In this Friday, March 5, 2021 file photo, a restaurant worker holds his face mask in Biloxi, Miss. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / AP

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The COVID-19 vaccine “is our ticket to get back to normal,” said Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, speaking to residents of his state on April 27 of this year. This statement is something that has been seen and heard in virtually every single state across America, and has been echoed by officials from the federal government.

“If you want to get back to normal, then people need to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview with a local New York news station back in January of this year. This is a message he has repeated many times since then.

Here in Maine, WGME journalist Gregg Lagerquist spoke with Gov. Janet Mills in March, and asked her how critical vaccines were in returning to normal for the summer. “Absolutely critical,” she responded.

The idea that getting a vaccine — even if you didn’t really want to — was tied directly to going back to normal was one pushed by virtually every public health official and politician in the country. It was the carrot they held in front of the noses of Americans, wrapping their pleadings for vaccine compliance with a clear incentive: do it and you go back to normal.

As the vaccines were rolled out, vaccination rates spiked upward sharply. When I signed up to get mine, due to crushingly high demand I had to consult several online vaccine finder tools to even find an appointment, and then had to travel to a Wal-mart more than an hour from my house to get the shot.

Over time cases dropped, and eventually states across the country moved to end pandemic restrictions, remove mask mandates, end states of emergency and return to normal. Thus the carrot worked, and we were given what we were promised. For once.

But I noticed something start to happen, recently. Slowly but surely, public health officials began to try to soften the ground under our feet for the return of mask mandates, driven supposedly by the rise in the delta variant of the virus. At first it was just subtle worry expressed by experts. Later it was increasing alarm. Then began the public threats: get your vaccine or we might have to go backward.

Los Angeles County was one of the first places to take the bait and react, reinstituting a mask mandate two weeks ago. They were not alone.

The ante was upped on Tuesday, however, when the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their masking guidelines, which now say that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in certain parts of the country with higher infection rates.

Where specifically? The new guidance applies to areas that have at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. In Maine, that would apply to York County and Piscataquis County. For now, at least. Expect that to change.

Given that roughly 60 percent of the country is targeted by this updated guidance, this means that masking is going to return for a large amount of the country.

The pretext of the return of mask recommendations and mandates is tied up entirely with the unwillingness of some in our society to get the vaccine, which undoubtedly has resulted in higher case counts than would otherwise exist if a higher number of people had been vaccinated.

I believe those people should get the vaccine, and have used this column to make the case that those who have yet to get it should, in fact, do so. I believe in it strongly, and will continue to call for more people to get vaccinated.

But contrary to the pompous lecturing by so many pro-vaccine forces, many of the reasons people cite for not getting them are at the very least rational. I would estimate that at least half of the people I know who haven’t gotten it have told me that they actually do plan to get it, but they are uncomfortable taking something approved under emergency use authorization, and are waiting for the full FDA approval of the vaccines.

Whatever the reasons for waiting, or saying no, the government has now completely undermined itself in appealing to these people. They told us that getting the vaccine was our ticket to normal, and now they have essentially told every vaccinated person in this country that it wasn’t that, afterall.

Whatever your opinion about the wisdom or lack of it in this decision in response to the virus, it should be obvious that this is going to result in fewer new people taking the vaccine than might have otherwise. If your primary goal is to get America vaccinated, this kind of foolish reversal is about the worst idea you could have come up with.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...