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What I'm Telling My Patients About the COVID-19 Vaccine

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As an orthopaedic surgeon, one of the last things I thought I would be writing about is vaccines.  This pandemic has affected everyone differently, whether it be personally, professionally, politically, or spiritually. I have been affected amongst those many variables, too, but nothing has swayed my belief in science. As I write this, I want to be clear that my motivation is not anything other than wanting to return to pre-pandemic normal with every bit of my being. No matter what you believe in, we can all agree on that.

As I mentioned, I am an orthopaedic surgeon. Patients come to me mostly for acute and chronic pain, broken bones, or decreased functionality. Not one has come to me over the past 10 months for treatment of COVID-19. I am not a true frontline worker; I thank those who are, and for what they have done and will need to continue to do. I do still come to work every day to care for patients, and I am still neurotic about not bringing home to my family what I might pick up in the hospital or OR. I am also a foodie who misses restaurants. I want my kids to get a normal education, with classrooms and social interaction, and to do so safely. I want to have dinner parties and kids’ birthday celebrations. I want to travel again without fear. I want to be able to hug and kiss my family when I walk in the door without needing to shower first. I want small and large businesses to prosper, as I have already lost many of my favorites to bankruptcy. When my patients walk for the first time after a joint replacement, I want to actually see their mouths as they smile. I want to go to ball games, and attend the college basketball Final Four with my dad again. I have friends I miss; I have both friends and family who have never met my handsome, fun, and happy 11-month-old son in person. Nothing upsets me more than this. To put it mildly, I want this f#$%&*@ virus out of our everyday lives.

The vaccine is our way out of this — and I don’t care which president or political party is responsible for its creation, distribution, or execution. Let me explain how we go back to normal. If people aren’t dying from COVID-19, and our ICUs and hospitals aren’t filled to capacity or near capacity then we can all go back to pretty much “normal.” If people aren’t dying from COVID-19, and our ICUs and hospitals aren’t filled to capacity or near capacity then we can all go back to pretty much “normal.” I write that twice because it bears repeating.

The vaccine can help us return to pretty much normal. Our society depends on hospitals and did so before COVID-19. It will continue to do so after it. The majority of us don’t hunker down, avoid public spaces, wear masks, social distance, or avoid hugging for the common cold, measles, mumps, rubella or polio. We don’t do these things because either those viruses aren’t dangerous enough to warrant it, or we have vaccines that have nearly or completely eradicated the danger. If the common cold caused as many people to die or be hospitalized as COVID-19 does, then we would need a vaccine for it, too.  

This virus and its vaccine has been politicized by both sides so heavily that those without medical training — and even some of those with it — have been distracted from the crux of this situation. Many reading this will say, “Well no shit, if people weren’t dying from this or getting very sick then we would have nothing to worry about.” That is precisely my whole point. If it prevents you from getting very sick — even if it doesn’t prevent you from spreading the disease (we don’t have complete information on this point yet) — it has the power to make COVID-19 like the common cold. That’s all we need right now to get closer to normal. 

So, let’s all get this vaccine and save actual lives, along with saving our lifestyles. Whether you are in the health care profession or not, this is every individual’s opportunity to do their part for the health of our country and, quite frankly, our world. Just waiting for everyone else to get the vaccine does not accomplish anything. If enough people do that, then our hospitals will still be overrun and we will not be able to move forward. It really is as simple as that.

To all physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals out there, please discuss this with everyone you care for. I have this conversation with all of my patients, and they are happy to hear my educated thoughts on it, no matter their political, religious, or other beliefs. As a health professional, your opinion matters, whether you are putting a cast on an arm, performing physical therapy, or prescribing an acne medication.

In the end, regardless of our political, social, or religious beliefs, most of us have disliked the way we have had to live this year. It won’t change until we do something to lower the death and hospitalization rates to a level at which we can care for medical needs without the concern of being overrun by disease. As a father, husband, son, friend, physician, and human being, I am in this with all of you. The vaccine is our ticket to normalcy.    

What are you telling your patients about the COVID-19 vaccine? Tell us in the comments.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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