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Editorial: We can't let our desire for 'normal' blind us to renewed threat from COVID
07232021 COVID 1.jpg
Northeast Georgia Medical Center Director of Pharmacy Melissa Frank removes a box of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines Thursday, July 22, 2021, from a ultra low temperature freezer. - photo by Scott Rogers

Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, the director of infectious disease for Northeast Georgia Health System, described the current threat from the delta variant of COVID-19 as something that could create problems akin to “2020 on steroids.”

Those are strong words that should grab the attention of everyone.

The long-awaited, much-anticipated “return to normal” after a 2020 ravaged by COVID-19 has taken a detour as the delta variant has caused renewed spiking of positive cases and rising numbers of hospitalizations.

We cannot allow our fervent desire for “normalcy” to make us oblivious to the realities of a renewed threat from the disease that already has claimed more than 600,000 lives in the United States alone, millions worldwide.

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This opinion piece is developed by Times leadership, including General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor in Chief Shannon Casas, to address issues that matter to our local readers and foster healthy debate and discussion on those issues. All local readers are welcome to respond with letters to the editor of 500 words or less emailed to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. Please include your name and city of residence. The Times also has an advisory panel that meets monthly over Zoom. Anyone interested in joining the panel can apply by emailing the following to letters@gainesvilletimes.com:

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Since mass vaccinations began earlier this year, the numbers of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been steadily declining to the point that it has become easy to think the threat was over. But the highly contagious delta variant has become rampant in the United States and is proving to be especially dangerous to those who have not been vaccinated.

And, according to one recent poll, most of those who have not yet been vaccinated may choose to never be, increasing the potential for more damage by this mutating virus.

An AP poll conducted by the Center for Public Affairs Research found that 80% of those who are not yet vaccinated say they “definitely will not,” or “probably will not” get the vaccine that might lessen the impact of the variant, with only 3% saying they “definitely will.”

Those numbers do not bode well for the country.

For some, the reluctance to be vaccinated is based on a mistrust of the government and the scientific community. No matter how often it is noted by medical experts that the likelihood of problems resulting from the vaccines are minimal compared to the international health hazard posed by COVID, there are some who see more risk in the vaccine than they do the disease.

The truth is, until we are generations into the future, we can’t say with total accuracy what the vaccines did or didn’t do. That’s been true with every vaccine ever developed, and yet we no longer live in fear of polio or smallpox or any number of other deadly diseases that have been virtually eradicated by vaccines. We accept new medicines on a daily basis in our lives with little history of their use, depending on the expertise of scientists and the mandatory approval process.

We are still learning about the disease; likely still will be a decade from now. Those who argue against vaccines because medical opinions and “facts” keep changing are right, they do. As more information is available, the knowledge base changes. 

The majority of the reputable, professional medical community specializing in infectious diseases stands solidly behind vaccinations as the best way out of this mess, so if your neighbor’s cousin heard from a part-time nurse in a dermatology office that vaccines are a bad idea, ask a doctor you trust for a more informed expert opinion.

For some, the reluctance to be vaccinated is based in politics, which is perhaps the hardest objection to understand. The vaccines were developed in record time thanks to a determined commitment to doing so by President Donald Trump. Yet some still associate vaccinations with more liberal political causes, this despite numerous conservative standard bearers encouraging all Americans to become vaccinated.

Others have legitimate personal medical reasons to not be vaccinated, and those reasons must be respected.

There is so much misinformation about COVID that it is hard to know where to start in building an argument for the vaccines. Here are some facts supported by data and shared by our local medical experts at the health system:

  • The delta variant appears more contagious than the original.
  • The majority of those now being hospitalized because of the delta variant are unvaccinated.
  • Those who have been vaccinated may still contract COVID but are less likely to have a serious case of the disease.

The current spike in serious COVID cases is affecting many who were not considered as particularly susceptible to the virus a year ago, including many younger and otherwise healthy people.

The facts build a strong case in support of vaccination, and yet statewide less than half of all Georgians over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated. Hall County trails the state average with only 35% of its residents vaccinated.

Unlike in the early days of the vaccine program, there is no lack of availability or shortage of supplies. Vaccines are readily available for the asking in dozens of locations.

Beyond encouraging those who have not been vaccinated to do so, we find ourselves on the cusp of returning to precautions we thought were behind us — relentless cleaning, mandatory masking, social distancing, remote work, virtual classrooms. We don’t want to go there.

If you have not been vaccinated, we encourage you to do so. If you have, share your story with those who have not in hopes of convincing them. If you have questions, find factual answers and don’t be swayed by popular myths and misinformation. Talk to a doctor you trust, read the available data. Weigh the risk of getting vaccinated with the risk posed by this most recent variant that is already sickening those in our community.

We’ve come too far from the darkest days of 2020 to go back. We have to keep up the fight against COVID-19, and vaccinations are our most powerful weapon.

Until the vaccination numbers improve, we will continue to hear medical experts talk increasingly about “preventable deaths,” which is a sad term to have become popular.

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