by Dr. Katrina Hammel, Winona Health

Almost a year and a half ago, the world was taken by a storm with the novel COVID-19 virus and the destruction that it has caused—from a medical standpoint, business standpoint and, for many, on a very personal level. It has completely disrupted our way of life. It didn’t matter if you were in the workforce, a student, or retired — life changed for everyone. And we all buckled in for the ride. Unfortunately, the ride has lasted a little too long in my opinion. I’m starting to get “car sick” and would like a rest stop.  

Yet, the rest stop seems far away as we continue to be in the thick of things and the delta variant is hitting our community. We see both in our community, as well as the surrounding regional hospitals, that COVID admissions are increasing and increasing rapidly. The patients now are younger and quite a bit sicker. Providing care requires more resources, like personal protective equipment, oxygen, medicines, and medical devices such as ventilators — some of which are scarce. Here at Winona Health, we are caring for patients who have COVID-19 both in the hospital and in the clinic. So far, we have not had to divert any patients, and we hope that doesn’t change.

As much as science continues to amaze me day after day, we don’t have a whole lot that offers effective treatment once you need to be hospitalized after contracting COVID-19. The majority of people will not need to be hospitalized. That’s irrefutable. But I worry about, and care for, the ones who are unlucky. Can science yet predict who will have severe disease? No. The most effective way to prevent ending up in the hospital is to not get COVID-19. And getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalization if you do get the virus.

This is not an editorial to suggest that vaccination will mean you’ll have zero chance of getting the virus — the delta variant has proven that this is just not the case. Delta has also proven that it is affecting more kids, which is concerning to me as a physician and also as a parent who still has young children who are not old enough yet for a COVID vaccine.

Although this is a novel coronavirus, the concept of taking precautions is certainly not novel. The seat belt law in Minnesota passed in 1986, as lawmakers knew that the best way to avoid injuries and death from motor vehicles was to avoid the accident; but if the accident is unavoidable, in many cases, seat belts save lives. That is what health care workers are trying to impart — of course you should try to avoid getting the disease (COVID-19), but if you can’t avoid it, being vaccinated is like your seat belt.

I hear concerns from people about the new technology of the mRNA vaccines and how many people don’t trust how quickly they were developed. Medicine has continually developed new technologies and classes of medication — this is how we learn. We have been doing this for generations. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, which is widely lauded as a game changer in modern medicine, and now we have many, many different antibiotics that are arguably much better than penicillin. 

The practice of medicine constantly changes with the goal of improving both quality and quantity of life. Sometimes, there is no way to be certain of long-term outcomes while we are making these changes, but we can understand the risk of not making the changes. We can only control what we do today. And today, if you haven’t already, I hope that you’ll choose to get vaccinated, not only to protect yourself, but also the people you care about around you. 

For information about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, visit www.winonahealth.org or call 507-454-3650.