Dr. Janette Nesheiwat: COVID, vaccines and the future – this is our path out of the pandemic

Monday marked a grim milestone for our nation as we hit over 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19. The virus has now killed the same number of Americans as were killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The 500,000 number is the highest reported COVID death rate in the world followed by Brazil, Mexico and India.

It is a death rate coming up close to the top cause of death in our country, which is heart disease (it kills over 600,000 Americans each year). 

On Feb 29, 2020, the U.S. recorded its first COVID death. No one would have imagined then that over 500,000 more deaths would occur within just 12 months. These staggering numbers are devastating and heartbreaking.

US CORONAVIRUS DEATH TOLL EXCEEDS 500,000

I pray for all the families who have lost a loved one – their mom, uncle, grandparent, neighbor, colleague or teacher.

Being on the front lines this past year as a physician, taking care of really sick patients – some of whom have nearly died in my arms – has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. 

The long shifts, endless days, lack of supplies and meds, fear of catching the virus and bringing it home took a toll on all of us. That’s especially true because there was so little we could do initially for our patients other than giving them oxygen or ventilator care. We had no therapeutics, no antivirals, no antibody therapy.

But fast forward to a year later, I am optimistic we are on our way to ending the needless loss of lives starting with the nothing short of miraculous coronavirus vaccine and the development of therapeutics. 

We have many vaccines in existence that treat a variety of non-life threatening diseases but to have a COVID vaccine, i.e. a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA that will actually save you from dying is a gift from God.

This is our path out of the pandemic. 

FAUCI’S MIXED MESSAGES, INCONSISTENCIES ABOUT COVID-19 MASKS, VACCINES AND REOPENINGS COME UNDER SCRUTINY

We also now have COVID care protocols, effective medications that can preserve life, including steroids, antivirals, monoclonal antibody therapy.

Moving forward, any additional COVID cases and deaths from the virus will be our own doing. We must not become complacent. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to suppress this insidious disease from spreading.  

We all know what to do: Wear your mask and even consider wearing two masks at the same time – they are more protective according to the CDC. For example, wearing a surgical mask and then a cloth mask over it can reduce transmission of COVID particles by over 90%. 

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Also, practice physical distancing, keep a good distance from others of 6 to 10 feet, wash your hands, get tested and get your vaccine when it’s your turn. 

And, about that vaccine, when will it be your turn? It depends on your age, occupation and underlying medical conditions. Although demand far surpasses supply right now, the Biden administration says vaccines will be fully available for all by July. Dr. Anthony Fauci says it will be open season by April.  

Folks, that’s just around the corner. Even children and teens will eventually be vaccinated pending ongoing trials that have begun and data to be available by the fall.

Although COVID cases have plummeted, hospitalizations have decreased by over 52%, and the death rate has dropped to under 2,000 deaths daily, the numbers are still high and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects an additional 89,000 lives lost by June if we do not adhere to simple safety precautions. The enormous loss our nation has already endured is enough. 

Loss of jobs, evictions and school closures have not only caused a loss of learning to an entire generation but have had a massive mental health impact on many, resulting in an increase in teen suicide. Sadly there were 18 suicides between March and December 2020 in Clark County, Nevada, since the pandemic lockdowns began. We’ve also seen an increase in opioid overdoses and a rise in liver disease and alcohol abuse to cope with the stress, anxiety and depression brought on by the pandemic.

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We are all susceptible to COVID. Everyone, kids, teens, seniors. 

I am still diagnosing positive COVID cases each day.

When I ask my patients how they think they may have picked up the virus – the answer is one in which the infection could have easily been prevented, “I went to a friend’s house” (without a mask) because the friend “seemed fine.” Remember, up to half of COVID transmissions are among those who are asymptomatic.

Let’s not forget the risk of variants causing spikes and surges remains. I am concerned about the U.K., Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants. When a virus replicates it can mutate, which can give rises to new emerging variants. Some may evade the vaccine and some may be meaningless but let’s thwart any opportunity for the virus to thrive.

If we can make a concerted effort to work hard and remain vigilant to reduce the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations by simple measures of covering your mouth and nose, avoiding crowded areas, practicing physical distancing, especially in areas with poor airflow and ventilation, keeping your hands washed and clean, then maybe we can travel, go on vacation, spend the holidays with our family and do all the things we love.

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We all have a role in combating this disease. Let’s not have another spring break spike or winter surge. Let’s all do our part.

I am hopeful and I have faith we will soon overcome this battle, reach herd immunity and live our lives normally once more.

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