The Delta variant is spreading aggressively throughout the United States as I write this article. Hospitals in southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Texas and Florida are being flooded. The summer wave in many areas is fueled by low vaccination coverage, lax public health and an extremely contagious variant. Many who have refused vaccination are now dying. Meanwhile, the school starts up in person again in the US. I am the father of 8 year old and 13 year old boys and my school district has mandated masks for personal learning. I am also assistant professor of emergency medicine, Sidney Kimmel Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University. When the school board discussed the matter, I attended Zoom and had to endure multiple misinformed speeches from members of my community. Read on – and to ensure your health and that of others, don’t miss this one Certain Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
One man stated that masks have not been proven to work and harm our children. (Masks, in particular, do work and there is significant published data to back it up, as well as CDC publications.)
Another misinformed person stated that the vaccines had not been proven to prevent COVID.
Another person stated that it was her right to decide whether to wear a mask. She compared it to eating junk food – if she wanted to be fat and junk food, that was no one’s business. The main difference, of course, is that eating donuts in public will not infect other people in the community and thereby spread disease and possible death.
The school board meeting as a whole was incredibly depressing to watch and endure. Another person said that COVID-19 is not dangerous for children and that masks are not necessary. Of course, given the new Delta variant, this statement is simply not true. We are seeing an increase in pediatric COVID admissions. In Louisiana, children’s hospitals are full of COVID patients.
I didn’t want to talk, but I felt I had to. I explained that the vaccines do indeed work because they are effective in preventing hospitalization and death. Breakthrough infections can and do occur, but vaccinated individuals are unlikely to die or be hospitalized. I also explained that the risk of breakthrough infections and general contagiousness to unvaccinated individuals is why masks are necessary. I also told them that the virus is more contagious than the flu and that the Delta variant is even more contagious than the British variant. The virus is mainly spread indoors by aerosol in the air and therefore masks are necessary. In addition, I explained that having lunch indoors and obviously exposed, as the district intended, was potentially dangerous. In hospitals, where we are always masked, many outbreaks have been linked to eating with others in canteens. I’m not sure if I changed my mind, but I had to speak these truths.
After I spoke, a community member stated that the doctor on the phone (that would be me) was making dubious points. He said he could find health care professionals who would say the opposite of my statements. No credible doctor could refute my statements, which were precise and measured, yet the man said this. I couldn’t believe the arrogance and ignorance.
In the emergency department, I still see patients infected with COVID who could have been vaccinated but refused. It is with a sense of depression and frustration that I broach the subject with them. Recently I treated an elderly patient. He was hospitalized (for a non-COVID related problem) and his wife, also quite elderly, was with him. I asked if they had been vaccinated and they said no. He felt the vaccine had not been sufficiently tested, and he and his wife were concerned about how quickly it was coming to market. “Well,” I told him, “the mRNA vaccines are extremely safe and effective.” I explained that age was some of the biggest predictors of death. So I explained that they were playing a dangerous game. “If you get COVID,” I said, “both of you have a very high chance of dying.” Given their age, I thought it was about more than 14%. Essentially about 1 in 6 – a roll of the dice. I told them that never before had a drug or vaccine been given to so many people pending approval. Most FDA-approved drugs have studies involving thousands of people. These vaccines had such studies plus surveillance data from millions of vaccine recipients. The idea that we needed more data pending approval was, frankly, ridiculous.
Well, here we are, school board fights over common sense preventive interventions to protect our children and people refusing safe vaccines in favor of death. I’m not sure how to resolve this situation. Somehow we need to get rid of politics and just get back to public health and medicine regarding this crisis. COVID is not going anywhere right now. The pandemic continues to develop and the number of cases is sure to increase again this fall and winter. I wish I could stop all the lies and misinformation, but people seem entrenched in their ignorance. For the record, my fully vaccinated oldest son will attend school in person but not eat indoors, and my youngest son will be virtual until fully vaccinated. I would certainly prefer my youngest son not to be isolated from his peers again, but as his father it is my duty to use the information I have to protect him.
And to get through this pandemic as healthy as possible, don’t miss this one 35 places you are most likely to get COVID.