COVID-19 Enterprise Articles

Should you Get Covid Vaccine?

By Dr. Thomas Sbarra

 

We are on the cusp of the newest phase of this pandemic. We have lived through disbelief, disinterest, disinformation, confusion, concern, panic, resignation, boredom and now, finally, relief. Or are we there yet?  Even as we recognize the potential of vaccines to end this very difficult time, we have to consider skepticism that the vaccines will work and that they will be safe. How did we get here and how do we get past this moment?

It has been a long journey. The first vaccines were for smallpox in the early 1800’s when a small amount of the material (a polite word) from the blisters of someone with the disease was heated to weaken the virus (even though they did not know it was caused by a virus, or even what a virus was), then injected into another person. remarkably, it worked. Not so remarkably, there were a lot of skeptics and side effects. In fact, some people did get the disease and even died because the process was not standardized and the science incomplete. Vaccination skepticism was born. It has been with us ever since. 

Vaccines can be scary. There is a lot of sophisticated science involved and the public is asked to take a giant leap of faith to get an injection (ouch!) of something they don’t fully understand. It is a big potential problem in this phase of the pandemic. What are the solutions? As that question implies, there are a number of things that need to be done in order to convince the public of the necessity and safety of vaccines, whether it is this one or another. 

First, let us not forget the remarkable history of vaccination. Not only have we virtually wiped out smallpox and polio, we have brought measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, yellow fever, hepatitis A, Herpes, cervical cancer, and Ebola under control among others. This is an astonishing record of success and arguably as significant in preserving human health as antibiotics. 

Secondly, the speed of vaccine development has accelerated remarkably. It took 200 years to find a vaccine for smallpox, 30 years for polio, 5 years for Ebola and 1 year for Corona-19. This is both a blessing and a curse. When the public waited decades for the polio vaccine, the public was desperate enough that there was only subdued resistance. In Africa in 2015, on the other hand, the Ebola vaccine became available relatively quickly only to find the public not ready to accept it. It was a hard lesson in the need for public relations campaigns to convince those at risk that this was not a western plot to sterilize them or worse. It took a year of workers in the community bringing the message and answering questions, one group at a time before there was widespread acceptance.

In some ways, the western countries now face the same issues, a confusing illness, difficult science and a skeptical public. We have the advantage in the U.S. of better mass communication and more education but, as we have seen, those advantages can be turned on their head with sometimes misleading information and conflicting messages from leadership. However, the basic task is the same, to answer each person’s questions with patient and repeated explanations that allow them to make good choices. 

 

We will need 70% of the population of the entire world to either have gotten the disease or gotten the vaccine before this epidemic will recede into memory. That is a daunting task. It will require a lot of sacrifice and good luck to limit infections to a half-billion people, that means we need to vaccinate 4.5 billion people worldwide and about 200 million people in the United States. A vaccination program of that size has never happened before. We have an enormous amount of work to do to not only get enough vaccine, but to supply the gowns and gloves, syringes and needles, refrigerators and workers to get it distributed. Fortunately, through public-private partnerships where governments work with private industry, these logistical hurdles are being addressed pretty well. 

Should we be wary of exotic new scientific findings? Of course we should. The health care workers would support your concerns. Science thrives on skepticism. The people who have worked on these vaccines for the past year have been intensely skeptical of their own work. Only after checking and rechecking, testing and checking again have the medications  been offered to the public. Will there be problems. Almost certainly. Will the vaccine be safer than getting the virus? Undoubtedly. In the first 1.4million people who got the vaccine, there have been 44 allergic reactions, all resolved without consequence in less than an hour. That is 1 in 30,000 people. By comparison 1 in 10 people who get the virus are ill for weeks and 1 in 50 die. The odds are with the vaccine by a long shot.

What doctors and leaders have to do is work on the emotional side of this equation to get the public to believe in the safety and usefulness of vaccination, not only for everyone else, but for themselves. I remember lining up to get the first polio vaccine in 1952. Despite being terrified of needles as 5-year olds, we could not wait for the opportunity. That was how frightened we were of polio. We should be no less concerned about Covid-19. Having others vaccinated will not make it safer for you for several years.

 

When it is your turn, I urge you to get the vaccine. It, literally, may save your life. And, until we have a significant portion of people immunized, please stay safe by continuing to be distanced, wearing a mask and washing your hands. These measures work. The cost of social distancing is very high and painful for many people. Washing your hands and wearing a mask is just annoying. Getting the vaccine is sensible. 

