“In The Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man Is King.”

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Dr. Denise Bonds, medical director for the Blue Ridge Health District, gets her first COVID 19 vaccination.

I’m immune to COVID! I no longer have to worry about it. I can go out and about, carefree. I got two doses of the vaccine as of this past Tuesday. Are you jealous? You should be. You should be so jealous that when the vaccine becomes more widely available, which is soon, you will line up to get it. 

OK, some fine print. Two weeks after the second dose, there is a 95% chance that I am protected against a serious bout of COVID. So, there is a 5% chance that I could still get COVID. I like those odds, but I am not going to ditch the mask. Not until all of us have gotten vaccinated. Am I going to go to a restaurant or a movie theater? Not until we all have gotten vaccinated. So, get vaccinated. Let’s get our lives back. 

This seems like a no-brainer to me, and yet nationwide there is a strong tide of resistance to getting the vaccine. 

At St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Tehama, California, fewer than half of the 700 hospital workers eligible for the vaccine were willing to take the shot when it was first offered. At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, one in five frontline nurses and doctors have declined the shot according to the Los Angeles Times.

Other frontline workers such as truck drivers and grocery store workers are also refusing. Fifty percent of frontline workers in Riverside County, California, have refused the vaccine, leading hospital and public officials to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses. In Ohio, 60% of nursing home workers refused to be vaccinated. 

This is really disturbing on multiple levels. First, if less than half of the population gets vaccinated, we will never achieve herd immunity and the pandemic will be with us essentially forever. Second, this is a complete rupture of the social trust that is needed for us to function as a society. Vaccination will only really protect any of us if enough of the population does it. We don’t get vaccinated only for ourselves. After all, my likelihood of getting measles is pretty low, but by being vaccinated, I help keep it out of the community so your young children don’t get it. Third, this signals a rejection of science and a bias toward conspiracy theories. And lastly, it shows the deep mistrust Americans have developed toward government and other institutions. We cannot live, and we cannot thrive without trust.     

So, trust me and my comrades in arms who have been facing this pandemic up close for too long. My fellow ER docs are among the most skeptical people I know, and the most careful and critical readers of the scientific literature as well. We rarely agree on much. But nationally, the consensus is clear. Every ER doc I know agrees; these vaccines are safe and effective. Those of us who have seen this disease up close are lining up ASAP to get these shots. That should tell you something. 

Here’s what it feels like to get vaccinated. You wait in a line, six feet apart, wearing a mask. Nevertheless, you can feel the energy around you, the anticipation, the joy. Somebody on the line may be crying. You will understand. You will be overcome with relief to be freed from the constant stress and anxiety this pandemic has brought to all of us. Only when that relief floods in and that stress is lifted will you realize just how stressful this past year has been. It will still be over a month until your immunity is full, but at least it is a start toward the end. You will feel like you finally have some control, some weapon to fight back with. 

When you get to the head of the line and you are about to get your shot, ask your vaccinator what it feels like to do this work. There is a good possibility that her eyes will get misty as she talks about the satisfaction of helping so many others. Warning, your eyes might well up, too. It’s okay. Probably just dusty in there.

So, go get your vaccine. Encourage others to get vaccinated. Wear your mask. Trust each other. Help each other. 2021 can be different than 2020. 2021 can be better.  

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