Dr. Joseph M. Kontra, chief of infectious diseases at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, wrote a column for the Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section in which he warned of the dangers of the highly contagious delta variant and urged readers who have not yet gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that the delta variant now accounts for 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases. Walensky said Friday that we’re facing “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
If you haven’t already, please read Dr. Kontra’s Sunday column. And please share it with those you know who haven’t yet been vaccinated.
Kontra is an expert on infectious diseases. He’s also, as he noted, “someone who has witnessed far too much suffering and death from this virus.”
He’s on the front lines of the ongoing fight against COVID-19. And he is so confident about the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccination that he was the first person in Lancaster County to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Just after 4 p.m. Dec. 17, Bobbi Jo Hurst, manager of employee health and safety at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, injected a dose of that vaccine into Kontra’s arm. He called it an honor to be the first person in Lancaster County to receive the vaccine.
Kontra is a compassionate physician who wants to spare people the agony — the struggle to breathe, the stints on ventilators, the long-term effects — that can afflict, and sometimes kill, COVID-19 sufferers. He’s also a man of science. So he readily chose to get vaccinated.
And he wants others to get vaccinated, too.
As do we.
After 16 physically and emotionally draining months on the COVID-19 front lines — and months of easy access to vaccination — physicians such as Kontra could choose to just wash their hands of the vaccine-hesitant, leaving them to face the consequences of their refusal to get protected against a virus that spares some and devastates others. They could leave those folks to play Russian roulette with their health.
We deeply admire the fact that Kontra and others still seek to convince the unvaccinated to get inoculated.
He made the following important points in his column Sunday:
— “Getting vaccinated all but eliminates the possibility that you will die of COVID-19. In fact, according to the CDC, 99.5% of all deaths from COVID-19 in the past few months have occurred in people who were not vaccinated. Those tragic deaths were potentially preventable. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can save your life.”
— “Despite widespread misinformation, the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are among the safest and most effective vaccines ever created. More than 3.5 billion vaccine doses have been delivered worldwide, including more than 335 million in the United States alone. We have more safety information on the COVID-19 vaccines than any other vaccine in history.
“While a sore arm and a day or so of flu-like symptoms can be expected, actual serious adverse effects from the vaccines are astonishingly rare. Getting the vaccine now does not make you an experimental subject, but the beneficiary of a potentially lifesaving shot in the arm.”
— The delta variant — which is now present here — may “strike younger people and cause more severe illness, with double the risk of hospitalization.”
“In addition, the delta variant is resistant to monoclonal antibody infusion, a treatment that has proven successful against prior strains of the virus.”
— “Viruses mutate continuously, which is how new variants arise. Each successive variant will be better-equipped to spread and cause disease. The longer we take to reach a high level of vaccination in our population, the more contagious and dangerous each new successive variant will become.”
In states such as Arkansas, where vaccination rates are low, the delta variant is wreaking havoc. According to a July 13 report from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, research “suggests Arkansas is at the beginning of an exponential surge, which, in the long-term, may exceed the December/January surge in terms of cases and hospitalizations.”
Even in states such as California, where vaccination rates are markedly higher, the delta variant is causing trouble. Los Angeles County has reinstituted an indoor masking mandate.
According to The New York Times, Pennsylvania ranks a bit higher than California in its percentage of adults who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (77% to California’s 76.6%). And our partial vaccination rate is 22.1 percentage points higher than that of Arkansas (54.9%).
But that doesn’t mean that the delta variant doesn’t pose a threat to Pennsylvanians.
Kontra wrote that LGH’s number of COVID-19 inpatients remains — thankfully — in the single digits. But, as “an infectious diseases specialist,” he wrote, “I cannot help but see storm clouds on the horizon.”
And those storm clouds may be drawing nearer.
As LNP | LancasterOnline reported Tuesday, the “pace of new COVID-19 cases has recently ticked upward in Lancaster County, though it remains far below the levels seen in earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Through Monday, the county logged a seven-day average of 14 new cases per day, up from a record low of only three to four new cases per day from July 7 to 12, according to daily data posted on the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard.”
We can cross our fingers and hope that the ticking upward is just a fluke. Or the unvaccinated can stick out their arms for a COVID-19 vaccine and do their part to reduce the odds of another wave hitting here.
There’s another reason for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated (as if all but eliminating your risk of dying of COVID-19 weren’t motivation enough): Kids younger than 12 can’t yet get inoculated against COVID-19.
That means families with young kids have to be careful about socializing with unvaccinated people.
Philadelphia 6ABC meteorologist Adam Joseph welcomed an unvaccinated family member into his home recently, insisting that the family member first get a COVID-19 test. The test was negative, but while visiting, the family member fell ill with COVID-19, infecting Joseph’s two children, ages 5 and 6, and their nanny, as well as some of the nanny’s family members.
“As a parent, it’s scary to watch your child asking what’s wrong with them, why are they so sick,” Joseph said in a 6ABC interview earlier this week. He added that it’s hard to think about his kids getting sick because “we slipped up.”
We can’t imagine how lousy the unvaccinated family member must feel, too.
Don’t be a person who sickens others. Please, as Dr. Kontra implores, get vaccinated against COVID-19. Do it for yourself and for those you love, as well as for Lancaster County, which has seen too many deaths — 1,054 — already from COVID-19.