 

Hang in there, 2021 will be better!

 

Thomas Sbarra, M.D. is a member of the Neighborhood Falmouth Board of Directors and a well-known cardiologist.

January 2021

Covid 19 Came to Our House

By Bobye Anderson

 

My husband and I, both in our 70’s and with the accompanying age-related health issues, recently came down with Covid-19; much of December into January was a blur of fever, nausea, coughing, a few peaks, and many valleys.  We knew we were in trouble when bacon had no taste and Vicks no smell.

 

We Cape Codders had initially been fortunate in having few cases of the virus; second-home owners escaped the suburbs to settle here for remote jobs and schooling.  But the post-holiday surges caught up with us and the Cape turned the same bright hue as the rest of our state and country.

 

My husband and I got exposed; it’s sufficient to state that after ten months of masking up, hunkering down, quarantining, social-distancing, following protocols, socializing on decks, and doing exercise classes on parking lots, the virus still found us. We’ve learned a lot.  And in the spirit of sharing our experience and information, we are passing it on.  

 

The importance in this surge of watching for symptoms and possible exposures and then quickly getting tested and quarantining can’t be emphasized enough. Testing positive results in giving contact information and receiving a call from the MA Covid agency; they were extremely helpful both in giving information and asking if we had support systems in place to meet our needs.  The state Covid 19 website (www.mass.gov/covid-19-testing) is filled with information about testing and results. 

 

We have all spent the last ten months fearful that a sneeze or a cough was the onset of Covid; it’s been difficult to find that elusive balance between being cautious enough to be safe and yet not obsessive enough to be crazy. Or maybe, as I have, we have toggled back and forth between the two.  But we now know that having the virus can range from being an asymptomatic carrier to knowing it is debilitating and potentially lethal.  Everyone has to find their own comfort level of vigilance but it’s respect, always respect, that we need to have for our own health and the health of others.

 

Another take-away has been that although the virus is very individualized with different symptoms for each person, it still has distinct groups of mild, moderate, and severe symptoms. My husband thankfully had a mild case and segued into being a Caretaker Extraordinaire.  I had two weeks of constant fever and nausea, caught in a cocoon of illness I had never felt before. 

 

And just as the fever was waning, the virus circled back and quickly attacked my lungs, turning into viral pneumonia; very quickly the moderate stage threatened to turn severe.  A night in the Falmouth Hospital ER kept me from being admitted, along with medications, liquids, deep breathing exercises, and the ever-present Mucinex and Vicks.  A good quality thermometer and oximeter were essential tools for monitoring symptoms. It’s also important to remember that we don’t get to decide when we’re healthy again…. the virus does.  Just as I’m starting to feel semi-normal, the fatigue from the pneumonia revisits and reminds me that I’m not in charge. Not an easy or welcome lesson!

It’s also important to advocate for yourself and respect the process that this virus demands.  Pay attention to your symptoms and any changes in them; keep a record of the timing and amounts of medications along with temperature and oxygen levels.  Having this information at hand will help our heroic and overworked health care workers.  My husband loves spreadsheets; I have never appreciated them or him so much.  And remember to save and file all your paperwork – test results, dates when quarantining is over, creating a paper trail of your experience.  Want to take that vacation in the summer?  You just might need that information.

 

One final request regarding the virus.  Let people help you.  Ask for help. Take those offers of meals and soups and trips to the pharmacy.  If you’re sent flowers, put your face into the blossoms and inhale (if you can smell), feeling loved and supported. Even with the virus, there are golden threads woven throughout its darkness; the memory of the kindness and support of neighbors and friends will last long after it.  

 

I have to give a huge shout-out to the very wonderful Convenient MD Urgent Care, to our amazing Falmouth Hospital Emergency Room with Dr. Matthew Adamo and team, and to follow-up Dr. James O’Connor and team.  All were patient, informative, and generous in their time with this muddled and frightened patient.

 

People who watched the 80’s police sit-com Hill Street Blues may remember the gruff Sargent who always cautioned his patrolmen before leaving the station: “Let’s be careful out there.” So let’s all follow Sgt. Esterhaus’s words, bring chicken soup to friends with Covid, and be safe.  We’re almost there.

Bobye Anderson is a Neighborhood Falmouth volunteer and former member of the organization’s Board of Directors. 

February 2021

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