By Ken MacLeod

HARDWICK (CBS) – The nation’s top infectious disease expert is now calling it a pandemic of the unvaccinated. On Tuesday, the CDC mandated a return to indoor masks in some high-risk zones — and indicated kids will be wearing masks at school this fall.

But as an unvaccinated Doug Roberts gassed up his car tonight in Hardwick, he assured us he won’t be having a change of heart.

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“What would it take to convince you to get the shot,” I asked him.

“Absolutely nothing,” he responded. “I won’t get it.”

And in the little central Massachusetts town of Hardwick — population 3,000 — he’s got a lot of company.

According to the state Department of Public Health, only 35% of the residents here are fully vaccinated — the lowest rate in the state.

“It’s hard to believe,” sighs Hardwick’s health agent Tex Sarabia.

The town’s top health official says the inability to convince residents here that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective has been very frustrating.

“If I had a magic answer, I would tell you,” Sarabia says. “But I can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

As with many small towns that are well off-the-beaten path, vaccine accessibility has been an issue.

The only vaccination clinic that actually came to Hardwick was held at the elementary school.

But only 170 residents turned out. For the most part, residents seeking a shot have been asked to drive to Springfield or Rutland.

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But the much larger obstacle, says the local board of health, is an entrenched distrust of the vaccine and its development.

“I just don’t trust it at all,” says Doug Roberts. “Not enough transparency, too fast, and too much politics over it.”

Both David Fortier and his wife Linda got the vaccine, reluctantly, but only because of multiple underlying health issues.

“And from what I read and hear,” says resident David Fortier, “it kind of messes up your DNA somehow.”

Many of their friends however won’t get it.

Some point out that Hardwick has had only 100 or so cases of COVID, none fatal.

“They are afraid of the side effects,” says Linda Fortier. “They don’t really know what’s being put into their arms.”

Back at the gas station I asked an unvaccinated Doug Roberts, “Can anything change your mind about this?”

“Nothing at all,” he responded. “Absolutely nothing.”

In fact, the town’s top health official doesn’t think the rising threat of the Delta variant, or the looming return of restrictions, will make much difference.

“Yup,” laments health agent Sarabia. “It’s pretty sad.”

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And in the days to come, he’ll probably make masks mandatory in town buildings — again.

Ken MacLeod