By Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association
The SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to rage across our country as we suffer through this third wave of COVID-19. The USA has more than 15 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 with one million cases occurring in the last five days at the time this column was written. By comparison, it took 99 days to reach the first one million cases in the US. Hospitalizations have reached records of admissions of COVID patients. More than 300,000 families will not be blessed with the presence of their deceased loved one during this Holiday season. We hit a tragic record of over 2,600 deaths yesterday. This is the human toll on those sick and dying.
But we must be reminded that there is a severe physical and emotional toll on our healthcare providers. Field hospitals are reopening, and ICUs are filling up around the country. Lastly, we cannot ignore the livelihood and societal consequences of this plague. Congress is stalemated even as the governmental supports to individuals and small businesses are on the verge of expiration. Unemployment and job losses are no longer on a steady course of improvement. Our pastimes and traditional means of entertainment are still limited. These problems will worsen as more focused shutdowns are being implemented.
Our best reasonable hope of ending this pandemic is by extensive vaccination. The world’s scientific and epidemiologic community has worked tirelessly to rapidly develop a variety of vaccines, which are geared at fighting this virus. One of those vaccines, which was developed by Pfizer and a German company BioNTech, was injected into arms in the United Kingdom (UK) starting a week ago. This vaccine has been evaluated by our FDA and a decision regarding Emergency Use Authorization for the United States has been approved, with the vaccine now being administered to healthcare workers and the most vulnerable.
The data released by the FDA thus far shows a 95% effectiveness with few serious side effects. It has been noted that a frequent number of people in the study developed minor side effects, which lasted usually around 24 hours. The early experience in the UK has reinforced the need for people with a history of severe allergic reactions should avoid getting this, just like other vaccines.
People of color are impacted disproportionately by COVID-19. African Americans are up to 3 times more likely to die and 4.7 times as likely to be hospitalized. A greater proportion of Black businesses are shuttered, non-essential jobs lost, and the education of Black children is more severely affected by being out of the classroom. It stands to reason that those who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 should be able and willing to have access to vaccines. Unfortunately, African Americans have a historical understandable distrust of the healthcare system. There is also a profound mistrust of this government that has overseen this rapid development of the vaccines. A Pew Research poll from October 2020 revealed that only 32% of African American adults would take a COVID-19 vaccine. Convincing the skeptical will require transparency, the silence of any politician not promoting the public health good, and a monumental public relations campaign led by trusted community members. It will take extraordinary effort to overcome mistrust and convince the vulnerable of the benefits of vaccination.
Yes, Americans see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. We must be willing to do our part to survive the journey through the tunnel. As healthcare providers we must see and study the data so that we may confidently and convincingly provide the information and encouragement for patients to become vaccinated. As citizenry, we must listen to the information being provided by trusted sources and hopefully put aside historical and contemporary fears so that we may take advantage of the medical technology to end this scourge.
We all need to be reminded that light travels a long way and the beacon that we see is “farther than it appears.’’ It will optimistically be late Spring 2021, before widespread vaccination is achieved. Even this will not signal a sudden return to our old normal. In the meantime, we must keep ourselves ALIVE while we journey toward vaccination and normalcy. Staying healthy, alive, working, and kids being educated still requires that we WEAR our mask, WASH our hands, WATCH our distance, and avoid large crowds.