Vaccination is essential to limiting COVID-19 damage in NCW
Recently, The World ran an opinion piece by its business manager, Jeff Jones, asking whether we can trust health experts about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. While I can appreciate a sense of caution when making personal health decisions, I found his analysis to be unpersuasive and risky for the community as a whole.
In this country and in North Central Washington specifically, we already have a lot of people who object to social distancing and wearing masks. The impact of not following prudent guidelines can be seen in the high infection rate and the number of people in the intensive care unit at Central Washington Hospital. We are already in a pickle from a health care perspective.
If a significant number of people follow Jones’ instincts and refuse to get vaccinated, the inevitable result will be greater human suffering in terms of illness and death as well as economic damage.
Put in a more constructive light, I believe we need to be thinking about the impact of our actions on the community rather than just viewing the decisions as a mere personal preference. Seen at an individual level only, the decision to get vaccinated might include a calculation of the risk you or I might be of a) getting COVID and b) having a negative health impact.
One thing Jones; analysis misses is the likelihood of significant negative impacts if people in our region choose not to take the vaccine in significant numbers, namely putting more pressure on scarce medical resources locally and increasing the number of people who will get sick and die from this disease.
I spoke with Dr. Peter Rutherford of Confluence Health who told me that the organization is starting to see doctors and nurses leaving the profession because, he said, they are frustrated that so many people in the community and in this country refuse to take COVID-19 seriously and are objecting to simple social distancing guidelines. The actions of the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers can have a lasting, negative impact on the availability of health care here.
Another impact of not slowing the virus is that as medical caseloads locally remain high here, the more non-critical procedures get delayed, which puts a strain on the entire system and affects people across the community.
I also fail to be persuaded by the argument that the only issue that matters is whether people die from COVID-19, which misses the other impacts of the illness. Some people are minimally inconvenienced by the illness, others have lingering symptoms that will prevent or limit them from working for a period of time, a few end up with lasting symptoms, some end up in the hospital and a percentage will die. Those that die will die alone — unable to see their family members.
Families with a relative who has COVID are significantly impacted as they do everything possible to prevent the spread of the disease to relatives. That puts additional strain and burden. It’s no wonder that suicide and depression rates are going up.
So there is a massive amount of suffering that happens with COVID-19 that vaccination and social distancing skeptics fail to take into account.
As to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, initial testing has shown them to be more than 90 percent effective. As for side effects, of the 2,000 inoculations delivered by Confluence Health, there is only one case in which there may have been a side effect, Rutherford told me.
One of the most telling points of Jones’ argument is that the “virus is not equally dangerous” and that “if you are young and healthy your risk of dying from COVID is extremely low.” While this is true, there is a deeper context.
In reality, we cannot wall off all of the kids 16-and-younger in the community. They have families, including parents and grandparents with the associated health risks when it comes to COVID, Rutherford points out.
The vaccines are essential because they can get us to herd immunity at a far reduced rate of suffering. If the anti-social distancing and anti-vaccine folks have their way, we will see a lot more death, suffering and economic devastation before this pandemic is behind us.
If we act like every person is an island, we’ll be in trouble.