Anne Rooney with her late husband, Rich Means (Provided)

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, my husband Rich and I were exceptionally safety conscious. Rich’s lungs were already compromised from an underlying autoimmune disease. As a nurse, I was aware of the risks. So was he. Despite our rigorous efforts to remain safe, our worst fears were realized. We both contracted COVID.

Rich never had a chance to refuse the COVID vaccine. He would not have refused. He died before Christmas, after I made the agonizing decision to withdraw him from life support. I held his hand as he took his last breath.

My journey as a COVID widow has been an excruciatingly painful one. When the vaccine became available in my age group, I eagerly sought it. Rich missed the vaccine by only eight weeks because it simply wasn’t available to him. Tragically, the first 10 months of the pandemic were grossly mismanaged on the federal level. It was a colossal failure of leadership with dire consequences.

But now that we know better, we can do better.

Vaccines have been available in the U.S. for many months. Given that, I’m livid that our national “fully vaccinated” rate stands at little more than 50%. Scientific evidence shows that the Delta and others variants can infect even the vaccinated. COVID does not have a political affiliation. Neither should the decision to get vaccinated. We are all at risk, especially young children, the elderly, immune-compromised, and health care workers.

As an Oak Parker for four decades, I take pride in our village. So why is Oak Park’s 58% vaccination rate barely more than the national average — and trailing Evanston’s by almost 30 percentage points? Why aren’t alarms clanging all over our village, demanding immediate collective action?

Oak Park, we can and must do better! Our lackluster vaccination rate demands a coordinated campaign — from our village officials, businesses, civic groups, faith congregations, schools, health-care community, and concerned citizens.

As Priority #1, I urge local employers — especially in health care — to mandate vaccines as a condition of employment. Our primary response must be focused on the common good, not on distorted interpretations of individual autonomy.

I don’t want another family to suffer the devastating loss of a loved one to what should be a largely preventable disease. Let’s not fail each other again.

Anne Rooney, Oak Park

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