Vaccine Clinic

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are lined up to be put in syringes at a pop-up vaccination clinic at Wyndham Lancaster Resort and Convention Center in East Lampeter Township on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

THE ISSUE

In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines “to permit an additional dose for the roughly 3% of American adults who are immunocompromised,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila reported recently. And last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “expanded booster eligibility to more Americans, but only for those who received the Pfizer vaccine.” Most of those who received either the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will have to wait to get booster shots. The CDC now is also urging Americans to get a flu shot.

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican from the southern end of Lancaster County, represents the legislative district with the second-lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the state, with only 32.2% of residents fully vaccinated as of Sept. 24, according to data collected by the state Department of Health and reported by LNP | LancasterOnline in late September.

Republican state Rep. Steve Mentzer’s legislative district has one of the highest vaccination rates: 66.3% of residents in Manheim Township, Lititz and Warwick Township are fully vaccinated.

This tale of two districts is not one that Cutler’s spokesman seemed thrilled to discuss. Mike Straub said this particular set of data released by the Department of Health “attempts to politicize the vaccine” by splitting vaccination data along legislative district lines. (Which is an interesting stance, given that Cutler wants the state to release school district vaccination and infection data. Why would school district data be any less political, given the partisan anger over school COVID-19 mitigation measures?)

We wish Cutler would direct some of his considerable influence and energy toward encouraging the vaccine-hesitant to get inoculated against COVID-19. Vaccination remains the best route out of this pandemic and into a broader economic recovery. 

Straub said Cutler’s role is to provide information to his constituents on important issues and state services and Cutler has done this by advertising vaccine updates in his weekly email to constituents, on social media and when speaking to constituents.

But, alas, Straub also said this to an LNP | LancasterOnline news journalist in an email: “Ultimately, personal healthcare decisions are up to individuals and their families.”

Unfortunately, personal decisions about COVID-19 vaccination don’t have merely personal ramifications. A student who’s infected and still contagious may infect fellow students and classroom teachers. An infected, still contagious employee puts their co-workers at risk. And a person who is hospitalized for COVID-19 further taps the resources of hospitals stretched to their limits over the past 19 months. 

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health reported Wednesday morning that 65 patients with COVID-19 were in Lancaster General Hospital. Of these, 49 were unvaccinated; of the 14 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit, 13 were unvaccinated; and all nine patients on ventilators were unvaccinated. 

Being on a ventilator is hard on the body; the process begins when a patient is given anesthesia and is intubated — that is, has a breathing tube threaded down the throat toward the lungs. While on a ventilator, some patients “develop delirium, or an acute state of confusion. And when patients become confused, they might try to pull out their endotracheal tube, which connects them to the ventilator,” pulmonary critical care physician Lauren Ferrante explained on the Yale Medicine website. “Patients with delirium can be lucid one moment and confused the next. Although we try to avoid sedation as much as possible, particularly in delirious patients, we may have to give some sedation to prevent people from causing self-harm, like pulling out the breathing tube.” It can take months to recover from being on a ventilator, Ferrante noted.

We don’t want anyone to have to go through this process, or more hospital workers to face the aerosol exposure that comes with performing intubations. Which is why we continue to urge the unvaccinated — including those in Cutler’s district — to please avail themselves of one of the safe, free and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 

This isn’t a political issue. But it is a patriotic and community health issue. As Americans, we ought to be doing what we can to put this pandemic behind us, so schools, businesses, hospitals and families can return to some semblance of normalcy and stability.

The efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines may wane over time, particularly for people 65 and older, CDC epidemiologist Ruth Link-Gelles has said. So if you qualify for a booster dose, please get it. And, while you’re at it, schedule a flu shot, too.

Here are some of the reasons an annual flu shot is important, according to the website of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital:

— People with medical conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes, heart problems and asthma, are more likely to have serious health problems, such as pneumonia, if they get the flu.

— “Health experts worry that people who get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time might have a more serious illness.”

— “If you can avoid the flu and its symptoms, you'll be less likely to need testing (for the flu or coronavirus) or to isolate at home.”

— Because of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, hospitals and other health care providers are busy caring for people with COVID-19. Please try to avoid adding to their workload.

Influenza is “a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death,” according to the CDC website, which notes that complications of flu “can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions.”

The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months and older. It urges people to get flu shots by the end of October. And it says that COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots may be given at the same time.

We’ve been given a great gift in the COVID-19 vaccines and the flu vaccine, too. People with chronic illnesses would love a vaccine that would decrease the severity of the diseases with which they live. So please get a COVID-19 booster if you qualify. Or get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so. And get a flu shot. (Also, here’s a pro-tip: As many of us learned last winter, wearing face masks helps us to avoid all manner of respiratory illnesses.) 

From the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve been told that we’re all in this together. It would be great if that finally became true.

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