Since the start of the pandemic, my closest high school friends and I have kept in touch through an online chat group. Not long ago, we’d travel from around the country for a weekend of fishing, meals and conversation.
The digital experience can’t compare with watching the sun rise from a small boat. Still, we try hard to stay in touch, to support each other. Added to all we have shared for decades is now loss. Loss of physical closeness. Loss of freedoms. Loss of jobs, and even life. From our homes in San Francisco, Nashville, Atlanta, New Bedford and Philadelphia, we keep each other uplifted. We know we are all more fortunate than most, but we also know that we need each other to stay afloat.
Most of the children who come to my pediatric clinic in North Philadelphia and test positive for COVID-19 do not get too sick. What is more complex and harmful to my young patients and their families is the consequences of those positive tests. Entire families must quarantine, which too often means losing a job. Worse, still, is the fear of transmission to a beloved grandparent or another elder in many a multigenerational household.
Two of my high school friends are physicians in adult hospitals, and they are seeing the pandemic from a very different perspective.
“Guys, I hate to break it to you, but the whole country is about to blow up,” one of the men texted the group in late November.
They shared stories of their hospitals filling up as admissions for COVID-19 cases tripled. One has a colleague who was critically ill from COVID-19 in the same ICU that he manages.
Everyone in the group speaks of people in their communities who doubt the severity of this virus, who are walking around without masks, certain that the virus will not affect them, and that there’s no way they could be asymptomatic and spreading it to others.
“The end is now in sight,” was the last text in this frightening chain, referring to several effective COVID-19 vaccines that could soon be distributed.
But estimates show that 70% of the population needs to get vaccinated in order to provide true “herd immunity” and a real end to the pandemic. If that doesn’t happen, hospitals will continue to fill and people will die unnecessarily, and fresh waves of anguish will saturate the country.
Reaching that 70% mark could be challenging. Some people worry that the vaccine was rushed, even though it has been thoroughly tested — and could be expedited only because of scientific advances that have quietly been happening for years. What they aren’t considering is that these vaccines are enormously effective in trials, notching 95% success rates that are rare in the vaccine world.
Others are skeptical of anything having to do with science. There are also those who have been poorly treated by the medical community personally, or who know of historical injustices to their communities and are less likely to trust the vaccine.
What I tell my patients and families who express doubts is this: As a physician, who understands the science behind vaccine development, and who has been following the vaccine trials very closely, I will get vaccinated just as soon as I can. I want to get back to normal life, knowing that I’m doing all I can to protect my patients, my colleagues and my community. I’m ready to fish again.
Daniel R. Taylor is an associate professor at Drexel University College of Medicine and director of community pediatrics and child advocacy at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.