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Sign for COVID-19 shots traffic at the Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group Injection Clinic Perkins, at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Monday, July 26, 2021.

As a doctor who treats seniors in Louisiana, I have seen firsthand the tragic effects of COVID-19 on our nation’s most vulnerable population. Seniors have endured the highest death rate of any group — 80% of COVID deaths are among those 65-plus — and, for those fortunate enough to survive or not contract the disease, far too many withstood a year marked by social isolation, food insecurity and depression.

The rise of the delta variant, which is more contagious and severe, only adds to the urgency. And, as typically happens when a virus mutates, there is already word of other variants emerging, the particular dangers of which are not yet clear.

Unfortunately, not nearly as many Louisiana residents have received the vaccine as I would have hoped, with the state only experiencing a 41% vaccination rate. The ideal vaccination rate that physicians would like to see would be 70% to 85%, a benchmark shown to be effective in halting spread of the disease.

The most distressing part is that our seniors will continue to suffer disproportionately if the community at large doesn’t get vaccinated. Some businesses and other public spaces are beginning to again require masking and distancing indoors, and even some requiring proof of vaccination, and it would be devastating for the mental health of my patients if these heightened requirements lead to another wave of isolation.

Many of my senior patients have given so much over the course of their lifetimes to their families, workplace, faith and communities. It’s time that Louisianans give back to our parents, grandparents and other older adults we love by getting vaccinated and being part of a collective effort to build back a healthier Louisiana.

COVID-19 vaccinations are safe, effective and readily available. Let’s all do our part to protect those who need it most.