Now the patients I see, frightened and struggling to breathe, are mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of them have no identifiable risk factors. The one thing many of them have in common: They are all unvaccinated.
Half of America has rolled up its sleeve and done its part so we can all move on from this. My colleagues and I have been working tirelessly for over a year to end this pandemic. But here we are, staring down the barrel of yet another wave of death. What a senseless, self-inflicted wound.
One patient I cared for, an unvaccinated man in his late 30s, was only a few days into his illness and was already severely short of breath and requiring oxygen. Neither his clinical appearance nor his chest X-ray was particularly encouraging. I told him that there was a good chance he would get worse and that he would need to be admitted to the hospital. He asked me if I could give him the vaccine before he got worse, seemingly unaware that it does not treat the disease or cure you once you become infected.
Many young women tell me they are concerned about infertility or miscarriage, despite there being zero scientific evidence to support such fears. In fact, there is now a large body of evidence that vaccination is safe before and during pregnancy, and it’s recommended by both the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
I will never forget some of the pregnant women I have seen with this disease. Early on in the rollout, one young woman I cared for, so young she did not yet qualify for the vaccine, presented severe respiratory failure, and she underwent an emergency Caesarean section to save her baby. In the ICU, she developed multi-organ failure and spent weeks in critical condition. Her child will never truly understand how close he came to growing up without a mom.
It sounds strange to say this, but the patients I’ve just described are some of the lucky ones. We still do not understand why this virus causes mild symptoms in some people but severe organ failure and death in others. I have seen bedbound nursing home patients get asymptomatic infections and teenagers end up on ventilators, and I have read numerous case reports of young athletes in peak physical condition who die from this. I cannot urge people strongly enough not to mistake their youth or good health for invincibility.
In the beginning, ending up on a ventilator was basically a death sentence. Now, if you become that sick, there’s a decent chance we can save your life. The one thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to convince someone to save their own.