Like so many parents, I’ve spent the past few months juggling work and the care of my children, who are home all day, attending school remotely. While they’re working hard and their teachers are doing their best, I’ve found myself cast in the role of supplementary educator.
And it’s totally impossible. My third grader actually fired me as his teacher after just six weeks of home schooling…and I’m perfectly happy to never apply for that particular job again!
Imagine a day when schools and offices can safely open, we can start planning vacations and travel, restaurant and retail jobs come back, and we can actually visit (and even hug) our relatives! But there’s only one way for things to return to something like normal anytime soon…and that is if as many of us as possible get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Let me tell you, from a physician’s perspective, why we should all get vaccinated when it’s our turn…and what we absolutely must do in the meantime.
Why Vaccination is So Important
As of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States alone, and there have been an estimated 18 million cases here (you can view the latest numbers on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]’s website).
Those lost lives weigh heavily on the exhausted front-line health care professionals who are caring for a seemingly endless stream of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Hospitals are overflowing and our health care system is being stretched to its limit.
Now, hope for an end to the pandemic has arrived in the form of two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). And a few more are on the verge of receiving that same authorization.
Why You Should Get Vaccinated When It’s Your Turn
This COVID-19 pandemic will continue unchecked until so many people have developed immunity — either on their own by having been exposed to the virus, or through vaccination — that the virus can no longer make enough people sick to keep spreading. This is what’s known as “herd immunity.” Health experts say a substantial percentage of the population will need to be immunized in order to achieve it.
Despite the vast number of people who have already been infected, we’re still far short of that percentage. To close this gap quickly, we need to vaccinate as many people as we can. The alternative is to allow the virus to run rampant, with devastating consequences.
COVID-19 Could Make You Terribly Ill, Or Worse
If you haven’t yet been infected with this coronavirus, believe me…you don’t want to. Not everyone experiences serious health consequences from COVID-19. But those consequences can be fatal.
Imagine not being able to breathe. Imagine being taken to the hospital and put on a respirator for days or weeks because it’s the only way to keep you alive.
Many COVID-19 patients develop terrible problems with their kidneys, nervous systems, digestion, and hearts. These problems can persist for months, and some may even be permanent. They may even occur in people who have had a relatively mild case of COVID-19. This virus is so new that we don’t really know yet what all the long-term consequences could be.
And as I’ve pointed out, you could die. We’ve lost more than 400,000 people in the U.S. already. There’s a good chance that some of them were your acquaintances, friends, or loved ones. Over half of all Americans now know someone who has been hospitalized or died of COVID-19.
While those serious health problems have mostly been affecting older people, they can also happen at any age, especially among individuals with underlying health conditions like heart problems, lung disease, diabetes, or compromised immune systems. There is no guarantee that you are safe at any age. As of late October, COVID-19 had killed about 6,300 adolescents and adults below the age of 45.
You Could Spread COVID-19 Without Knowing It And Infect Your Loved Ones
What if you become infected with the virus, but don’t develop any symptoms? You could potentially infect your family and other people you care about, without even knowing it.
And they might not be so lucky as to be asymptomatic.
The rapid spread of this virus is easier to understand when you realize that many, many people infect others before they notice any symptoms. And some who are infected with COVID-19 never develop noticeable symptoms, but are still able to spread the virus to others.
Getting the vaccine can help you protect yourself and the people who matter to you the most.
People of Color are Particularly Vulnerable
People of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Nationwide, African Americans have died at 1.6 times the rate of their white counterparts. American Indian or Alaska natives and Hispanic or Latino Americans also have experienced a higher death rate.
There are multiple factors to account for these grim statistics, all of which can add up to a “perfect storm” of risk for COVID-19 calamity. Yet for a variety of understandable reasons, many African-Americans are reluctant to trust the vaccine. Notable Black leaders in health care such as Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an NIH scientist who helped develop one of the vaccines, and Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, have been working hard to address this vaccine hesitancy and dispel common myths. And many health care providers have shared their experiences getting the vaccine in the media and online to lead by example.
If you are a person of color, please seek out the guidance of trusted doctors and scientists, gather the information you need to weigh the risks and benefits for yourself, and don’t put off getting the vaccine!
COVID-19 Is Affecting Not Only Our Health, But Also Our Livelihoods
As long as COVID-19 continues its rapid spread, the global economy can’t recover. Millions of people have lost their jobs. People are getting evicted from their homes and having to line up at food banks to put food on the table. And it will get even worse if infection rates don’t decline dramatically.
So, please. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn — unless you have a history of bad reactions to vaccines, or are immunocompromised in some way. Then, you should talk to your doctor about whether vaccination would be appropriate for you.
If you have any concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, please read my companion blog post.
And Until We Reach Herd Immunity…
Not nearly enough doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been manufactured yet to immunize everyone in the country at once. The CDC has recommended that vaccination be rolled out in stages — first to essential health workers and long-term nursing facility residents, then to different groups of people based on their vulnerability to infection.
Even with more vaccines likely to receive Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) in the near future, it’s going to take months to vaccinate enough people to slow this pandemic down. And in the meantime…can you guess what I’m going to say?
- Wear a mask when you’re outside of your house! Wear a proper mask and wear it correctly, over your nose and under your chin.
- Keep social distance when you’re outside of your house! Stay at least six feet away from anyone who doesn’t live with you, whether you and they are masked or unmasked.
- Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds at a time — especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Monitor your health. Watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, and get tested if you have them.
- Get medical attention immediately if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, have trouble waking up or staying awake, or any other symptoms that are severe or worrisome.
- Quarantine yourself if you’ve been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, notify everyone you’ve been in contact with so they can take precautions against spreading it.
- Answer any calls you receive from your local health department! Contact tracing is a critical tool in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but local health departments need everyone’s help for it to be effective.
- Get a flu shot if you haven’t already. It will not prevent COVID-19 infection, but anything you can do to keep your immune system healthy might help reduce your risk.
I know you’re tired of hearing all this! I know you’re tired of doing all this! Believe me, so am I.
But if we want to minimize the terrible toll of this pandemic on people’s lives, this is what we have to do.
Independence Blue Cross offers important health care coverage and resources to help you get through this difficult health crisis. Please take good care of yourself and your loved ones. If we all do the right things to limit the spread and protect ourselves against the coronavirus, hopefully 2021 will be a much better year for all of us.