A year has passed. A year since the pandemic reached our slice of the Cross Timbers. It’s been a harrowing year full of experiences many of us thought we’d never have. Many of us isolated. Many didn’t. Many masked. Many didn’t. The virus ravaged some and left others unscathed. Through it all, your servants in the medical community have weathered the storm along with you, trying to beat back the waves of the surge only to see the waters rise uncontrollably at times and engulf us all, washing the less fortunate of us out to sea. It’s been a year of heart-break, of raw emotion, of unabashed opinion mixing with fact into a muddled slurry where one almost became indistinguishable from the other.
Even now that muddling persists. Too many sources. Too many articles, some touting the veracity of legitimate randomized placebo controlled trials pushing the evidence forward while others propped up the opinions and unsubstantiated claims of mere observation and anecdote. The age in which we live has brought previously unimaginable advancements that have benefitted us greatly, but persists as a double edged sword, making available at our fingertips the written and spoken words of anyone with a keyboard or video camera and a connection to the internet. Doctors have claimed that they have found miracle cures, fanned the flames of hope in the layperson, only to have those intense fires snuffed out by the slow, plodding advance of legitimate science. Every facet of the pandemic from cause to cure, from survivability to susceptibility has been scrutinized and politicized. Conspiracy theorists – of which there are a shocking number, mind you – have spun the narrative down circuitous paths that have elicited a gamut of emotion from confusion to raw, unadulterated and unnecessary fear. (Nanobots? Seriously?) All the while, we medical folks have stood in the trenches, educating, diagnosing, treating, feeling.
Now, we have a favor to ask you. I want to state it as simply as I can. If you are able to be vaccinated against Covid-19, we medical folks are BEGGING you to do so. It doesn’t matter which shot you get. The best one is the one that is available to you. The mechanisms of action, the number of injections, the rate of decrease of severe illness do not matter. Simply put, the Pfizer (which I got), the Moderna (which my wife got) and the Johnson and Johnson (coming soon) have all been proven safe and effective to prevent severe illness from Covid-19. And – as predicted – have been proven to slow the transmission of Covid-19 as well. Explaining the various mechanisms of action of the vaccines is beyond the scope of this plea. Many have explained it better than I. (Facebook search – your friendly neighbor epidemiologist and your local epidemiologist). But if you want some information on the mechanism of action, safety data, and why I know the shots are safer than getting Covid-19, I’m happy to discuss it. (254) 968-6051. Or leave your questions in the comments and I will answer legitimate questions (not fear-mongering hate speech) as best I can with evidence and clarity.
You need to be vaccinated for 2 reasons. The first and perhaps most important to you is that the best way to not die from Covid-19 is to not get Covid-19. The best way to avoid getting Covid-19 is to get vaccinated. That’s as simple as it can be. The second reason is for your neighbor. Like it or not, ignore it or not, we all have a responsibility to one another. You may think that your decision regarding vaccination (or masking and distancing, for that matter) only affects you. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We desperately need a large majority of Americans to be vaccinated in order to lower the rate of infection to a point that is manageable. In addition, the lower the rate of infection in the population, the less likely we are to develop a mutant that escapes the vaccine. If we have an infectious mutant that is not covered by our current vaccines, we’ll have to start this mess all over again and, let me be the first to say I do NOT want to do this year over. I have seen entirely too much heartache, pain and overwhelming grief due to the illness to want any part of that. In the interest of patient privacy I won’t publicly share any specifics of the lives I have seen broken (patients who both survived and died). We are only now learning of the lasting effects from Covid infection – some of which have persisted for months or even close to a year in previously infected individuals. You may think you are young and healthy and Covid-19 won’t cause lasting harm to you – and you may be right. But you can be a vector. You can be a link in the chain that binds the most vulnerable of us to an early grave. The vaccine is the best chance we have at breaking that deadly chain.
To date the Erath County Vaccination Center has fully vaccinated 752 residents. 4338 residents have had their first dose. Looks like to me that’s a little over 10% of the county that has been vaccinated through the ECVC. I know some vaccines have been given at various other locations such as Accel Health as well as some of the local pharmacies and the hospital. Regardless, we have a long way to go. Today, the state of Texas opened vaccination up to category 1c. That includes anyone over 50 regardless of medical history, anyone over 18 with a medical problem that puts them at risk, educators, and healthcare personnel. The website to register for vaccination is https://erathcounty.quickbase.com/db/bq7gapinn?a=nwr. There are appointments available this week. I don’t care where you get your shot and I don’t care which one you get. It’s safe. It’s effective. It’s the right thing to do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that today we entered a new phase in Texas – we are 100% open and the statewide mask mandate has been lifted. I celebrate with businesses that the constraints that have been placed on them by the state have been lifted. We are a people who embrace freedom and eschew fear. However, I, and nearly all my colleagues (ESPECIALLY THE EPIDEMIOLOGISTS) must caution that Governor Abbott’s ruling does not mean that we are out of the woods. The freedom that we enjoy in Texas carries with it not a small amount of personal responsibility. As I mentioned before your decision to wear a mask and/or distance from others is not just about you. You may not fear the virus’ impact on your own life, but we can’t afford to be reckless with our neighbors. Just as we don’t allow people to drive through neighborhoods at 80 mph because of the risk to children who might run in the road, your decision to ignore CDC recommendations puts others at risk from a virus which has killed half a million Americans in 1 year. I celebrate with you that our infection rates are much lower than they were this fall. Actually I celebrate that quite a lot because a few weeks ago, while many of my patients were very sick and some dying with Covid-19, I couldn’t transfer hospitalized patients who desperately needed specialist care for their heart attacks and strokes and chests full of blood (yes – that happened). But to add some perspective – our infection rates are near what they were last summer and with, say, 80% of our county unvaccinated, the field is ripe for another bloom of cases that could land us right back where we were. Remember, natural immunity wanes (thankfully vaccine induced immunity seems to persist much longer!) and you can get a re-infection that can be more severe the second time around. Or you can just be an asymptomatic spreader – again. Freedom is beautiful and precious. And, as I have been reminded by many of you more than once in this last year, it is often more valuable than safety. Neither is completely paramount – there must be a balance. And FREEDOM DEMANDS RESPONSIBILITY.
Love your neighbor. Protect them. Protect you. Get your vaccine.
— Benjamin A. Marcum, M.D.