West End HealthlineGive the New Year a “Boost”
By Jonathan Dickman, MD, PHd
West End community, it is time to make sure you are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise has never walked the halls of a hospital recently. I have witnessed how people struggle to breathe and lay in bed day after day getting weaker and weaker due to severe COVID infection. Most patients were unvaccinated and expressed remorse, albeit too late, that they did not get their shots. Those who are lucky enough to survive severe disease have a recovery that often takes months at minimum just to feel well enough to resume their previous activities. The hospital is full of patients suffering unnecessarily from the complications of a preventable disease. Although providers work with complications from mostly preventable diseases such as type II diabetes, this ongoing pandemic feels different because preventing the torment caused by this virus is simple: everyone needs to get vaccinated and boosted.
Preventing severe illness and death from COVID in the community requires vaccination and a booster shot. Although there are some tools that medical providers must try to decrease the risk of having severe COVID after infection occurs, these tools are much less effective than vaccination. Some people state that not getting immunized is a personal choice, but this choice causes damage not only to that individual, but the entire community. Remaining unvaccinated or under-vaccinated keeps the virus circulating, infecting others, overwhelming our hospital systems and risking the creation of coronavirus variants. Medical providers look so weary these days because they find themselves dispelling vaccine myths spread by athletes, celebrities and politicians. The people spreading these myths do not understand the damage they are inflicting on our community, they have never walked the halls of a hospital and cared for a patient dying from severe COVID infection.
Now is the time to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community. Even if you had COVID in the past, the vaccines can help prevent you from getting sick again. You can find a place to get vaccinated by searching the Minnesota Department of Health’s website. The Mall of America (a community vaccination site), your local pharmacy and your clinic are places to consider getting your shots. Currently, everyone 5 or older can get vaccinated. Those 16 or older who have had at least 6 months since the second Moderna or Pfizer BioNTech vaccines or 2 months since the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should get a COVID vaccine booster. We now know that receiving the initial vaccination is not enough, the vaccine booster is critical for preventing severe disease from new COVID variants.
With the new Omicron variant, people are wondering whether vaccines will still be effective. While data is still being collected, this is not completely unfamiliar territory. Every year (including this one), we recommend a flu shot. Occasionally, the flu shot is not a good match as the virus changes in unpredictable ways. During these years we still notice that vaccination, while not preventing all symptoms, still prevents severe disease. Thus, we anticipate that COVID vaccines, while unlikely to prevent all symptoms from Omicron infection, will prevent severe disease. Thus, even with this new variant, vaccination remains the most effective way to stay healthy.
In this new year, let’s make the choice to come together and do what we can to shut this pandemic down. Make a New Year’s resolution to protect your family and neighbors. Get vaccinated. Encourage others to get vaccinated. Speak up against misinformation that hurts our community. Together, we can stop this pandemic.
Jonathan Dickman, MD, PhD is a family medicine doctor at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102. Phone: 651-241-5200