Getting to Yes

For the many in our community who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, thank you. For those of you who have not yet decided, I bring these thoughts, praying you will develop the confidence necessary to get the vaccine.

For the past 42 years, I have worked as a family doctor in Williamsport. My early life was spent on a farm, near Danville, granting me the opportunity to see God’s creation up close and to admire the practical ways of country folk. Those roots framed my learning as I studied medicine and trained to become a family doctor. Being close to patients who seek out medical advice was and is my passion.

The experience of caring for patients with COVID-19 has been new, but what is similar to my usual role as a family doctor is in blending what scientific knowledge is known with the practical obligation to help my patients. My job in primary care is to encourage good health practices and to provide medical care to keep patients well enough to remain out of hospital, if possible.

COVID-19 is fraught with political divisions and our conflicts over which “news” is accurate. Having concerns about the vaccine is understandable, and yet the doctor in me that constantly seeks to weigh how to minimize harm while maximizing benefit advises you to get any of the three authorized vaccines. They are available from many of our pharmacies, the health systems, and at River Valley Health and Dental Center.

Here are some facts:

* 96% of U.S. physicians have gotten the vaccine.

* There are ample supplies of the vaccine for everyone 12 and over in our community.

* Eligible residents of our community have achieved 46% full vaccination. We need a higher percentage.

* There is not yet consistently effective treatment for those who get COVID-19.

* Up to 90% of survivors of COVID-19 have some continued symptoms after four months.

* Mask use and social distancing suppress the speed of spread but do not stop the pandemic.

* This virus will evolve until there are no patients left to harbor it. Fully defeating the pandemic is only possible when almost all eligible people get immunized.

* Younger patients are now becoming the victims of severe COVID-19 – some with long COVID-19 or death.

* There are extremely rare, serious side effects from the vaccine, which are all seen much more frequently in patients who get sick from COVID-19.

* The vaccines appear to provide broader and more long-lasting immunity than that gotten from natural infection.

* The vaccines do not remain in the body long at all. They trigger our immune process and do not alter our DNA, change our fertility, or result in viral infection.

* All taxpayers have paid for the high cost of vaccine manufacturing, whether you take it or not.

Unfortunately, specific care for COVID-19 patients has been only partially successful. We have indeed learned much about how to diagnose cases and how to limit viral spread. And, yes, hospitals have better treatment protocols for COVID-19. Long COVID-19 is present in up to 80% of those who have had severe disease with prominent neurologic problems lasting for many months.

I want to see this pandemic gone. I long to watch news reports showing that almost our entire nation has developed sufficient confidence in the vaccine to get fully protected. I want to see us protect those relatively few patients [I have some] whose conditions make getting vaccinated either more dangerous or not effective. I want our country to be able to donate millions of vaccine doses to less wealthy nations – in part because we care for people from all nations, but also for our own protection by ridding the world of this virus.

Yes, it is true that our government has not always been transparent with its data. Yes, there are experts and non-experts who question the wisdom of the vaccine. Yes, most who take the vaccine will sustain a three or four-day episode of headache, fatigue, arm soreness, and maybe fever. Yes, there will be a small group of people who will be injured by the effects of the vaccine, most of whom fully recover as did a couple of my own patients.

The reasons for vaccine confidence include:
* It protects against severe COVID-19 infection.
* It protects against spread to your friends and family.
* It protects the community, our nation, and the world.
* It protects against continuing economic distress.

Please seek safety information from reliable sources–your doctor or nurse, the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and other true experts. Knowing that the risk of this virus, if it is not contained, is so much higher than the potential risk from the vaccine, I believe you will find the confidence to make and keep a plan to get your shot – now.

Jim Redka, MD, is a family physician practicing with FPC Cornerstone and past president of the Lycoming County Medical Society.
Published: 7/10/21

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