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WASHINGTON — It is hard to know how deadly and disruptive the COVID-19 surge brought on by the delta variant will ultimately prove to be. But one thing is clear: It is completely unnecessary. The vast majority of those who now get sick have only themselves to blame.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, where only 39.9% of residents 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the lowest vaccination rate of any state in the country. “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” Ivey said. “It’s the unvaccinated folks who are letting us down.”

She means you, if you have refused to get one of the safe and effective vaccines (without a legitimate medical reason). Does it make you mad to have to wear a mask at the airport and on a plane? Get your shot. Do you want all schools and workplaces to get back to normal this fall? Get your shot. Are you ready for some football, meaning full college and professional seasons with tailgate parties and jam-packed stadiums? For the love of Vince Lombardi, get your shot.

We are witnessing a massive exercise in self-harm. And the rest of us — those who chose to protect ourselves — are being forced to suffer collateral damage. It’s not fair, and we have every right to be angry about it.

The miraculous Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — all of them proven safe and effective, including against the more highly infectious delta variant — are universally available across the country. You can probably get vaccinated today, right now, at your local pharmacy. Your doctor will almost surely advise you that that’s exactly what you should do.

Yet only 49.1% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 57.4% of those 12 or older (the vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12). To be sure, that is much better than the vaccination rates in most of the rest of the world. But other wealthy nations, such as Canada, Spain and Germany, have pulled ahead of us after getting off to a much slower start.

And while nearly 80% of those in the United States who are 65 or older — the population most vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID-19 — have been vaccinated, the fact that so many younger adults have declined vaccination gives the coronavirus an ample supply of new targets. By refusing to protect yourselves, anti-vaxxers, you are ensuring the coronavirus will have time and space to continue to mutate. We have been lucky that no variant has emerged with the ability to defeat our vaccines. The unvaccinated make it more likely that our luck will run out.

Republican politicians and right-wing commentators have shamelessly and disgracefully sought for months to score points against the Biden administration by portraying vaccination as some kind of threat to individual freedom, rather than what it really is — a path toward our collective freedom. Now, with cases and hospitalizations rising sharply in red states, these officials and talking heads are temporizing, trying to have it both ways. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., even rolled up his sleeve — at this late date — and got his first dose of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, calling it “safe and effective.” But Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — though he has switched course and now encourages Floridians to get vaccinated — continues to pursue a court battle against CDC regulations designed to keep cruise ships from becoming COVID-19 petri dishes.

Ivey is the rare Republican officeholder whose road-to-Damascus conversion seems genuine and who places blame where it belongs. No one is forcing Republicans, conservatives, young adults and other laggards to listen to bad advice given by unscrupulous politicians over good advice given by expert scientists and trusted doctors.

And speaking of medical professionals, it is nothing short of outrageous that any doctor, nurse or staff member working in the nation’s hospitals would still be unvaccinated at this late date. Give us a break, people. Protect yourselves and your patients.

Some hospitals are beginning to require personnel to get vaccinated. The private sector in general should follow suit, welcoming employees back to office buildings and other places of business — when they provide proof of vaccination or a doctor’s excuse. Companies that do not want to impose mandates can offer workers incentives to get vaccinated.

Any effective investment in getting the nation and the world to herd immunity will ultimately be worthwhile. And it is in everyone’s interest to save anti-vaxxers from their own wrongheaded stubbornness.

Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist. He is on Twitter, @Eugene_Robinson.

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