the refrigerated trailers parked outside hospitals to collect the dead. These trailers have reappeared in some southern states and are being used for the same purpose.

Get vaccinated, like me, because it’s the right thing to do for yourself, your family, your community, your city.

Get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do. Lives depend on it.


President George Gresham leads 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest healthcare union representing 450,000 members in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and the District of Columbia.