Getting sick with COVID-19 causes regret in many unvaccinated patients
Doctors and other providers across the country are currently treating thousands of cases of COVID-19, the vast majority of which are among the unvaccinated. Many patients, including those on Cape Cod, are now expressing regret about their decision.
“I’ve had scenarios just like you see on TV where I had a number of patients who are sick with COVID and they are begging for the vaccine,” said Nate Rudman, MD, medical director of the Cape Cod Hospital Emergency Center. “They had the opportunity to get it and they didn’t and now they are regretful when it’s too late. It’s crazy insanity.”
Dr. Rudman has to explain to these patients that the vaccines aren’t a cure. They are preventive, meaning you have to get them before you get sick – in this case weeks before you are exposed.
Although the vaccination rate in Massachusetts is one of the best in the country, with 70 percent of our population vaccinated, that still leaves about two million unvaccinated Massachusetts residents.
The recent outbreak of the virus in Provincetown made national news. So far about 1,000 people have tested positive from the outbreak that began after the Fourth of July festivities in town. Much has been made about the fact that about 75 percent of those who tested positive were actually vaccinated. That has caused a lot of controversy that fed the anti-vaccine rhetoric, but the figures need to be put into perspective. More than 60,000 people were in Provincetown during that time, meaning the vaccines did protect a majority of the people.
But more importantly, even those who tested positive didn’t become seriously ill as a result. That success is good news at a time when the numbers of COVID-19 cases are rising, due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“It’s back and it’s everywhere,” Dr. Rudman said. “There’s no question this is round four. Fortunately, we are not seeing sick people amongst those who have been vaccinated. We are seeing people who have been vaccinated who are not sick, which means it’s still manageable, but it’s the unvaccinated population that is worrying us. It’s been just remarkable to have a lethal disease, a prevention that is almost guaranteed to save your life from that disease, and so many people refusing the opportunity.”
One common excuse for not getting the vaccine is that it was developed too quickly to be safe. The truth is the only reason the vaccines could be developed that quickly was because years of previous research laid the groundwork for their development, including research into similar coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.
Dr. Rudman has heard people say they didn’t get the vaccine because they thought it was dangerous. He tells them that over a half a million people have died from COVID and almost no one has died from the vaccine.
“If I was going to assess risk, I’d say it’s crystal clear that all of the risk is of contracting COVID,” he said. “It’s crazy but it shouldn’t be. It’s amazing that in medicine we do all these unbelievable high-tech things that are actually fairly high risk comparably, but across medical history the best bang for the buck has always been vaccines.”
He pointed to the immense success of the polio vaccine in wiping out that devastating disease across the world. New vaccines should be viewed as blessings, not dangers, he said. During his career in medicine, Dr. Rudman has seen the powerful benefits of new vaccines like the ones for meningitis and the pneumococcal vaccine,
“We used to see kids with meningitis all the time and kids with H. flu and pneumococcal infections that would cause epiglottitis and close their airway,” Dr. Rudman said. “I haven’t seen a case in 20 years because of the vaccines. It’s amazing how well they work and it’s inexpensive comparative to other medical procedures.”
In addition to fear of the vaccine, Dr. Rudman has also noted other reasons patients give for not getting vaccinated. He noted that there seems to be strong resistance based on both religious and political reasons. He feels pure medical decisions should be completely apolitical. Another problem is false information that can spread quickly on social media. The anti-vax movement was started years ago in part by a misinformation campaign by a discredited doctor who linked vaccines to autism in children.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “a lie gets half way around the world before the truth gets a chance to get its pants on,” Dr. Rudman noted.
“The doctor that published (the misinformation about vaccines and autism) was completely pulled from medicine,” he said. “That publication was literally a false publication. But that damage that was done was incredible.”
Vaccines are really quite miraculous if you think about how they work, Dr. Rudman said.
“Vaccines are such a clever treatment. All they are doing is just stimulating your own immune system,” he said. “There is nothing really that crazy or dangerous about it. You’re taking a non-dangerous part of another organism and introducing your immune system to it in a small way and then using your own immune system to naturally build up resistance.”
A far greater danger lurks if we can’t get more people vaccinated, which is what worries Dr. Rudman.
“The hard thing is if the virus mutates to the point where it’s resistant to the current vaccine. Then we are all back to square one,” he said.