As coronavirus deaths in the U.S. pass 750,000, a number once unthinkable, our nation stands at a crossroads.

Down one path is the end of the virus and a return to normal living. Down another lies an indefinite period of isolation and inconvenience, as well as the threat of a more lethal mutation of the virus.

To take the first path, we must double-down on vaccinations and continue social distancing until the virus is vanquished.

The potential for success increased this week with the FDA's approval of the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. This means that all school-age children can now be inoculated against the coronavirus, a significant step toward keeping all residents healthy.

Booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now available for certain vulnerable populations, including those 65 and older, people with underlying health conditions and recipients of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Modern science has given us the tools to fight this deadly virus. But if we want to resume normal living, we must take advantage of them. How tragic it would be if we were unable to contain the virus, not for lack of scientific ingenuity but because we hesitated to take advantage of that science.

For all those who want to "unmask our kids," we say "Amen." But to remove those masks and think the virus will disappear is wishful thinking of the most dangerous kind.

Without vaccination, we could face years of accommodations. This includes not just masks in schools, but in medical offices, hospitals, shops and restaurants. It means not being able to visit your daughter in the hospital when your grandchild is born. Or wearing masks for hours on planes, trains and buses.

We are all tired of this second path. We have been on it for a year and a half, and although cases are decreasing, we know coronavirus has a way of roaring back in the winter. The longer this scourge continues, the greater the possibility the virus will mutate into a more contagious and lethal variant, as it did with delta last summer.

But somehow, fear of the virus has been replaced by fear of the vaccine.

Although more than 7 billion doses of various types of coronavirus vaccine have been administered — including 425 million doses in the U.S. — only three deaths have been attributed to it. Contrast that with the 5 million people worldwide — 750,000 in the U.S. — who have died from coronavirus. The odds of harm from the vaccine are so low as to be nearly nonexistent. Yet only 58 percent of people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated.

This despite CDC studies that show the majority of deaths from Covid-19 are among unvaccinated people, who are 11 times more likely to die of the disease caused by coronavirus than the vaccinated.

We recognize that CDC guidance has sometimes been inconsistent. This is the reality of confronting an epidemic in real time. We also recognize that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. But it greatly increases the odds of surviving a break-through infection.

Vaccination has a long history of success in the United States, from the smallpox inoculations of the 1700s to the successful battle against polio and measles. Children today are regularly immunized against measles, mumps, whooping cough and other diseases.

Yet some parents are skeptical of the coronavirus vaccine and chafe at the prospect of a government mandate. Some also resist health and safety measures such as masking and social distancing.

You can't have it both ways. You can't insist on your right to live unmasked while refusing the very medical intervention that would make it safer to congregate: vaccinations.

We can choose to continue on this path of resistance, hoping coronavirus just goes away. Or we can follow the logical path that will give us back our freedom and safety.

— The Day (New London, Conn.)

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