Point of View: We are all victims of COVID-19

This week Alaska claimed the nation’s top spot for the most positive cases per capita from COVID-19. More Alaskans are dying from COVID-19. Most, if not all, of these fellow citizens died because they were unvaccinated. The evidence is irrefutable that the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to be hospitalized and die than those who have received a vaccine. Yet, these statistics have failed to sway many of the vaccine eligible in our Alaska communities, some of which have not even achieved 50% compliance.

It is a fact that COVID-19 has now killed more Americans than the Spanish Influenza.

It is a fact that the delta variant is now claiming more lives than at any time previously since this pandemic began.

It is a fact that there is no end in sight and the longer COVID-19 is prolific, there are greater chances for new mutations and even more deadly variants to occur.

Despite these facts, many of us still refuse to get a vaccine.

It is disturbing to hear, as a triage nurse, the many reasons cited for not getting a vaccine that are based on misinformation. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, just not their own facts. Facts are facts and verifiable, rational knowledge should not be undermined by hearsay, conspiracy theories, or other unquantifiable and untested ideas. It seems increasingly apparent that a large proportion of the populace is unwilling or incapable of changing their mind about getting a vaccine.

It is for this reason I am appealing to healthcare leadership to mandate vaccination for staff who work in patient care. I hope our hospital boards, CEOs and the majority of those in influential decision making roles are less likely to be victims of misinformation. We should not have to wait for federal guidance and decide on the basis of Medicare funding. If we are in the life-saving business and wish to operate with the integrity that has been entrusted to us, it is the right thing to do.

The unprecedented pressure and demands for scarce resources caused by treating COVID-19 patients have now created a state of “Crisis Standards” for hospitals, producing “rationing” situations where patient care may be prioritized so those most likely to survive will have the best chance.

Alaska has recently contracted with outside agencies for more resources to help with our rising cases. But in the end, more nurses, more doctors, more respiratory therapists, more ventilators and more rooms are not gong to bring this pandemic under control. Vaccinations will.

Institutions should lead by example; they are morally obligated to provide the best and safest care possible. To allow unvaccinated staff to care for our most in need and compromised patients is unconscionable. Vaccinated staff are less likely to become COVID-19 positive and infect others. They are better equipped to stay healthy themselves and protect their patients and fellow staff. This is not discriminatory. It is common sense.

No doubt, some will cry foul, saying mandating vaccines will violate their personal freedom, but I hope they can try and understand that true freedom does not come at the cost of taking another’s freedom. Let’s not forget who the true victims are here — all of us.

None of us will enjoy the freedoms we have been used to until we get this pandemic under control. Vaccination is the best tool we have to accomplish that.

Steve Hughes has worked as an emergency room nurse at South Peninsula Hospital for more than 30 years.