For the first time in a year and a half, I laced up my soccer cleats and played in my regular pickup match in Cranmer Park on Thursday night. It was glorious and worth every ache I felt the next morning.

And it was possible because I finally reached full COVID-19 vaccination a few weeks ago.

I understand what Gov. Jared Polis and the state of Colorado intend to accomplish with the $5 million sweepstakes and $50,000 scholarships for people who get their coronavirus vaccinations. Not only do the giveaways appeal to individual’s self-interest, beyond the immediate protection provided by a vaccine, but they have also earned more in media coverage than it would have taken to buy the same level of advertisements. It is smart.

Mario Nicolais

But hopefully as more Coloradans return to their pre-pandemic normal and participate in gatherings they would not have imagined for the past year; it will be the everyday benefits that will help draw out those still unvaccinated.

For example, my last two weeks have been a whirlwind of events I would not have been comfortable participating in before.

I received my second round of Pfizer vaccination on May 7. Three weeks later, just as I hit the mark for a completed vaccination course, I was headed up to Wyoming to see my godson graduate high school in Casper. That would have been something I would have considered skipping if it had occurred a few weeks earlier.

Wyoming trails Colorado substantially in vaccination rates and falls in the bottom five across the country. Yet the state enforces very few precautions. My own anecdotal experience included a nearly packed restaurant with fewer than 10% of people wearing masks and a nearly full 8,300-person event center with only a handful of masked attendees all packed alongside each other. All with less than 35% of the state fully vaccinated.

For my health, and my immediate family’s health (I was the last eligible to be fully vaccinated), I may have opted to avoid those circumstances before and just sent a card and gift. Thankfully, I did not have to make that choice.

The next day I packed myself into my favorite soccer pub, the British Bulldog — which thankfully survived the pandemic in no small part due to the hustle of its general manager, Samantha — to sing and cheer and chant with fellow Rocky Mountain Blues as we watched our club, Chelsea, win the Champions League. Such conditions represented the epitome of risk six months ago as cases spiked and vaccines were just beginning to roll out.

Over the past two weeks, I have also attended the U.S.-Mexico CONCACAF final, watched thousands of fans cheer on the Avs and Nuggets at Ball Arena, and made plans to attend the MLB All-Star Game in July. In the interim, I will be meeting up with friends at bars, celebrating my wife’s birthday at a fancy restaurant and playing a lot more soccer.

That is all due to being fully vaccinated.

Hopefully as more fully vaccinated Coloradans do the same, and as their social media posts begin to fill with background crowds, it will be precisely the type of everyday incentive that will drive Colorado closer to its vaccination goals. 

There will be plenty of foolhardy people participating among the crowds without so much as a single shot, much less a fully completed vaccination course. Risking their health, and that of their unvaccinated family and friends, seems like a poor choice when vaccines are now so readily available, especially as Coloradans continue to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19.

For the rest, there is no time like the present. The vaccine provider map provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment literally blankets the state with pinned locations. It is fast and it is free.

A million dollars would definitely be nice. But for the rest, summer barbecues, baseball games and Fourth of July fireworks should be enough incentive to finally get vaccinated.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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