Surdam: Mask up and vaccinate
It’s Sunday morning and what used to be one of our favorite days of the week is now just another day of angst. We woke up to an email from a physician colleague, which was a cry for help. She was frustrated that there wasn’t more being done to help physicians, providers and health care workers and that more wasn’t being done to help our patients and our community right now. Last night, we had a similar call from a provider in tears asking for more help. We received that same call four other times this week from different folks on our team.
After 18 months of this pandemic, those who have remained strong and in the fight are breaking. This fourth surge has brought along with it a feeling of defeat. Why? Because many people are refusing to do what we know works, which includes receiving the vaccine, wearing a mask when indoors and observing social distancing when possible. It seems many are focused more on ensuring personal liberty rather than protecting the common good. It is extremely unfortunate that this has become a political issue rather than a matter of health and safety for all of us.
Making masks optional for school children took the wind out of us. We have learned much about this disease during the past year and a half and fortunately the disease has not hit children as hard as adults. With the delta variant, we are now seeing an uptick in children becoming more ill. Hospitals are once again filling up with COVID-19 patients. We know masks prevent the spread of this disease. We know that children can pass the disease to other children and adults, including at-risk individuals. We know saying that COVID-19 is just like the flu or a common cold is absolutely false, and we don’t know what the long-term effects of the virus will be on children or adults. We know in-person education is extremely important to children. We understand how important it is to keep our economy open and thriving. So why are we not doing what we know works to keep moving forward? Saying we will just deal with it and watch people dying from the disease is unacceptable in this day in age, and extremely risky behavior. The disease has passed the point of a pandemic and is now becoming endemic.
We know that by not requiring masks at school while inside, our need for testing will increase, our pediatric population needing urgent and emergency care is going to increase and the risk to the teachers will be drastically increased. Bullying to the children who do wear masks will be a real thing. All of this could have been avoided with a simple mask mandate for another school year until children under the age of 12 can receive the vaccine and herd immunity is reached in the community. Instead, we will see increased COVID-19 cases and massive disruption to classrooms and the economy as parents will have to stay home with their exposed children.
Parents, we encourage you to educate your children to wear masks at school while inside. This education will need to be repeated daily and your children will likely be ridiculed for it, but their efforts will help save lives and decrease the burden on the health-care system. Please have the courage to be a leader in your family and in the community.
Regarding vaccines: The Pfizer vaccine has gained FDA approval, which means the vaccine has been studied extensively and the benefit of the vaccine far outweighs its potential outweighs risks. While these vaccines are new, and were developed quickly, the technology is not new and has been studied for years. The mRNA technology of Pfizer and Moderna prompts our cells to make a protein, for a limited time, that triggers an immune response in our bodies. This immune response produces antibodies and other memory immune cells that are called to action later when you are exposed to COVID-19, protecting you from the virus. Is the vaccine 100-percent effective? No, but it is close. More importantly, those who do contract COVID and are vaccinated are far less likely to require hospitalization or respiratory support once hospitalized.
If you do not receive the vaccine, you will get COVID-19 at some point. Chances are you will be fine, but there will be some, even your loved ones, who will die from COVID-19. COVID-19 is a new disease and we aren’t sure how any one individual will react to it. We do know that those with risk factors such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes are at a higher risk for poor outcomes and even death and that vaccination will give you protection when you are exposed to COVID-19. In Wyoming we have had roughly 70,000 cases of COVID-19 and 809 COVID-19-related deaths thus far. That number of deaths doesn’t sound like a lot but put in context for our state, it is downright scary. That’s the census of many high schools across the state, or more people in many towns across the state. Currently, the vaccination rate of Laramie County is about 35 percent and Albany County is 45 percent. We can do better. We need to do much better.
This is all we have right now for prevention. We know masks and vaccines work, and more importantly are safe. These are the only tools in our toolbox that will shift the burden on health care away from the hospitals and clinics and alleviate some of the massive pressure that healthcare teams are experiencing.
This is a call for action. Please wear a mask in public when you are indoors and please receive the vaccine today. You can easily receive the vaccine by making an appointment at County Health and various other places. If you are unsure of if you need the vaccine, we have made a list of who specifically should receive it.
- 1) If you work in health care, have a family member who works in health care, or have a friend that works in health care you should receive the vaccine.
- 2) If you are immunocompromised or overweight, you should receive the vaccine.
- 3) If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension or asthma, you should receive the vaccine.
- 4) If you have a friend or family member who is immunocompromised, overweight or has any comorbidities, you should receive the vaccine.
- 5) If you have a child who is under the age of 12 or you are around any children under the age of 12, you should receive the vaccine.
- 6) If you are over the age of 12, you should receive the vaccine.
And to our health-care colleagues, please be bold in speaking with your patients and friends and families about the vaccine and its importance. Be bold in speaking to the community. We would encourage you to also write an op-ed or letter to the editor that can be published then shared on social media. We need a collaborative effort to educate the public on the value and importance of the vaccine. Vaccination and masks are the only thing that will ease our volumes and lower acuities, and once again flatten the curve. Perhaps the public will listen to their health-care providers. Perhaps if enough of us say the same thing in different ways, they will hear us and help.
Dr. Dan Surdam, MD, is an emergency medicine physician at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Amy Surdam, FNP, is the COO of Stitches Acute Care Clinics and Lt. Col. in the Wyoming Army National Guard.