"At my hospital, over 95% of COVID-19 patients share one thing in common: They’re unvaccinated."
Dr. Nick Johnson, Associate Professor and Section Head for Critical Care, has written a somber yet impactful personal reflection about his experience being an emergency medicine and critical care physician throughout the last nineteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic and his deep sadness about the current surge deluging most of the US.
Although there are some similarities between past and current surges, Dr. Johnson notes that this one is different in several distinct ways: “the patients are younger … they have fewer preexisting conditions” and most importantly, “over 95% of these hospitalized patients share one common feature: They’re unvaccinated.”
Dr. Johnson goes on to explain the efficacy and importance of mRNA vaccines and the disinformation swirling around about them. “First developed over nearly 50 years ago, [mRNA vaccines] are nothing short of a miracle of science designed for situations just like a respiratory virus pandemic,” Dr. Johnson explains. He echoes what most other healthcare professionals have been voicing for several months now: “[these] vaccines are the most effective tool we have to prevent severe illness and hospitalization and protect our precious health care resources.” He offers this recent article in support of his statements about the efficacy of mRNA vaccines.
Numerous healthcare recommendations and mandates have been the subject of serious and sometimes dangerous misinformation campaigns as of late with vaccines taking the brunt of the blow. Dr. Johnson explains that “every medical treatment has risks and potential side effects, but we’ve witnessed the world’s largest vaccine trial, with more than 200 million people in the U.S. receiving at least one dose.” Despite this, there are large swaths of the country where people are still hesitant and even believe that they will have serious side effects as a result of getting that vaccine, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. “Doctors can confidently say that vaccine side effects are rare and generally mild, and rumors about vaccines altering DNA or causing infertility are completely unfounded, with no scientific basis” Dr. Johnson explains.
Vaccine hesitancy is most devastating for those who change their mind too late: “Too many times I’ve been asked by a family member of a dying patient with COVID-19 if it was too late for the vaccine. Too many times, I’ve had to say yes. The next question is often, 'Is there anything else that can be done?' Too often, the answer is no.” This is a scenario Dr. Johnson knows all too well, unfortunately; patients who have fallen victim to vaccine misinformation and are dying from COVID-19 asking if they can have the vaccine now. Dr. Johnson remarks that having this conversation over and over again is profoundly sad, especially because most of the time, in the case of unvaccinated patients, this could have been prevented; they could have gotten the vaccine before it was too late.
Dr. Johnson admits that most people do not see what he sees every day and that while there are many stories about adverse vaccine reactions floating around the internet, few people rarely get to see the carnage of severe COVID-19 infections. For those who die, it is a devastating several weeks of being hooked up to machines desperately trying to keep you alive. For those who live, the effects are unquantifiable: “Holes in lungs, muscle wasted, organs failing one by one – millions of people will suffer physical, psychological and financial consequences that will last months or years.” People often throw around hearsay COVID-19 statistics wantonly, for example that the virus has a 99% survival rate. Dr. Johnson points out that in reality, 1 in 500 Americans have died from this disease for a total of nearly 650,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Apart from the impact on the lives of those who contract the coronavirus, the toll on healthcare systems locally, nationally and globally is also unquantifiable. Healthcare workers across the country are leaving the profession in mass exodus, “exasperated by the continuous onslaught of sick COVID-19 patients and a demanding work environment.” Dr. Johsnons poignantly states: “a hospital bed is worthless without staff to provide care.”
Dr. Johnson's words in this piece are heartbreaking and necessary. Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed and healthcare systems grind to a near halt because large portions of the population still refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated. For Dr. Johnson and numerous other nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and sanitations workers who work in these hospitals, there is a sense of immense frustration about the defiance to masking and vaccination: “I’m frustrated that more Americans have not chosen to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to take this pandemic seriously.” He conjectures: “I often wonder what 2021 would look like if they had.”
For Dr. Johnson and the many other healthcare professionals across the country and globe, the message is clear: get vaccinated. It is safe and it will save lives, both your own and others. Click here to read Dr. Johnson’s full article in The Conversation.