Science has now given us a very powerful tool to stop this tragic loss of life

Monday, January 18, 2021

I have been asked that question multiple times a day for the last several weeks by my patients. My answer is always given without hesitation­ — an emphatic “Yes, and as soon as possible.”

(For the purpose of this article, I must qualify that statement. Any patient with a history of severe allergic reactions should consult with his/her physician. Any patient with specific questions regarding his or her individual health situation should do the same.)

We are living in very difficult times. Four hundred thousand Americans have now died of COVID-19. The death toll in our country went from 300,000 to 400,000 in less than five weeks. A University of Washington model is predicting the U.S. death toll to be 567,000 by April 1st. Many healthcare systems have been and continue to be, overwhelmed. At some hospitals, deceased patients are being stored in refrigerated trucks.

Our local hospital and the wonderful people who work there are doing a great job but they can’t do the impossible. When there is not enough available beds or staff to care for these labor-intensive patients, they must be transferred elsewhere. This is happening frequently.

Three of my patients have ended up in other facilities; two were transferred out of state. They received good care in those facilities but certainly would have much preferred to stay in their hometown.

We as a community must do all we can to help decrease the rate of spread of this virus. Decreasing that spread, of course, decreases illness and deaths. It also decreases the burden on our healthcare system and healthcare workers who are becoming weary and exhausted.

The availability of vaccines is a ray of light in this very dark time. It heralds the pathway out of this pandemic. It is critical that the vast majority of our citizens be vaccinated to reach what is called herd immunity.

(That term is used to describe the majority of a population being immune to an infectious disease, reducing the likelihood of infection for those individuals lacking immunity.)

The current vaccines were developed rapidly. The process was expedited out of necessity but was thorough and rigorous, following established protocols.

The genetic, mRNA science behind the two currently available vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna was initially developed over a decade ago in response to MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). That gave the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine a “leg-up” time-wise.

At this point, millions have received first doses of these vaccines. The vast majority of side effects have been mild and temporary. (On a personal note, I have received a Moderna vaccine. I developed a mildly sore arm and headache, which responded nicely to acetaminophen. I would take those symptoms ANY day over COVID-19.)

Vaccination is a tenet of public health. It is the reason that our country is no longer plagued by polio, smallpox, typhoid, mumps, measles, rubella, etc. It is the reason that pneumococcal pneumonia, once referred to as “the captain of death” no longer exacts the huge toll that it previously did. It is the reason that yearly influenza outbreaks are largely held in check. I am so hoping that it will be the reason that this horrible plague is quelled as soon as possible.

Please get vaccinated.

Do it for yourself AND for the greater public good. The life you save may be your family member, your neighbor, or your own.

As important, please continue to practice masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene. Do your best to avoid crowded indoor activities. Until we’ve been vaccinated in huge numbers, the risk of COVID remains very real. Scientists tell us that 50% of the viral transmission is by asymptomatic people. Feeling well is great but does not mean that you are not infected and certainly does not mean that you can’t spread this deadly virus.

In closing, a note of appreciation for Mr. John Stanard’s well-researched article, including his historical perspective.

I recall my high school literature teacher sending my fellow classmates and me to a local cemetery to study the poetry of epithaphs on gravestones. I remember, at that time, marveling that so many souls perished in 1918 (the year of the Spanish flu). I suspect future generations will wonder the same about the great loss of life in 2020-21. Two million (and counting) lives, worldwide, cut short by this awful, invisible enemy. The difference is this.

Science has now given us a very powerful tool to stop this tragic loss of life. We must take advantage of it.