I was fortunate to receive my COVID-19 booster shot today. I visited a pharmacy website this morning and by late afternoon, I had the vaccine in my arm. There were no expenses that I was required to pay, and the entire process took longer because I had to drive to the pharmacy (1 mile away) than to schedule the appointment and receive the shot. If I could, I would have ordered the vaccine through an Online pharmacy, just as you can with other medications, but as it’s for something relatively new like COVID-19, it is probably better to get it administered by a professional than deciding to do it yourself. Either way, I’ve had it done and I’m protected.

It was very simple.

Here is where it gets less simple. This weekend, my husband and I spent a few days in rural southeastern Arizona. We love this area of the state namely because it is so quiet. The sky is as dark as you’ll find in the United States, with the Milky Way visible to the naked eye. It is a 180 degree change from our go-go-go lives in the Phoenix area. The internet and TV are unreliable. The patio, stars, animals, local wine, and quiet fill our time.

We spoke with a few folks who live in the area, including the man who owned the guest house where we stayed. Without telling us their politics, every person we spoke to mentioned having to make significant changes to their lives due to vaccine requirements. One was a border patrol agent who would be required to get the shots in December. He’s putting his house on the market and quitting his job. Another mentioned also quitting his job and finding a new profession to work around mandates.

I’m guessing my more liberal public health (and other) friends won’t agree with me on this take, but this all has me thinking about how strange vaccine mandates are. Let me be clear: I believe in vaccines as one of the most effective public health tools available, behind clean drinking water and seat belts. I want people to be vaccinated because I don’t want them to get sick, and I don’t want our ailing healthcare and education systems to crumble.

And yet, it seems antithetical to American values to require an employee (government or otherwise) to have a vaccine. Yes, I fundamentally understand why it would improve our COVID rates if all Americans were required, but at what expense to our liberties?

I am not convinced that requiring people to be vaccinated will do anything more than increase the divide in our nation of us versus them. The vaccinated versus the unvaccinated. The right versus the left. And increasingly, the wealthy versus the poor, educated versus the knuckle draggers. This sort of thinking is bleeding into other areas of my professional life where I see people who previously would have been interested in constructive conversations to resolve disagreements rather than throw their hands in the air and huff, “Uggg! You’re one of them.

Them? Aren’t we all in some form or fashion one of them?

I know the idea of a seasoned border patrol agent (teacher, solider, nurse) walking away from his job and selling his home does not in any way make my life safer or healthier. And aren’t we all essentially still children? When told you have to do something or else, what is your first reaction? Mine is to come up with an immediate list of all my other options.

The biggest failure by the American public health system (all the way up to the White House) is the lack of clear communication about the pandemic and the vaccine. Tell people why it is in the best interest of their American spirit to be mindful not to get sick, to wear masks, to be vaccinated. Share details of the investigation of where the disease started, and how the government is protecting us from this happening again. What policy have they changed and why? Let’s also talk about the real side effects of these vaccines. To just blindly say they are safe and don’t make you feel rotten is false. Yes, they are safe for the vast, vast majority. And yes, they may make you feel like you’ve got the flu for a few days post-vaccine. And yes, they are the most effective tool we have to beat this thing as a specie. And yes, the right to say no is as American as apple pie.

To convince those in the no category to join us in the yes, we need better tools than tweets and mandates.