As an emergency and intensive care unit physician at the University of Washington School of Medicine in SeattleI’ve lost count of the number COVID-19 peaks since the US pandemic began in Seattle in February 2020. But this one feels different. The patients are younger. They have fewer pre-existing medical conditions. And in my hospital, more than 95% of these hospitalized patients have one thing in common: they are not vaccinated. Read on to find out more – and to ensure your health and that of others, don’t miss this one Certain Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
Although I am grateful to see news from the FDA’s recent full approval of one of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, the science has been clear to me for quite some time. mRNA vaccines, first developed in almost 50 years, are nothing short of a scientific marvel designed for situations such as a respiratory virus pandemic. Vaccines are the most effective tool we have to prevent serious illness and hospitalization, and to protect our precious healthcare resources. Some of my colleagues just published a study show exactly this.
Of course, every medical treatment has risks and potential side effects, but we witnessed the world’s largest vaccine trial, involving more than 200 million people in the U.S. receiving at least one dose. Doctors can confidently say that side effects of vaccines include: rare and generally mildand rumors of vaccines that alter DNA or cause infertility are completely baseless, with no scientific basis.
But I also sympathize with those who have been victims of disinformation. Too often I have been asked by a relative of a dying patient with COVID-19 if it was too late for the vaccine. I’ve had to say yes too many times. The next question is often, “Is there anything else that can be done?” Too often the answer is no.
Having this conversation over and over, often via teleconferencing software or the telephone, is exhausting and deeply sad, especially knowing that, in the case of unvaccinated patients, it could probably have been prevented.
I realize that not everyone sees what I see every day. While there are many stories of vaccine reactions, few hear about the realities of severe COVID-19 infection. But when I close my eyes at night, I see the healthy 27-year-old man who died after four weeks, hooked up to machines trying to keep him alive, and the young family he left behind. I now see the 41-year-old woman weak and permanently disabled after a long hospital stay. I see the 53-year-old farm worker now requiring dialysis after developing kidney failure, a common complication of severe COVID-19. And countless more.
I often hear claims of “99% survivalof COVID-19 with or without the vaccine, but in reality the facts are much more staggering 1 in 500 Americans died of this disease, and for those who survive, the devastation is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Holes in the lungs, wasted muscles, organs failing piece by piece – millions of people will experience physical, psychological and financial consequences lasting for months or years, a toll that is difficult to quantify.
The impact on our healthcare system is also difficult to quantify. The workforce, even more than beds or fans, is critically low. In Washington State, Texas and through the whole country, experienced health professionals are: leaving the profession en masse, annoyed by the constant onslaught of sick COVID-19 patients and a demanding work environment. People – nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors, physiotherapists, sanitary workers – do the work in hospitals; a hospital bed is worthless without healthcare staff.
Due to these staff shortages hospitals are conclusive, and the inequalities and weaknesses in a already stretched healthcare system be exposed. Revered as ‘healthcare heroes’ just a year ago, doctors are harassed and even… attacked after speaking out about science at school board meetings.
I am frustrated that more Americans have not chosen to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to take this pandemic seriously. I often wonder what 2021 would look like if they had. In the hospital, for example, we have been wearing masks for procedures and to protect ourselves against other respiratory viruses for years. We know that SARS-CoV-2 virus can be spread by aerosols suspended in the air, and that some masks cannot completely block these droplets. But we also know that COVID-19 and most other respiratory viruses also spread through coughing and sneezing through larger respiratory droplets, which most masks do block. Masks are not perfect, but there is strong evidence that they reduce transmission.
With many hospitals at capacity, there have been questions in the media and elsewhere about: whether hospitals or health professionals should prioritize the care of the vaccinated, or even refuse to care for unvaccinated individuals who develop severe COVID-19, but that is not how we think. In medicine, especially in emergency medicine and intensive care, we often care for people who make poor choices about their health. We advise, we provide information, we hope and we continue and provide the exact same care regardless of choices or beliefs.
Though stretched thin and imperfect, we do our best for everyone who needs us. But many places have reached a point where the demand for healthcare exceeds the capacity to provide it. And we need help.
This article was republished from The conversation.