We must remain vigilant

by Dr. Elizabeth Bates

As this year comes to a close, I’d like to take an opportunity to reflect on the impact of COVID-19 in our region and emphasize the need for people to get vaccinated against this disease.

2021 has been a difficult year for the YK Delta. At this moment, we are in a better place than we were even as little as one month ago, when our hospitals were full and stretched thin. But with the onset of flu season and emergence of COVID variants, we must remain vigilant.

In this pandemic, there have been extraordinary recoveries and tragic losses. Everyone has been touched by COVID-19. No one more so than the extraordinary health aides of our region, whose heroic efforts have saved countless lives. I bow before them in gratitude. They inspire us all to be better advocates and healers. I must begin by highlighting their tireless efforts, commitment to their community, and remembering those we’ve lost.

As health care providers at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, the stories of the patients we serve stay with us forever. By encouraging vaccination, I hope to prevent other providers from having to hold vigil by one more death bed, or speak to one more family over FaceTime while a loved one passes away alone. The COVID vaccine is the best tool we have to prevent these stories.

When the vaccine arrived in our region on December 17, 2020, I felt equal parts hope and determination. Whatever the cost or sacrifice, we were going to make this life-saving vaccine available to everyone who wanted it– from Lime Village to Mekoryuk. No plane was too cold. No village too far. My gratitude to every health aide, tribal council, school district, pilot, nurse and provider who helped make Project Togo and Project Togo Jr. a success.

But we are not done. Only 56.6% of our community is fully vaccinated. Why is getting vaccinated important? We seek to prevent the stories of loss and suffering. I want to return to our lives before COVID, when we could visit, gather with family, celebrate, play sports and go to school without the looming threat of COVID. I want to cheer at basketball games, wrestling tournaments and watch the K300 start with my community.

There is a lot of false information about vaccination, especially on Facebook and social media. Such misinformation may have made you hesitant about getting the vaccine and may be deadly. Tens of millions of people around the world have received this life-saving vaccine. It is the most studied and monitored vaccine in history. We use data and established science when advising our patients. Further, I try to treat my patients like family. I would never offer a medication or treatment that I would not recommend to my father, sister or niece. I wanted my family to be protected from COVID-19, and made sure they all got vaccinated and now boostered. This vaccine saves lives.

Some may have recovered easily from COVID, and think the vaccine is not important after a natural infection, but there is great news: If you get vaccinated after recovering from COVID, your immune system is supercharged against getting infected again! Getting vaccinated, even the day after quarantine, will provide better long term protection than natural immunity alone.

We know the risk of people choosing not to get vaccinated. The majority of patients in the Intensive Care Units in Anchorage over the last four months were unvaccinated and younger. People who are vaccinated are less likely to be hospitalized and die. People with the booster are less likely to get COVID at all, and will be better protected against the omicron variant.

If you (or your family members) are at least 16 years old and six months past your second dose, the time to get your booster is now. If you or your family are not vaccinated and thinking about it, the time to get vaccinated is now. Reach out to a trusted family member or health provider to talk about your concerns. The more people we vaccinate today, the fewer patients we have to hospitalize, bury or isolate from tomorrow.

My only goal is to prevent suffering and death in this community that I love. I have no agenda other than that.

With each passing day, we are writing the story of the YK Delta’s resilience amid this pandemic. When I first moved to this region, I was told that we only make it out here by relying on each other. Because of that, I believe in our ability to write an ending to this story that reflects the resilience and bond we share. Vaccines get us there. Call today to schedule an appointment for you or your family. We are stronger, together.

Dr. Elizabeth Bates is the Director of Infection Control at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

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