By Dr. Robert A. Kaplan
As a pediatrician who has been taking care of children and families for 40 years, I have been able to witness advances in medicine that improve the lives of individuals and strengthen our communities. Over the past forty years I have seen amazing improvements in all area of public health which has made our lives better.Covid-19 has challenged us in all these areas, but we have a way out of it-mass vaccinations.
When I was a young child living in NY, we had to be careful each spring and summer due to outbreaks of Polio. In fact, my sister got it when she was 3 years old-luckily it was not too bad, but she still has a leg length difference 65 years later. Back then there was a big rush to get a vaccine to prevent this terrible disease that harmed thousands of children each year. I was lucky to be able to get the oral polio vaccine when I was in third grade. We all got it in our classrooms that year. Within a few years, the yearly epidemics of polio were gone. We could finally go to lakes and pools to swim and vacation again. I know that most of you who will read this have never heard of or ever seen polio-you are lucky. I hope the same thing happens in the next year or so as we all get the Covid-19 vaccine.
As a Pediatrician one of the main ways I have helped my patients and my community is to provide immunizations to your children. It is one of the major parts of a foundation for health and well-being. Just like Polio did, the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed us socially, economically, politically, medically, and interpersonally. I have such great relief and expectations that we now have safe, effective vaccines that can turn the tide and permit us to resume our lives with the freedoms and opportunities we so value.
The diseases we have been able to control through vaccination in our country are devastating and worldwide. Polio, smallpox, major types of meningitis, measles and many other communicable infections have caused more death, pain and suffering than most of us know or understand. We are lucky to live in an area and country where our vaccine rates are high enough to prevent any of them becoming epidemic again.
COVID-19 is another stealth killer that has devastated us through its ability to sneak around, kill and create chronic illness in those who survive it. Unlike many of the other killers we have controlled, Covid-19 is silent and stealth. We can’t see what it looks like on a patient until they are very ill. The virus has an uncanny ability to infect some without creating illness, leading to asymptomatic spread that has multiplied its impact in ways we could never have imagined or expected. It has been the most destructive force against humankind most of us will ever see, with no regard for race, creed, religion or geography.
Before vaccines, the only ways we could try to control the spread of infection have been through quarantines and careful hygiene.
Wearing a mask and social distancing is worth it, even if it reduces death and disease by a small degree. We owe this precaution to each other. These things will slow the spread, but will not decrease the amount of virus in the community. Getting vaccinated is a bigger commitment but is the only way to get us liberated from this scourge. We must try and decrease the amount of virus in the community and the only way is by mass vaccination.
We have always had some families who are vaccination hesitant, worried about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine or some undiscovered side effect. For other vaccine preventable diseases, they ae lucky enough that we have herd immunity that protects them also. Getting Covid-19 under control will not be easy until we reach a good level of herd immunity. Like with other vaccines, I can only reassure them that the science and experience have been incredibly positive and reassuring. Millions have received it and the incidence of serious side effects is remarkably small. Each of us must weigh the minimal side effects with the devastation to our social and economic life that Covid-19 has wrought. We are all social animals and need social contact-the only way to get that back if for all of us to get vaccinated.
We all have to obey laws that we may feel violate our freedom of choice-speed limits, no smoking, car seats, motorcycle helmets to name a few. Is having to put your child in their car seat a violation of your freedom or a smart safe way to transport your child? These “rules” make our whole society better and safer. Vaccines are not a political statement. Vaccination is not a conspiracy or individual subjugation; it is a scientific humanitarian solution.
Covid -19 has only been with us for about a year now. Information is always changing as we get to learn and understand the virus more. With 24/7 media coverage we hear every new theory, side effect, variance quickly. This has led to a lot of misinformation about COVID-19, its origins, contagiousness, severity of illness, diagnosis, treatments and the vaccine. One cannot deny the massive loss of life and pain it has caused so many of our fellow Americans. It can be hard to understand or know unless you have seen it firsthand. Those of us who care for infected patients and their families know its reality.
We have done this before as a country, fought through difficult times. We need to emerge from the socioeconomic disaster the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us along with its toll of human suffering. As a physician who has witnessed the positive impact of immunizations, I implore all to get immunized. It is the only way we can do it.