Almost exactly nine months ago we ran a post about the COVID-19 pandemic. In that post, I explained why we were going to move forward with our “regular programming” during this unprecedented time. Since that time, I have really only mentioned the pandemic and its effects on my personal and professional life a few times on the podcast. That doesn't mean it hasn't had a dramatic effect on our lives.
Just for today, I wanted to pause our regular programming to give thanks for my early Christmas present. You see, two days ago, I received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. I received my vaccine on the same day as the Vice President of the United States, currently the highest-ranking non-immune member of the government, and days before President-elect Biden. What an immense privilege!
I cannot help but tear up as my heart swells with an immense sense of gratitude. Many times over the last nine months I have been thanked for my service on the front lines of the pandemic. I have even been offered discounts and free donuts. However, there is no better “thank you” than allowing health care workers to the front of the vaccine line.
To the American (Moderna) and German (Pfizer/BionNTech) people:
- Thank you for funding the effort to rapidly develop, test, and distribute this vaccine with your precious tax dollars.
- Thank you to the millions who continue to wait in line for their turn to receive the vaccine. It is rolling out at such lightning speed I've no doubt it won't be long before all who desire to receive it will have access.
To the research staff at Pfizer/BioNTech and similar companies:
- Thank you for your countless hours of hard work and overtime and for your dedication to your craft.
To the FDA:
- Thank you for approving an emergency use authorization.
To Congress and the Trump Administration officials:
- Thank you for prioritizing the pursuit of this miracle. I put developing and distributing an effective vaccine to a global pandemic in less than a year on par with sending people to the moon, building twenty B-24 bombers a day, and the Human Genome Project in terms of our greatest government-funded technological accomplishments.
To those who volunteered for the vaccine trials:
- Thank you. Especially for those of you in the placebo arm!
To our local government authorities, hospital administrators, and physician leaders:
- Thank you for getting us the training and information we needed, the PPE, the negative air pressure rooms, and the other physical plant and system improvements to maximize our safety.
To my co-workers:
- Thank you for showing up to fight alongside me, despite the personal risks.
What an incredible privilege to live in America at this time! To be in the first 0.01% on the planet to receive this protective vaccine! I cannot express in words how stoked I am.
I know many of you can relate to the anxiety I have felt as I prepared to go into the hospital for each shift for months. Every shift felt like it was my first shift as an attending. I washed my hands 85 times a day like I had OCD. I have been more conscious of what I touch than a third-year medical student on a surgery rotation. Like many of you, I stripped in the garage and dropped my clothes into the washing machine on the way to the shower, where I attempted to burn the virus off my skin and hair with water as hot as I could stand until the hot water heater gave out. While I knew I probably wouldn't have a severe case, I watched my residency-mate, the first doctor on the West Coast to get COVID, barely recover after weeks on ECMO. There are no guarantees. Our physician group refused to meet together in person in order to prevent an outbreak that would shut down the ED. I attempted to work with and communicate with patients through multiple layers of PPE, worrying the whole time it wasn't enough or that I would make a mistake doffing it that would lead to contamination. I held patients' hands and touched them at a time when none of their family or friends wanted to or could, or were even allowed to be in the hospital with them. I worried after encounters with patients I didn't expect to have COVID who later turned out to have it. Did I do everything right? Did I wipe that stethoscope?
I'm not normally a very anxious person, so it was unusual for me to lay awake at night with worry. Yet I did, many times. I thought there was no way I would ever be able to avoid getting COVID before a vaccine was made. I was skeptical that an effective vaccine to a coronavirus could even be made; it's never been done before. But mostly, I was worried I was going to bring it home and give it to family and friends. As the pandemic really hit Utah in the Fall, it all got worse.
In some ways, it was worse because of the guilt. You see, given our financially independent status, I didn't have to work in the emergency department. I could have quit and walked away rather than put my family, friends, and employees at risk. I wrestled with the ethical dilemmas. Did I have a higher duty to protect my family and employees who relied on me for their livelihood? Or did I have a higher duty to my patients as a physician? Was I noble, or just being selfish for continuing to go into the hospital?
Now, in the blink of an eye, I've gone from the most dangerous person in the neighborhood to be around to the safest!
We're not out of the woods yet. In fact, by any metric (case counts, hospitalizations, deaths) things are as bad as they have ever been. This vaccine, although very good, is not perfect. We should double down on our efforts to socially distance, wear masks, wash hands, and optimize medical care of the infected. It is a lot easier to make sacrifices when we know they are only temporary. We certainly need to encourage others to get the vaccine as soon as it is available. (No, I have no significant side effects, not even a strange desire to eat human flesh.) Many people will unfortunately still die before this pandemic ends and nobody wants to be the last person to die in a war. Getting sick and dying after a vaccine becomes available feels like fighting the Battle of New Orleans after the Treaty of Ghent.
However, at this point it is not just that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; some of us have now passed through the tunnel and have come out the other side. The rest of us will soon follow. Life will gradually return to normal. We will be able to see our family members. We will be able to go to school, church, and live CME conferences without masks and actually be able to shake hands. Businesses will recover. Entire industries that have been smashed will be resurrected.
It is morning in America. Let the light shine throughout the land and across our borders to the rest of the world. Thank you and may we all be grateful this holiday season for our most recent miracle.
What do you think? Have you been vaccinated? What did it mean to you to get it? Comment below!