Your freedom to do what you want ends at the freedoms of others to not be killed
There’s something personal I haven’t shared that I feel I can no longer be silent about, because perhaps it might be helpful as public knowledge, and because I want people to know better where I’m coming from on the topic of vaccines and Covid in general. There’s a big reason why I believe so strongly that people should get vaccinated, and wear masks until Covid has finally been defeated. That reason is my wife who has given me her blessing to write this particularly personal blog post.
This part is already public knowledge, but for those who don’t know, last year, before the vaccines were available, my wife and I both caught Covid. We experienced it in late November and early December. Fortunately for both of us, it was quite mild for us. After the quarantine period, we thought we were free and clear, but then Katie started experiencing strange fevers that would come and go, and over the course of about two months, those fevers became higher and more frequent, until finally she felt it was time to go to the hospital.
There, her condition worsened. Her fevers were non-stop and required a constant regimen of Tylenol and ibuprofen to try and manage. She soon needed to be put on oxygen as pneumonia spread through both her lungs. It was really confusing for the doctors there because of all the time that had passed after when she tested positive for Covid. Covid didn’t make sense, and she tested negative for it in the hospital, so she wasn’t treated as a Covid patient and instead provided a lot of antibiotics in case it was bacterial, which it wasn’t, and anti-fungal in case it was fungal, which it wasn’t, and eventually the thing that finally did the trick, was dexamethasone, a steroid which has been shown to work well with Covid pneumonia.
For Katie, it worked like magic. Her fevers stopped. Her lungs began to clear up. On the 10th day of being in the hospital, she was finally released. We brought home a couple oxygen tanks, which she still needed from time to time at first, but eventually her lungs continued to improve and after another few months, she felt comfortable with returning the oxygen tanks.
The final diagnosis was that it had been Covid pneumonia, but it had operated in such a strange way because of its interaction with a medication that she takes, and this is the part that is not public knowledge, that I’m now going to share.
Katie is immunocompromised. She has a lifelong but manageable medical condition that impacts her nervous system. Because of this condition, she has to stay on medication that tamps down her immune system to help prevent it from attacking her nervous system. We still don’t really know what happened, but it seems like her immune system took an unusually long time ridding her body of Covid because of her medication and eventually non-replicating fragments of Covid in her body began to poke at her immune system, leading to an overreaction. The steroids then functioned to tone things down again. However, this still wasn’t the end of this experience.
The steroids did work, but steroids are temporary, because of just how well they shut things down, and when she switched to a more targeted steroid just for her lungs, it still helped, but the fevers would still happen, and we began to worry that things might possibly worsen again. Then the vaccines became available.
It was a tough choice for Katie to take the vaccine, because we just didn’t know what would happen. She was still experiencing fevers. Would it make things worse? Would it not even do anything because her body wouldn’t mobilize a normal response to a vaccine? Well, here’s what happened. After her second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, her fevers finally ended. They were just gone. This was a possibility that we had hoped for, and it happened. It was like the vaccine pushed the reset button on her immune system, and she was finally 100% again. Others like her have reported similar results.
With the vaccines now available, and both of us fully vaccinated, and so many others finally getting vaccinated, we thought all of this was over. We got to get out more. We got to spend time with vaccinated friends. We still played it safe by masking, not spending anytime inside restaurants, but life did feel like it was getting back to normal.
Unfortunately, because the rest of the world is still full of unvaccinated people for Covid to mutate within, and because we live in Louisiana where such a small percentage of the population got vaccinated, that return to normalcy was short-lived. The Delta variant arrived, and is currently actively sweeping through all of Louisiana. As I write this, the numbers are still continuing to grow. Hospitals are bursting at the seams with Covid patients. Surgeries for non-Covid related things are being rescheduled. Almost 4,000 people across Louisiana are hospitalized right now, and to give you some idea of hospital capacity, there are a total of 18,000 hospital beds in all of Louisiana. And that’s all beds, not ICU beds, and not the number of staff required to handle all of the patients in those beds.
