A year ago, I was asked to record a short message for the graduating class at my old high school. I tried to provide some encouragement, knowing that all of those students had lost so much due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know that those losses were just starting.

A year later, we are still fighting the virus. Over 577,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. My family in particular has been deeply affected. My father is among those who died from the virus, and we could not have a proper funeral where all his family and friends could attend. My entire family contracted the virus, and a couple of us got very, very sick. My wife and I both still are dealing with long-term effects. All of us have missed out on events, gatherings, and so many other things we can never get back. It has been a very long and painful road.

I am tired of wearing a mask. I am tired of conducting court hearings via Zoom. I am tired of the constant uncertainty surrounding so many things we used to take for granted.

The difference between last year and this year is that now we can all do something about it. Due to amazing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry, the medical community, and all levels of government, we have several vaccines available to get rid of COVID-19 once and for all. Unfortunately, a lot of people are refusing to get it. Even more unfortunately, many of those people are refusing to get vaccinated for reasons having nothing to do with science or medicine.

Conspiracy theories and misinformation about the virus are rampant, even though there have been very few confirmed allergic reactions or serious side effects from the vaccine. Worse, some people are politicizing the vaccine, even though a Republican national administration oversaw its development and the subsequent Democratic administration is overseeing its distribution.

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Perhaps worst of all, some people view the simple act of getting vaccinated as somehow posing a threat to their personal freedoms. Polls show somewhere between 25% to 30% of adults in the U.S. are refusing to get the vaccine, and experts say that might be enough to defeat the herd immunity we need. That means we might see yet another serious wave of illness and death from COVID-19 in a few months.

We live in a world where we no longer face the horrific cost of smallpox, polio, and measles that earlier generations had to pay. We have that luxury because some very smart people developed vaccines for those diseases, and, because of a shared sense of duty, nearly everyone got vaccinated.

What we face in COVID-19 is no different. This is the time for everyone to view vaccination as an act of public service and moral obligation, not a personal choice. We cannot protect the vulnerable among us until the rest of us are immune, and the vaccines are our best bet to do it.

I will not sugarcoat it: I felt pretty lousy for a full day after both doses of the vaccine. But that was a small price to pay if it means saving lives.

Please, get vaccinated.

Dale Harris of Duluth is a judge in the Sixth Judicial District.