Prior to starting to medical school, I recall reading the phase, “May you be born during interesting times.”
Like the vast majority of you reading these words, COVID-19 is my first pandemic.
As a physician, I took a pledge to respect all lives and to do no harm. This is why my medical colleagues and I work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ohio Department of Health, local public health authorities and my community to acquire new knowledge on a daily basis about the invisible enemy in our midst we call COVID-19.
A similar viral predator attacked our planet in 1918.
Although the U.S. population was one-third of what it is today, 675,000 Americans died during four spikes of the Spanish influenza pandemic — which actually began in Kansas. Despite a century of additional knowledge and technology to guide us, the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. is nearing 650,000.
Tragically, our society is falling victim to the same reoccurring emotional errors that caused the 1918 pandemic to grip our nation for nearly two years. Historical accounts confirm that unproven rumors, misconceptions, fake remedies, inequities to health care access, social prejudice, bad politics, greed and fear contributed greatly to losses of life. In the end, it was the strict practice of wearing masks, washing hands and keeping six feet apart that helped end the pandemic of 1918. Does that sound familiar?
This is our generation’s first pandemic; therefore, by necessity we are forced to use contemporary evidence-based trials — and yes, errors — to minimize the unintentional harm we may do to ourselves or others. Any of us who live and breathe have the potential of transmitting COVID-19 to another human being. However, if you are an unvaccinated individual, you are the essential outlier the viral predator is seeking to continue its spread and to fuel its process of mutating into a stronger adversary.
Effectively controlling a communicable disease cannot be accomplished in a vacuum by individually selected actions. We must use the best available public health knowledge to end the COVID-19 pandemic before it ends life as we once knew it.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for those individuals ages 16 and older — with other COVID-19 vaccines and age groups soon to follow.
Until younger individuals can receive the authorized vaccines, I support my pediatric colleagues who recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors in our K-12 schools.
No one has all the precise answers. But we do have history as a guide to prevent us from traveling down the same erroneous path that resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths during the previous deadly pandemic. I urge you to not use unverified near-facts or unintended expert errors as justification for not vaccinating yourself or those you love. This COVID-19 threat does not discriminate, it simply obliterates those who provide it an opportunity to infect.
With the cold, flu and allergy season rapidly approaching, I encourage you to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu, wear your mask to protect yourself and from doing harm to others, wash your hands regularly, and keep your distance from those who may or may not be vaccinated. These are interesting times. Stay safe, stay informed and do no harm.
Dr. LeRoy is a lifelong Ohio resident and board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, which represents 133,500 physicians and medical students nationwide.