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Opinion: With COVID, don't let your guard down!

Dr. Eli Reshef
Dr. Eli Reshef

This disease was the most feared of its time. It hit without warning, requiring long quarantine periods in which relatives were separated. Victims either died or were marked for life. This is the description of the polio epidemic of the early 1950s. In 1952, its worst year, 3,145 people in the United States died from polio. The country was in sheer panic. Then promptly came the polio vaccine, which essentially eradicated this infection.

COVID-19 has killed more than 420,000 Americans. By the time COVID is tamed, many more lives will be lost. It is now the third-most common cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. The number of COVID deaths is greater than the sum of the three next causes (stroke, chronic lung disease, Alzheimer’s) and accounts for a reduction of more than one year in our life expectancy in 2020.

Reservations about the COVID vaccine are abound, motivated by rumors, deliberate anti-vaxxing sentiment, political disposition, "extra caution," ignorance and fear. Pseudoscientific nonsense about the vaccine causing infertility, infections or alterations of DNA inundates social networks. Hear this, though: We are not going to be liberated from social isolation, economic strife, disease and death until 80% of the population is vaccinated or is otherwise immune. Being an active anti-vaxxer or a passive one (using “caution” as an excuse) is not a luxury afforded to anybody during pandemic times. America has already done a sham job in containing COVID. Many lives would have been spared if we took the appropriate steps to deal with this scourge. But American medical ingenuity has beaten polio and will undoubtedly help the international community overcome this monumental calamity.

A common concern about the vaccine is its rapid introduction. All the COVID-19 vaccines being used have gone through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible. Systems that allow the CDC to watch for safety issues are in place across the country. The FDA has granted emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to meet rigorous safety criteria and be effective as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials.

COVID kills and maims Republicans, Democrats, pro-vaxxers, anti-vaxxers, old and young alike. It is the ultimate egalitarian devil that has affected many of us physically, emotionally and economically. We are all tired, so tired of the new “normal.” And now, to make matters worse, new mutations of the virus may be deadlier. Children are now increasingly infected, though morbidity and mortality from COVID amongst them is still low.

The take? Don’t let down your guard yet. Vaccines are providing needed hope, but January has been the deadliest COVID month. Maintain social isolation. Wear a mask. And get vaccinated!

Reshef practices medicine in Oklahoma City.