Dr. Richard Feldman: We’re paying the price for COVID-19 mistakes

Dr. Richard FeldmanWe are now on the precipice of the fourth wave of COVID-19. We are paying the price.

We’re paying for people hesitating or refusing to be vaccinated. Nationally about half of individuals are vaccinated (about 44% in Indiana), far from the 85% necessary to produce the safety of herd immunity for the delta variant.

We are paying the price for the horrific politicization of the COVID vaccine and the simple act of mask wearing.

We’ll pay if school systems are not required to mandate masking for all schoolchildren, including many too young to be vaccine-eligible. We’re paying for the inadequate, confusing and inconsistent recommendations of health officials, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We are paying the penalty for the ridiculous public health policy that prematurely unmasked the vaccinated and relied on “personal responsibility” or the “honor system” for the unvaccinated to wear masks in public places. In short order, this ill-conceived strategy also morphed into a message to the public and businesses that masks were optional for everyone.

We’re paying the consequences for state governments prohibiting “vaccine passports”. We’re paying for the rampant misinformation from politicians, social media and the internet regarding the pandemic and COVID vaccines. Pure nonsense.

Some say the unvaccinated had their chance to get the shot, let them suffer the consequences. But it doesn’t end there. Their irresponsibility allowed the more infectious and virulent delta variant to exponentially escalate, now accounting for over 80% of new cases.

The unvaccinated have no right to threaten the health of communities: most specifically, those too young to be vaccinated, the immune-compromised, and the health care workers who must care for the sick and dying.

Vaccination rates have seriously diminished, while cases, hospitalizations and deaths are alarmingly rising again. The CDC has now reversed its position on allowing vaccinated individuals to go maskless in indoor venues and has recommend universal masking in areas of “high” or “consequential” COVID transmission (70% of the country and rapidly expanding).

The CDC and various health departments are reversing their school recommendations in a like manner. Increasingly, colleges, employers and some governmental bodies are requiring employees to be vaccinated and again mandating masks.

Although COVID-19 might not become as severe as it was before the availability of vaccines, we are descending once again into the deep, dark tunnel. It will be mostly the pandemic of the unvaccinated and will be disproportionately present in states and localities with poor vaccination rates.

The delta variant is our greatest challenge to date. It’s so infectious, cases in children are exploding. We’re even seeing breakthrough illness in the vaccinated (only a 0.1% breakthrough rate) and asymptomatic infections in the vaccinated, with transmission to others. Although the vaccines are somewhat less effective with delta in preventing infection, they are highly efficacious in preventing severe disease—the greatest value of vaccines. Remember, about 98% of COVID hospitalizations and deaths are in the unvaccinated.

High rates of immunization would almost completely halt the delta wave and discourage newer variant development. It would greatly assure sustained reopening of our economy and normalcy in our lives. Private-sector vaccine mandates might be our only way forward.

The virus doesn’t have a brain, but it’s outsmarting many reckless politicians and a foolish unvaccinated populace.•


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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