There is good news about how Catholics view the COVID-19 vaccines. According to new polling data from the Public Religion Research Institute, the acceptance rate by white Catholics went from 68% in March to 82% currently, and among Hispanic Catholics, it jumped from 56% to 90% over the same period. This is remarkable, and something to celebrate. Just as promising is the news that 60% of Americans agree with the statement, “Because getting vaccinated against COVID-19 helps protect everyone, it is a way to live out the religious principle of loving my neighbors.” Pope Francis has often advocated for vaccinations using similar language. “Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love — love for oneself, love for one’s family and friends, love for all people,” he said in a public service announcement released Aug. 18. In other words, deciding whether to get vaccinated is not only a choice about one’s own health. The unvaccinated who contract the virus, whether or not they experience symptoms, commonly spread the disease, and every person who catches it and infects others adds to the likelihood of the virus mutating in more dangerous ways. While it is true that there are breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, studies have shown that such people tend to experience lower viral loads than the unvaccinated, and thus do not spread the COVID-19 virus at the same levels. What’s more, the disease experienced by those with breakthrough infections tends to be dramatically less severe than that of the unvaccinated who catch the virus — they sadly have much higher rate of hospitalization and death. Moreover, as the virus continues to spread, with the resulting rise in hospitalizations among the unvaccinated, our health care system is being terribly overwhelmed. The medical community and the wider public are paying the price. A Nov. 19 report form the Centers for Disease Control notes that “surges in COVID-19 cases have stressed hospital systems, negatively affected health care and public health infrastructures, and degraded national critical functions.” In other words, as resources are diverted to care for those contracting COVID-19, normal preventive and elective procedures are being suspended, putting at risk those who could benefit from treatment of serious illnesses, such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetic emergencies. For example, in Minnesota, which is experiencing one of the worst COVID surges in the nation, CEOs of health-care systems took out full-page ads across the state last week raising alarms over the threat the pandemic is posing to their ability to provide care not only to the infected — but to anyone at all. “Our emergency departments are overfilled, and we have patients in every bed in our hospitals,” the ad reads. “This pandemic has strained our operations and demoralized many people on our teams. Care in our hospitals is safe but our ability to provide it is threatened.” What’s equally chilling is that if intensive care unit bed use nationwide reaches 75% capacity, “an estimated 12,000 additional excess deaths would occur nationally over the next two weeks,” according to that CDC report. “As hospitals exceed 100% ICU bed capacity, 80,000 excess deaths would be expected in the following two weeks.” In other words, if our hospitals fill, many thousands of people will die who could have otherwise lived — in addition to the nearly 800,000 Americans who have already died from COVID-19. That’s more than the number of Americans who lost their lives in the Civil War (750,000), the 1918 flu pandemic (675,000), and World War II (405,399). Controlling the growth of the contagion is critical, making universal vaccination a moral imperative. Receiving the full series of vaccination injections, as well as considering boosters that could augment our protection against the latest variant, is not just about protecting oneself from this scourge. It is also about protecting others from the virus. It is about each of us doing our part to stop helping the virus mutate, and to ensure that this disease will not paralyze our health care systems. The virus has taken the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters. It has driven the rest of us first into isolation and now into a strange two-step of normalcy and abnormalcy. In that way, it has attacked our very nature as human beings, which is to be social, to be with one another. So let us hold fast to that essential aspect of humanity, and pull together, all of us, to finally defeat this disease.