All right, Smithers, there’s no denying it: the fourth wave of COVID-19 has arrived in our small peaceful town. As in other locations, the explosion of new cases is driven largely by the Delta variant, which is more contagious and is causing more severe disease in unvaccinated adults.
After more than two months without a single documented case in Smithers, the last four weeks have shown a dramatic increase in case numbers – up to a whopping 45 cases this last week alone.
We are a diverse community with many different histories, lived experiences, opinions, and religious and political leanings. But now, more than ever, it’s time that we pull together as a small, northern town, and each do our part to protect one another. The wellbeing of all of us — our friends, family, children, elders, neighbours, coworkers, and fellow community members depends on it.
Hands down, the most important thing that each of us can do to protect ourselves and one another, is to get vaccinated and follow public health guidelines. From speaking with many people, both personally and as a family physician, I know that some have concerns about the speed at which vaccines were developed, and about the rare side effects that have been reported.
I also know that there is an incredible amount of false and manipulated information out there that can be alarming to read, and that breeds mistrust in what our society’s top scientists and public health experts are saying. It is natural to have questions and feel hesitant when something is new, but I strongly encourage everyone to do their research, using reputable sources such as the BC Centre for Disease Control (www.bccdc.ca), the National Advisory Committee on Vaccination (NACI), and to speak with a trusted health professional regarding any questions you may have.
All of the vaccines currently offered in Canada have passed a rigorous approval process and there is ongoing close monitoring for emerging evidence of side-effects. As of August 28, 2021, there have been 7,412,652 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in BC and the rate of serious side effects is three per 100,000 doses.
If acting in the interest of the common good is not enough to motivate you to get vaccinated, consider this:
● People not fully vaccinated accounted for 82.4 per cent of cases and 86.4 per cent of hospitalizations between Aug. 11 and 24.
● Unvaccinated individuals are 12 times more likely to contract COVID than vaccinated individuals, 34 times more likely to require hospitalization, and 8 times more likely to die of COVID (BCCDC data summary Aug 26, 2021).
● Although there have been “breakthrough” cases of COVID (i.e., COVID infection after two doses of vaccine), the risk of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID after vaccination is exceedingly low – American data suggests that vaccination is 99.9 per cent protective against death from COVID.
● Emerging data suggests that up to 30 per cent of those diagnosed with COVID will continue to have persistent symptoms up to nine months after diagnosis – the most common being fatigue, loss of smell/taste, and “brain fog.” Vaccination seems to reduce the risk of “long COVID” by half.
And consider this: if you are unvaccinated, your risk of contracting COVID is higher now than it has ever been during this pandemic. Most of you who do, thankfully, will recover; some of you will require hospital or even ICU admission; a small number may die; a larger number will be left with potentially debilitating effects of “long COVID.”
These events are now largely preventable. This is a frightening, lonely, and difficult time for all of us. We have been isolated from those we love, have missed out on important life events, many have struggled to maintain employment and pay bills, and we’ve all had to make drastic changes to our daily lives.
No doubt that this pandemic has challenged our collective and individual mental health.
It can be tempting to look for an outlet for our disappointment and anger — public health officials, the government, business owners attempting to comply with rapidly changing regulations, even our fellow masked or unmasked grocery shoppers.
But let me say this, whatever your beliefs, whatever your background, and whether we like it or not, we are all undeniably in this together. We are not isolated individuals; we socialize, we work together, we shop at the same places, our kids play together in school and on the playground.
We literally breathe the same air and our actions directly impact one another.
So, as a physician, a mother, and a community member – I ask you, please inform yourself with science-based, evidence-based information.
Resist the urge to find comfort in conspiracy theories, or to take out your anger on those around you.
And if you can’t or won’t get vaccinated, please wear your mask, follow public health guidelines and minimize your interactions with other vulnerable/unvaccinated people.
We all wish that this was over. We are all tired, angry, sad and scared, and we all want our lives back. But Smithers, we literally have no choice but to get through this together; please do your part.
Dr. L. Eustace
Smithers GP working in primary care, ER and inpatient care