In 2016, I looked through the ICU door at my patient and was faced with my own mortality. With all the education I have received, ICU credentials I have earned and nursing societies I am a part of, nothing had prepared me for this moment. Because of him, I am asking you today to get vaccinated. Do not make an unacceptable decision that impacts and kills those who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons.
My urging is due to this newly married man in his 20s. He was otherwise healthy and well educated like me, but here he was in my ICU, hooked up to a breathing machine, with IVs and all forms of medications trying to keep him alive, artificially pulling him from death’s door. Unable to receive the influenza vaccine due to a previous health condition, he had contracted the flu during an outbreak at the school where he taught.
Over the past decade in North Carolina, and across the country for that matter, increasing numbers of people have chosen to opt out of receiving vaccinations. This drastically impacts the ability of herd immunity, which requires greater than 95% of the population to be vaccinated. Once below that threshold, the rate and risk of an outbreak occurring rises rapidly. This places some of our most vulnerable residents at risk, especially if they cannot receive vaccinations themselves.
Currently in the Pacific Northwest, the issue with lacking herd immunity is peaking. Measles outbreaks, a preventable disease by vaccination, are shutting down schools and placing children at risk.
The areas impacted by this are places where groups of people congregate or have a shared space. This includes your schools, your places of worship, the nursing homes where your parents live, etc. This warning is not to be taken lightly, either. The Veterans Health Administration reports that this price is paid annually by 36,000 people dying and 226,000 hospitalizations from the flu alone. My patient, not too different from me, was vulnerable, and he paid the price for it.
This problem is easily fixed and wholly affordable, with most insurance providing these vaccinations for free, and government programs covering those who cannot afford it. They are readily available at many places that you visit like the grocery store or most places with a pharmacy.
The science and research are there to prove that not only are these vaccines safe, but necessary. They are no more harmful than a sore shoulder, and the Band-Aid pulling off a few arm hairs, but they can mean the life to your neighbor, your family or yourself.
With the peak of the flu season rapidly approaching, I am asking you today to do your personal responsibility and take action in this problem. Spend 15 minutes next time you’re at the store to protect yourself and your children. Protect my mother and her students. Protect the people most precious to you. Get vaccinated.