VOICES: Think like a physician and mask up and get the vaccine

I once expressed my views on masking, encouraging us to “think like a clinician.” As we face a COVID-19 Delta variant and another national surge, I challenge us to once again think like a clinician. Consider the following two examples.

The 33rd World Health Assembly declared the world free of smallpox on May 8, 1980. This was considered one of the greatest public health achievements in history. Smallpox was a very contagious and deadly disease, not unlike SARS-CoV-2. North America and Europe had eradicated this disease in 1952-1953 but it persisted in other parts of the world. In 1959, the World Health Organization announced an eradication campaign that was slow to gain momentum until 1967. Mass vaccination finally made this scourge history, but it took more than two decades.

There were many frightening childhood diseases in the early 20th century, but polio likely topped this list. It struck mainly in summer months, leading to periodic epidemics that paralyzed or killed thousands of children. With widespread vaccination, polio was virtually eliminated from the western hemisphere in 1994. I remember going to gymnasiums with my mother to drink the liquid vaccine.

We now have another highly contagious disease with the ability to mutate and evolve, given a host and time. We have science, technology and the commitment of private industry that labored 24/7 to bring us highly effective and safe vaccines. We benefit from widespread access to the internet, which brings a seemingly limitless amount of information to our fingertips. But it is also a vehicle for misinformation and personal agendas.

How do clinicians think? We know that vaccines prevent our children from contracting diseases such as chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, meningitis, and diphtheria. We know vaccines have rare side effects when compared to the death, disability and devastation caused by these diseases. We know that while vaccinated individuals can develop COVID-19, the chances of disease after exposure are significantly higher in the unvaccinated, not to mention serious disease.

The vast majority of patients currently hospitalized locally because of COVID-19 are unvaccinated. We know that some of the touted side effects are much more common and debilitating when they occur in individuals with the actual disease versus in the vaccinated. We know the next variant could be more deadly to our children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

At this point in the pandemic, mass vaccination will not eliminate COVID-19, we are too late for that. However, we can slow the spread, save lives and turn COVID-19 into a disease that society can live with.

A clinician knows all these facts and uses that knowledge to make the only recommendation backed by science. Get your vaccine — for yourself, your children, your family, your friends and your community.

Dr. Marc Belcastro is the system chief medical officer at Premier Health. He is board-certified in pediatrics and neonatology.