So far, more than 20 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 with greater than 350,000 deaths. Here in Allegheny County, we have had approximately 60,000 confirmed cases and greater than 1,000 deaths. Nearly 3,000 healthcare workers have died from COVID-19 in the United States. In addition to the illness caused by confirmed cases, there have been many more infected individuals who had no testing performed. A recently identified novel COVID-19 strain appears to be much more contagious than previous strains and has been found to be present across the globe, including here in the United States. Proven effective measures to stem the tide of COVID-19, including face masks, social distancing and restricting public gatherings, have been unable so far to contain the pandemic. The high number of patients requiring hospitalization has in many places strained or outstripped the capacity to deliver appropriate and effective care.

Despite this grim picture, there is new hope to contain the spread of this vicious virus. Researchers are currently testing 64 coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials. This past month, the FDA has given experimental use authorization to two vaccines directed against COVID-19. These two vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, have been rapidly developed and thoroughly tested during the past year. So far, they have been proven to be extremely effective and safe. Initially, the vaccines are being administered to those who are at highest risk, including healthcare workers, residents of skilled nursing facilities and first responders. Millions of doses have been manufactured and will hopefully become available to the general public within the next few months.

Although vaccines hold great promise to allow us to get a hold on the spread of COVID-19, there are some who think that the danger of vaccination may outweigh the potential benefit. That is why the transparency surrounding the development, efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines has been essential to build trust and ensure people that vaccination is a critical step to reversing the pandemic, saving lives and reclaiming normalcy in our communities. It has been estimated that to reach a point where we can return to pre-pandemic living, we will need approximately 75% of the population to be immune, either through immunization or natural infection. There are many I have spoken to who believe that because they are young and/or healthy that they can forgo vaccination. However, I have taken care of critically ill patients in their 30s and 40s. I also know of fellow healthcare workers in their 20s who have had miserable prolonged symptoms keeping them home and out of work for many weeks. Finally, even if you are young, healthy and have a mild or asymptomatic infection, once infected you can easily spread the disease to your loved ones at home, who may be much more vulnerable.

Throughout history, vaccinations for smallpox, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, influenza and many other diseases have contributed more to improving global health and prolonging life than any other medical innovation. Finally, in the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “I’m urging healthcare professionals to please get vaccinated. It’s critical to protect yourselves and your family – but it’s equally important as healthcare providers to show confidence in the vaccines so that other people will follow suit and get vaccinated. Together, we can help a substantial portion of the population decide to get vaccinated and ultimately end the pandemic as we know it in this country.” Time to roll up your sleeve.

Author profile
Raymond E. Pontzer, MD, FACP

Dr. Pontzer is chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, UPMC St. Margaret Hospital, clinical associate professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is the current treasurer of ACMS and can be reached at pontzer@acms.org.