My Turn: We’re not out of the woods yet

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2021 7:00:07 AM

Last week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, reported that the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases jumped almost 70%. The U.S. had more than 33,000 new cases daily. Hospitalizations have increased 36% to about 2,790 a day. And after dropping for weeks, the seven-day average of deaths has also increased 26% to 211 deaths per day.

How can this be, with over 160 million Americans fully vaccinated? The answer is that we now have a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Fully vaccinated individuals very rarely get COVID-19, but they are protected against hospitalizations and almost never die. Presently, they are protected against the Delta variant now sweeping the world. Virtually all recent hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

Health misinformation continues to contribute to vaccine hesitancy. It is clear from the recent data that we are not out of the woods. We have not achieved “herd” immunity as some non-vaccinated individuals claim. For those of us fully vaccinated, our concern should be the development of a variant of COVID-19 nullifying the effectiveness of the vaccine. This is a possibility until we achieve herd immunity worldwide.

Over a year ago, I wrote a short piece titled “I hold a dream” (Monitor, April 7, 2020). We were deep into the pandemic and realizing the toll the COVID-19 virus was taking. The dream I held, amid the COVID-19 nightmare, was that if we were “at war” against this virus, at least we were all on the same side and we were fighting to save lives, not end them. Our only effective tools then were masks and social distancing, requiring cooperation and compassion.

We knew the ultimate solution to the pandemic would be a vaccine when we could all obtain immunity, not just to protect ourselves, but each other. Effective vaccines arrived in an amazingly short time! Remarkably, there are still those who choose not to protect themselves and others. Regrettably, those non-vaccinators are putting all of us at risk of a resurgent pandemic involving a new COVID-19 variant.

The war against this virulent virus requires expertise (the development of a vaccine), but also truth (no health misinformation), cooperation and compassion. The pandemic is an opportunity to transform our world, where we understand that safety and security come without borders and that our preservation comes with caring for each other, all humankind.

I encourage those who have not had a vaccine for COVID-19 to consider obtaining one for family and friends and neighbors, near and far, young and old.

(Oge Young is a retired OB-GYN and past president of New Hampshire Medical Society.)

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