The following column was published Aug. 3 on the website of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It was written by Peter Finney Jr., executive editor and general manager.

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You never know what might pop up on your TV screen on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Scrolling through the channels on the remote, my thumb stopped 25 minutes into a two-hour “American Experience” documentary on WYES: “Chasing the Moon: Magnificent Desolation.”

What captured me initially was the time capsule effect that teleported me back to the den of my family’s home on July 20, 1969.

My parents and five brothers and sisters were all crowded around the Zenith with me that day watching pixelated, black-and-white images of astronaut Neil Armstrong hopping the final three feet from the bottom rung of his ladder onto the lunar surface — “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong’s leap of science and faith qualifies as one of the most glorious achievements in human history, right up there with the wheel, the abacus, the pyramids, Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, splitting the atom and Jonas Salk.

We didn’t know until much later that the near-perfect Apollo 11 flight had skirted disaster in the lunar landing. With Armstrong searching the horizon for a relatively craterless place to land, he waited to touch down his tiny craft with 17 seconds of fuel left in his tank.

“The Eagle has landed.”

I’ve almost run out of gas on the bumper-to-bumper 59th Street Bridge into midtown Manhattan — ask my wife to tell you that story (on second thought, don’t) — but Armstrong’s cool assurance in flirting with disaster with the nearest gas station 239,000 miles away qualifies as total confidence in a scientific and engineering process that was equal parts bravado, brainpower and chutzpah.

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the lunar surface before climbing back into the Eagle and firing up an ascent engine that had never been fired before. If it didn’t work, the New York Daily News already had its 144-point headline ready in hot lead: “MAROONED!”

What really caught my attention was the documentary’s ability to capture the “one-world” feel of the American achievement. Using footage of people from Japan and Africa and Europe glued to their sets, the documentary clearly illustrated the “momentary sense of community all around the world.”

Given that achievement, it boggles the rational mind that another scientific milestone — the development in record time of effective vaccines against the worst effects of COVID-19 — seems to have done more to divide the globe than unite it, especially here in the United States.

This is not the time for fairy tales.

The vaccines currently available (vaccines that U.S. bishops have deemed morally acceptable) ward off the worst effects of the virus — hospitalization, intubation and, yes, death. They are readily available, but far too often, people are responding to these life-saving therapies by saying, “Don’t tread on me.”

Let’s get real. A local pediatrician sounded an alarm in late July that the Delta strain of COVID-19 has jumped. A few weeks ago, his outpatient clinic was testing 20 young patients for COVID-19, with zero positives. Now, he’s seeing four or five positives a day — all Delta.

The low percentage of Louisiana residents who have been fully vaccinated — 37% — is frightening and even appalling.

Of those hospitalized in Louisiana with COVID-19, 89% are unvaccinated. Even more alarming, 85% of the deaths in the state in recent weeks have been among patients who were not vaccinated.

Last week, 10,000 vaccine doses in Louisiana had to be thrown away because there were no arms ready to accept the life-saving treatment.

That is a scandal.

There is no question a vaccinated person can get a “breakthrough” COVID-19 infection, but if you are vaccinated, you are far less likely to suffer serious consequences. The vaccine acts as an early warning signal to the body to use its antibodies and begin fighting the infection immediately, and thus the consequences are far less dire.

The Louisiana Department of Health says if you are vaccinated, you are eight times less likely to be infected and 25 times less likely to be hospitalized or to die.

Even Fox News, considered conservative in its political commentary, posted an incredible factoid in its coverage of the vaccine last week: “Vaccines work: Of 163.9 million vaccinated in the U.S., Breakthrough Hospitalizations: 5,601 (.003%); Breakthrough Deaths: 1,141 (.001%).

The choice, of course, is yours.

Particularly in Louisiana, until more sleeves get rolled up to accept the science and opt in for life: “Houston, we have a problem.”

And so, we wait, maybe for the fuel tank to run dry.

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