Opinion: Vaccines Are Coming. What Can We Do Until Then?

Dr. Adam Dougherty receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Sutter Medical Center.
Dr. Adam Dougherty receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Sutter Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Dougherty.

Just weeks ago, in the final days of 2020 as the pandemic surged across the U.S., health care workers like me finally saw a glimmer of hope in the dark winter as we received the first of two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. I felt relief as I received my shot. After months of relentless pandemic care on the front line, we have finally received a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19 that will help California return to some normalcy over the coming months.

But this moment of hope has been dampened by reckless misinformation around the vaccines. Despite the fact that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown to be over 90 percent effective in clinical trials, with a miniscule risk of any severe side effects, still nearly 40 percent of Americans say they won’t get the vaccine. This number is disheartening, considering that Dr. Anthony Fauci has estimated that up to 85 percent need to be vaccinated for true herd immunity. Without widespread confidence in the vaccines, the coronavirus could stick around for years to come.

I trust these vaccines and urge the community to listen to the advice of health experts. When we receive the vaccine, we don’t just do it for ourselves, we do it to protect our loved ones and others who are at higher risk. Just as protective measures like wearing a mask and social distancing are acts of compassion to help flatten the curve, getting vaccinated is an act of compassion that will help us to save lives and stop the spread.

The hope that comes with the vaccines arrives at an incredibly dark moment for California. The state surpassed the grizzly number of 3 million confirmed cases, just three weeks after reaching 2 million. The state’s ICUs fell below 2 percent capacity in the final days of 2020. Sacramento has begun to send patients to an overflow facility at the Sleep Train Arena.

Frontline health care workers are tired and overwhelmed. We fear that, if this trajectory continues, we may no longer be able to provide the care that patients need. I have personally experienced the devastation of the pandemic, both in the hospital where I work as an emergency physician and in my personal life where I have lost family members to the virus.

The realities of quarantine and isolation are daunting, and I know that the effects on the mental health of the community have been exhausting. Yet, now more than ever, sticking to public health guidance can save lives. The finish line is within sight where we will once again be able to hold our loved ones. Taking protective measures today ensures that the vulnerable will be able to celebrate with their families in the future.

Please continue to wear a mask whenever you leave your home. Practice physical distancing by staying six feet apart at all times. Wash your hands regularly. Stay in your pods and keep them small. Get tested and self-isolate if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms. Visit your county’s public health website for additional safety guidance, as well as updated information on testing sites and vaccines.

As we enter this new year, there is a sense of cautious optimism. If we remain alert, follow guidance and receive the vaccine when our turn comes, we can save lives.

Dr. Adam Dougherty is a Vituity emergency physician practicing in Sacramento and a board member of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society.

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