So here’s what Katie and I are now facing together. Even though she has already had Covid, and has already been fully vaccinated, because of the fact she is immunocompromised, we have absolutely no idea what will happen if she gets Delta or Lambda or any future variants. She has been tested for antibodies, and the results were negative, so it’s possible that her immune system just didn’t respond in the way it needed to for strong immunity, because of her medication. She’s actually on a new medication now that’s supposed to work better with the vaccines than her old medication, but all signs point to needing a booster shot now in order to activate her immune system in a way her new medication will allow that her old one wouldn’t.
This is now a very stressful waiting game. If enough people got vaccinated, this would be over. If enough people wore masks, this would be over. If Katie were able to get a third shot, preferably one targeting Delta, our lives would be a lot less stressful. But right now, there’s nothing she can really do besides avoid as many human interactions as she can, stay home as much as possible, and wear a mask everywhere she goes. Fortunately she’s able to work for home. Many immunocompromised aren’t so fortunate.
I want everyone reading this to please consider this perspective. Please consider the lives of every immunocompromised person. That means people with cancer and being treated for cancer. That means organ donor recipients. That means people with autoimmune disease. That means people with HIV. It also means entirely healthy people on some kind of medication like prednisone. Altogether, there are about ten million Americans in the US who are immunocompromised.
Think also of all the kids who aren’t allowed yet to get vaccinated, who rely on the rest of us to get vaccinated to protect them. Here in Lousiana, the number of kids testing positive for Covid has skyrocketed to 20% of all positives and half the kids in the hospital with it are under the age of two. What about all the kids under age 12 and all of the immunocompromised? What are they supposed to do as a result of other people making the choice to not get vaccinated or mask up?
I’m a huge believer in freedom. It is extremely important to me. I think everyone should be free to do whatever the hell they want to, so long as it only impacts them. And that’s the problem when it comes to a pandemic. It may feel like not getting vaccinated is a personal choice that only impacts you, but it isn’t. If you get Covid, and pass it on to someone else, and they pass it on to someone else, and at some point someone dies, you helped make that happen. You are partially responsible for that person’s death. That’s on you.
And if I lose Katie because of a chain reaction of human selfishness, I will never forgive a single one of you who chose to not get vaccinated. Not ever.
So yes, this is very personal to me. Please, just get vaccinated. If you are just waiting to see, please don’t wait any longer. If it’s difficult for you to find the time, please make the time. If you absolutely refuse to get vaccinated, then please be incredibly responsible about mask wearing, social distancing, and your interactions with others who themselves refuse to get vaccinated, wear masks, or socially distance. Please consider how your actions affect others.
Personally, I think it’s an absolute miracle of modern science and technology that we were able to create such incredibly effective vaccines so quickly. I would never have guessed last March that come 2021, we’d have a vaccine available that saved 99.999% of people from death. It’s incredible. And even with all the variants, it’s still keeping almost all of the fully vaccinated out of hospitals. In Louisiana, 90% of those hospitalized for Covid are unvaccinated. It’s a goddamn miracle how effective the vaccines are. It’s the miracle that unvaccinated people dying in hospitals right now are wishing for after it’s already too late for them to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, this isn’t only about death. Long Covid is a real thing, and it’s a real unknown that appears to be impacting 25% of those who get Covid. We have no idea how long people can experience long-haul symptoms. The effects of catching Covid can be mild, and yet possibly result in symptoms that stick around for years to come. People say the same things about the vaccine, and yet those claims are massively over-exaggerated. It’s more dangerous to your health to ride in a car. There is no evidence of long-term downsides to getting vaccinated. There are however very real and known downsides to death and hospitalization, and long-haul Covid, that could permanently impact people’s lives for the worse, especially those with most of their lives still ahead of them.
One more thing. When you get vaccinated, and I really hope you do if you haven’t already, take pride in it. When you get vaccinated, you're saying you care so much about your family, community, and country, that you will do what needs to be done to protect them. This is the closest thing many of us alive today who aren’t veterans have had to a World War. Previous generations stepped up. Now we can too. This is our opportunity to unite and defend each other from a hostile global invader.
Let’s all do our part, and end this pandemic together.
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