This story appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Read more here.
One year ago this week, I became the first person in the state of Michigan (outside of a clinical trial) to receive a COVID vaccine. The mood at the time was electric, brimming with optimism. A photographer documented the moment of triumph. After nine long months of struggle and fear, we were hopeful for the promise that the vaccine brought. It was a holiday present for the world, thanks to the hard work and dedication of countless people involved in its development and the many volunteers who rolled up their sleeves for the clinical trials. At long last, we could see a path forward to move beyond the pandemic.
One year later, I reflect upon the difficulties that we have faced in our collective struggle against COVID. As a pulmonary and critical care physician, I have watched countless people suffer — and many die — as a result of COVID. It breaks my heart to contemplate the tomorrows that these victims will not share with their families. I mourn these losses as mostly preventable, now that effective vaccines are easily obtained without cost at our corner pharmacies.
While no vaccine is perfect, the reality is that vaccination would prevent most of these tragic losses. Being fully vaccinated means that you are at least 90 percent less likely to become my patient on a ventilator. And being fully vaccinated means it is at least 90 percent less likely that I will need to sign your death certificate as a result of COVID. One day last week in the ICU, for example, I provided care for 14 patients on a ventilator with COVID. Of these, 13 were unvaccinated. With a heavy heart, I know that many of them will succumb despite the heroic efforts of the health care team. If you walked in my shoes for a week, you would choose to be vaccinated tomorrow.
Initial hesitancy to receive a new therapy is certainly understandable. However, the mounting track record of these vaccines is one of safety, as 236 million Americans have received a COVID vaccine. COVID vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety evaluation in U.S. history. For most, the tiny risk of an adverse reaction is clearly outweighed by the immense benefit. Over the last several decades, vaccines have paved the way for us to move beyond the ever-present fear of measles, smallpox and polio. Let us move past this pandemic together. The best way for us to do so is for each of us to be vaccinated. Let’s beat Covid, together.
As a critical care physician for more than 15 years, I am acutely aware of life’s fragility. But daily life in the intensive care unit has also instilled in me the value of hope. One year after receiving the first COVID vaccine administered in Michigan, I hold tightly to this hope. Unless you have prohibitive medical reasons, I urge you to give yourself and your loved ones a gift this holiday season. Get vaccinated.