I have heard more than one person in the hospital comment that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if people who actively oppose getting vaccinated from COVID-19 just get sick and die. Then no one would have to listen to them anymore. Those are pretty harsh words and obviously not meant to be interpreted literally, but it’s clear the COVID-19 sympathy train has left the station.
Becoming critically ill from COVID-19 is now officially a preventable disease. The mRNA vaccines are one of the great achievements in medicine of the last century. Their effectiveness is tremendous. Are they perfect? No. People can still contract symptomatic COVID after being vaccinated. Is there a sub-section of folks who have had bad reactions to the vaccine? Absolutely. However, the vast majority of people have had minor issues. It seems that vaccines provide robust protection against serious illness. Any possible risks of getting vaccinated are clearly outweighed by the benefits.
A few months ago I had sympathy for those who were skeptical or scared to get the vaccine. It didn’t seem entirely nuts to want to wait and see if any unexpected side effects would be unearthed.
My sympathy has since evaporated.
Over 300 million doses of mRNA vaccine have been distributed with minimal problems. If you are still hesitant or fearful, but open to the idea of vaccination, the time to decide is now- today. You are out of time. The COVID delta variant is exploding. It has been described as one of the most contagious respiratory viruses in history. This is not the COVID of 2020. There will be no more hiding. I will say it now- almost everyone will get it, vaccinated or not. The vaccinated however will be protected from death and serious disease; for them it will be like a common cold. For the unvaccinated however, how they fair will be a bit of a crapshoot as the virus explodes unchecked around the world.
This sounds a lot like it could turn into a reenactment of Passover from the Book of Exodus? It’s like the vaccine is the lamb’s blood the Israelites mark above their doors to spare the Angel of Death from visiting their home and taking their first born. In our modern day version, COVID-19 is the Angel of Death.
Those of us who have worked with COVID patients cannot really comprehend why someone would not want the vaccine. When I was initially offered the vaccine, if my only option was have it directly stabbed into my eye, I would have taken it straight into my vitreous without blinking. We have just seen so much pain and death.
I still vividly remember the 30 year old previously healthy women with severe COVID who, as I broke her ribs with each chest compression, would wake up grab my arm and mouth “help me” and then quickly lose consciousness when we paused compressions to check her pulse. She would then wake up again as we pounded on her chest, then pass out… over and over and over- for an hour. Eventually she stopped waking up and I had to tell her family at 2am she was never coming home. This poor women never had the option to take a vaccine. My sympathy for her and her family ran deep.
Today, when someone who has refused the vaccine comes into the hospital and gets sick, I feel bad for them. But it’s a tangibly different feeling. Our compassion is reserved for other non-COVID patients who have been suffering during the pandemic. If you show up in the Emergency Room unvaccinated and sick with COVID, the first word health care workers will use to describe you is “Idiot.” Actually, we will probably still feel bad for you because we tend to genuinely care about other people in the world and it’s hard to stop ourselves from caring. But I am unlikely to evoke the same level of empathy that I had for that young woman who died in my arms. I will feel bad for you in a similar way I felt bad for the guy I once saw who decided to self inject methamphetamine and then shoot a firecracker up right up his ass. “Sorry you exploded your colon sir, but umm- that was fucking dumb.”
When I hear folks lecture me how mandating masks or vaccines is oppressive and against our rights as Americans, it exhausts me. The anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers I will no longer politely tolerate. I think in this country we have long tolerated their public health jeopardizing voices. Their freedom to reject vaccination science and tell everyone about it aligns itself with the American heralded ideal of preserving our God given right to choose what to do with our lives in the Land of the Free. We are individuals. How can we mandate masks and vaccines in America? If we want to take a risk with our lives, it’s our individual choice right? I mean…Freedom. That assumption cannot be challenged in America. We are not communists. In reality we must accept that individual rights about vaccines and public good need to find a balance just as they do in other aspects of our society.
These days everyone seems to think they are the protagonist of this story. But guess what? In reality you are not the star of the film. You are just a tiny background actor in the world’s larger movie. You are one instrument in an orchestra of seven billion. Our individualism is an illusion. We are all connected and dependent on each others actions- all of us- especially when it comes to tempering the fallout of an unleashed deadly virus.
If your selfish choices would only lead to your family having to one day contemplate if they wanna spring for the fancy coffin and nice deli sandwiches at your funeral, no one would care what you do. But during this pandemic, your choices can truly affect my life, my kids lives. That is why my tolerance of allowing folks to skip the vaccine is waning.
If you want the freedom to reject a vaccine you should have to suffer the complete consequences of said choice. If someone doesn’t want you on a plane, or at a school, or in a restuarant- that is their right to keep you out. If an insurance company wants to say they will not cover your hospital bills if you are unvaccinated and contract COVID, they might have a case. I once saw an ICU bill for over 10 million dollars so I hope you have good credit. No one is giving you a discount. You may think you are independent and not reliant on anyone, but when you get sick, and someday you will, you may become completely dependent: A caring nurse will have to clean your butt after you crap yourself in your own bed. A respiratory therapist will administer you life sustaining oxygen with a smile. A physical therapist will coach you learn to walk again after a prolonged illness. Each night you will pray that these kind souls don’t one day say, “You know what- I don’t really want to help you anymore, cause you know- Freedom.”
I still hold out hope for the few who are just scared or hesitant to get the vaccine. I met an old friend the other day who had not yet gotten her vaccine. She just couldn’t commit to getting the shot, but she was open to listening. She wasn’t peddling any political statements, protesting government recommendations, or falling down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole. She just honestly wasn’t sure. Intellectually, she knew she should get vaccinated, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. While talking to her, I found her concerns remarkably understandable and sympathetic.So I talked to her. I took a moment to explain what was happening with the vaccine and the virus. I listened.
These are the people health care professionals need to seek out and have a dialogue with…now.
Right now each of us who cares must reach out to anyone you know who might be hesitant and push them to get vaccinated. We must use our last ounce of compassion for the patients who have not yet gotten sick. These are the folks who can still be helped.
I can now happily report my friend has today gotten her vaccine.
Unfortunately those that choose to ignore our warnings will be on their own- hopefully they will be lucky and stay out of the hospital.
But remember if you choose not be vaccinated and get seriously sick from COVID and admitted to hospital, when you ring your call button because you are gasping for breath and need to have your oxygen level increased, you might have to wait a minute. Your neighbor in the hospital bed next door needs help first and your nurse honestly cares about him more.
He has a firecracker stuck up his butt.