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Vaccine Resistance May Require Neighborly Solution

July 16th, 2021 by dk

A neighborly solution to vaccine hesitancy

Summertime in Crystal Lake, Ill. is muggier and buggier than Oregonians are used to, but I’m sure President Biden had no trouble finding an ice cream shop during his visit last week. My youngest brother lives in Crystal Lake, which is at the edge (or just beyond) what most would consider suburban Chicago — “Chicagoland” in the local vernacular.

Biden has been barnstorming the Midwest, touting his “Build Back Better” programs. The President’s travels have taken him to a series of small towns just beyond the reach of Democratic strongholds like Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

If Biden comes to Oregon, don’t expect him to spend much time in Portland or Eugene. He might land here, because our airport has a runway large enough for Air Force One. He might duck in for a scoop at Prince Pückler’s before he leaves, if he can cut in line. But he’ll likely spend the bulk of his time in a place like Roseburg or Klamath Falls.

This is by design. His advisors choose spots that feel more Republican than their surroundings, small dots of red on bluish landscapes. These are places where liberals and conservatives are still likely to be talking to one another, defying the so-called “big sort” that increasingly divides our two political worlds.

Biden really seems to believe in his bones that his presidency will succeed if Americans simply talk with one another. It sounds Pollyanna, but it’s really shrewd politics. Truth be told, we’re all more alike than different. Telling the truth is how Biden intends to lead.

It remains to be seen whether we have the courage to follow that lead. (Prepare to squirm a bit wherever you are seated.) He’s making easy in places like Traverse City, Mich. and LaCrosse, Wis. After visiting these smallish cities, neighbors can’t help comparing notes about what they saw and heard.

The rest of us will have to work a little harder. Fortunately, we have a topic that concerns every last one of us. COVID-19 is still among us, even if it’s not currently rampaging. Vaccine hesitancy is the emerging threat to public health. We must get more neighbors vaccinated.

Yes, neighbors. Biden can’t convince many more people, but neighbors might. He wants a door-to-door campaign. He’s not planning to send jack-booted police with hypodermic needles to people’s doorsteps. He’s asking us to talk to our neighbors about sensible measures that could keep them safe.

They may need a ride to a clinic, or child care. Or the promise of chicken soup if the shot drags them down. Feeling not alone is often enough to try something new. But starting that conversation is hard.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown could make it easier, while also helping the economy. She could ask restaurants to subsidize dinners between neighbors as an incentive and a conversation starter. Those who are already vaccinated would invite a friend or neighbor to also get vaccinated, with a free dinner out for the two of them afterwards.

What they talk about over dinner hardly matters. Getting them talking together is enough.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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