COVID-19 Rounds Out 2020

2020 is over and perhaps that is the only good thing that we can say about it. If I had an eraser and could erase the year in its entirety, I surely would. It is really hard to think of anything positive that came out of last year. It was a year dominated by dishonest politics, terrible economics and a deadly pandemic, which continues to kill thousands of Americans daily. We have lost businesses, our favorite shops and restaurants, and many of our friends. Even now, we have no central plan to tackle the COVID crisis and mass vaccinate our population.

The overwhelmingly dominant issue of 2020 was the COVID pandemic and hopefully vaccination will improve our qualities of life in 2021. We were promised 20 million doses of vaccine given by the end of 2020. What we got was about two million. Why? No one is quite sure from where the broken promises emanate. At this current pace, full vaccination will not occur for years.  And unfortunately, we do not know how long immunity will last following the vaccine. Three months, six months, a year or longer? Only time will tell.

One good piece of news is that is appears that most people want to take the vaccine once it becomes available. This is smart. If a person has any concerns about taking the COVID vaccine, that person should weigh the risk of the potential side effects of the vaccine versus the short and long-term effects of having COVID. While the vaccine is commonly associated with arm pain at the injection site, most other side effects appear to be mild. The risk of COVID infection, however, is considerable with both short term complications such as hospitalization and death as well as long-term lingering COVID related problems such as fatigue, brain fog, clotting disorders, chronic pulmonary disease and advanced liver diseases, to name a few.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a section of the Centers for Disease Control, has outlined four ethical principles for how the COVID vaccine should be used. These principles are that the vaccine be given in a way to maximize benefits and minimize harms, that it be given in a fair way that mitigates health inequalities and that vaccines be distributed in a transparent fashion. The group has recommended that the first group to receive vaccines should be health care personnel and long-term care facility residents followed by essential front-line workers and persons 75 years of age and older followed by persons aged 65-74, persons aged 16-64 with risk high risk medical conditions and essential workers not recommended for vaccination in the second phase. After these groups have been successfully vaccinated, all persons 16 years of age and older not previously recommended for vaccination should be vaccinated. The question that remains unanswered is, “Where can people get the vaccine?” Once again, this remains to be determined.

So, what lessons can we learn from 2020 COVID crisis as we enter what hopefully will be a better 2021? Certainly, intelligent, compassionate and unbiased central leadership is critical to our success in any crisis. We should now realize that the public health of our population is not a political issue, but rather one in which we all need to act responsibly to protect ourselves and our neighbors. We should learn to listen to the experts, not the talking heads and headline seekers. We should learn to respect and fairly treat all the essential workers who risked their lives to ensure we had adequate health care, police and fire protection, appropriate sanitation services, sufficient food, working utilities, and safe roads, to name a few. But perhaps most of all, 2020 should teach us to realize what is truly important and to be tolerant and accepting of our fellow citizens. In a Jan. 6, 1941 speech, then President Franklin Roosevelt laid out four universal freedoms that we should all expect, the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. Perhaps in 2021 we can return to these basic freedoms that our parents and grandparents fought and lost their lives for so that our lives could be better.

David Bernstein
David Bernstein, MD, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly and chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

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