I am still surprised that so many people have not had their COVID-19 vaccine. I often hear people say they are fearful of the vaccine because “things keep changing with COVID-19” or, “I am still doing my research.” Simply put, these are excuses. The fundamentals of COVID-19 are not changing. We are continuing to learn more about this virus, and the methods of how we treat it are having greater efficacy. Science is awesome.
Here is what we have learned: the science, clinical studies and billions of people across the world who have received the vaccine have proven that it is safe and effective. The vaccine has been incredibly helpful in keeping people out of hospitals and preventing serious illness.
We have all heard countless stories in the media of young, otherwise healthy and fit individuals suffering or even dying when they get COVID-19. Working in healthcare, I can tell you it is devastating to see this, particularly when we know there is a way for the majority of individuals to avoid ending up hospitalized with this terrible illness. But it takes all of us working together to continue to fight and ultimately beat this disease.
If we asked a cancer patient if their cancer could have been prevented with a shot, what do you think they would say? They probably wouldn’t second guess what was in it; they would enthusiastically agree to it knowing it could ease their pain and suffering. This is the same reality when it comes to COVID-19 – a shot will likely save your life.
We have learned that once again during the recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations that the overwhelming majority of those in the hospital are not vaccinated, and those hospitalized who are vaccinated, in most cases, have a significant preexisting condition that is exacerbating the virus.
With so many people refusing vaccines, we have learned to move forward and take it upon ourselves to keep safe. We have to ask: “Have you been vaccinated?”
It can be a difficult question to ask. It can be awkward. It can possibly end a friendship, or at least pause it. But knowing the answer is one more step you can take in protecting yourself. Do you ask your Uber driver, restaurant server or doctor if they are vaccinated? For many, an affirmative answer increases their comfort level and the likelihood that they will ride in the car or eat at the restaurant.
Inova recently mandated vaccines for all team members because we want our team members and patients to feel safe coming here for care. If your child had a peanut allergy, wouldn’t you ask about that? We need to normalize the vaccination conversation. When you ask, you are being smart, you are following science and you are protecting your children, yourself, your family and your community.
My suggestion for making it easier to talk about the vaccine with others is to start with yourself, “I am vaccinated, are you?” I want to have all the information before making a decision. If they say no, I ask if I can provide any information or guidance in helping them make the decision. After all, I am a doctor. Sometimes they take me up on my offer, sometimes they don’t, but I am confident I am doing the right thing for me, my family and my community.
I encourage everyone to ask and verify the vaccination status of the people you are interacting with face to face. Knowing the answer to this important question is imperative to reducing the spread of COVID-19, minimizing breakthrough infections and encouraging others to do their part to protect themselves and the people around them.
The writer is president of Inova Alexandria Hospital.