Dr. Richard Feldman: Don’t be the last to be killed in this war

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Dr. Richard FeldmanAmerica’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster. A lack of federal and, in some cases, state leadership made a terrible situation into something horrific.

The federal response was delayed, chaotic and inadequate without a coordinated national pandemic strategy. Ten months into the siege, testing is still insufficient and newly rationed again. Personal protective equipment is yet lacking for health care providers, and effective contact tracing was never accomplished.

Disinformation, minimalization of the seriousness of the pandemic and encouragement of premature state economic reopening for political purposes was continual and detrimental. Some governors—the poster child being Kristi Noem of South Dakota—deemed individual liberties, without regard to the common good, more important than preserving lives. Once COVID-19 became totally unrestrained with colder weather, state responses were generally too little too late. Too many misleading and confusing messages to the public.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s initial pandemic response was reasonable, but he eventually caved to conservative political pressure. A mask requirement without a penalty? And in the face of the current onslaught of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, his reopening rollback is almost inconsequential. What happened to following the data and science?

No wonder Americans just don’t get it. Not wearing a mask and dismissing public health advice to social-distance have become political statements. Incomprehensibly, the Indiana General Assembly will not require masks next session.

Beyond politics, despite massive public educational efforts and 270,000 dead, much of the general public doesn’t really comprehend or at least minimizes the dangers of this virus. Wearing a mask as a chin guard doesn’t protect anyone. Gathering of multiple households for the holidays and going to gyms, social and religious gatherings, and indoor restaurants and bars are asking for trouble.

It’s not about total shutdown but targeted restrictions for the most perilous venues. Desperately needed new stimulus money should be coupled with these restrictions to support businesses and individuals.

I grew up with a girl who contracted polio literally weeks before the first vaccine was available, eventually dying prematurely. How tragic—and how tragic it would be to die from COVID-19 in the last days before a vaccine is available. We can now see light at the end of a very dark tunnel but have a dark winter before us, with COVID-19 cases exponentially compounding before it’s over.

The two-dose coronavirus vaccines will be available initially for health care personnel and first responders in late December. They will then be administered to the elderly, to people with chronic conditions, to those in essential occupations, and to those in congregant-living situations.

Finally, mass immunization of the general public should begin by April. Herd immunity could develop by fall if 70% of people are immunized. Unfortunately, the already vaccine-hesitant public is even more anxious about the coronavirus vaccine—only 58% percent of adults are willing to take it.

Amazingly, the first two vaccines are 95% efficacious. Very few vaccines are that effective. And although clinical development was fast-tracked at “warp speed,” these vaccines are very safe. That safety is underscored by the fact that study participants were monitored for two months after vaccination for side effects. Almost all adverse events occur within six weeks of an immunization. Vaccine data will be extensively reviewed by the FDA, independent scientists and the CDC.

We’re in the home stretch. For a few more months, follow mask-wearing, social-distancing and hand-sanitization recommendations, and avoid high-risk situations.

Don’t be the last to be killed in this war.•

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Feldman is a family physician, author, lecturer and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner for Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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