Whether to get one of the new COVID-19 vaccines is a hot topic these days. During my public-health career in Africa, I witnessed both heartbreak and hope over vaccinations, a longtime pillar of primary health care. Some families refused the most basic immunizations, clinging to their suspicions or superstitions and losing family members to preventable illness. Others who had access to vaccinations and were willing to trust their health workers’ advice, even about a technology they didn’t fully understand, saw their children survive the perilous earliest years with a chance at life.

As the more privileged nations roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, some Americans say they will refuse the potentially lifesaving opportunity it presents. We’re alive today because our grandparents and great-grandparents managed to survive the 1918 pandemic. Many of us are also alive today — or not crippled by polio — because our parents cherished us enough to protect us from highly communicable and deadly childhood diseases, with vaccinations. It is now up to all of us to follow the health advice of trustworthy sources, and protect ourselves and others when vaccines reach us.

Linda Lovick, MPH, Seattle