The battle to quell the coronavirus pandemic has opened new divides among us — splitting those willing and not to get vaccinated against the disease, those who will adjust easily or not to life when the illness is a less dominant factor, and those who do not recover easily or quickly and struggle long after their tough bouts with the virus.
Will these differences widen further and create greater challenge for public health officials and political leaders, or can successes in fighting Covid-19 help smooth over rifts?
As vaccine supplies and vaccination sites grow and more than 100 million Americans have now gotten at least one coronavirus shot, concerns persist about equity and hesitancy in the national inoculation campaign.
But that effort’s formidable path forward got an unhappy jolt with the release of survey information (see Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation graphic above) showing that health workers themselves may be an important and influential group needing to be swayed about the importance of vaccination. As the Washington Post reported:
“Health-care workers were the first group in the United States to be offered coronavirus vaccinations. But three months into the effort, many remain unconvinced, unreached, and unprotected. The lingering obstacles to vaccinating health-care workers foreshadow the challenge the United States will face as it expands the pool of people eligible and attempts to get the vast majority of the U.S. population vaccinated. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, barely half of front-line health-care workers (52%) said they had received at least their first vaccine dose at the time they were surveyed. More than 1 in 3 said they were not confident vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness. The nationally representative survey of 1,327 front-line health-care workers, conducted Feb. 11 through March 7, illustrates the challenges ahead as vaccine advocates try to persuade a wider population — with less familiarity with medicine — to get vaccinated.”
The reported survey results also contained this challenging information:
“While about 2 in 10 health-care workers said they had scheduled a shot or were planning to, 3 in 10 health-care workers said they were unsure about getting vaccinated or not planning to do so. As many as 1 in 6 health workers said that if employers required them to get vaccinated, they would leave their job. Vaccination rates are particularly low among health-care workers who are black, those in lower-paying jobs such as home health aides and those with less education. Partisan politics also play a role, with more Democrats saying they have been vaccinated and Republicans more likely to express uncertainty or concerns about the vaccines.”
The newspaper reported that higher paid and better educated and more credentialed health workers get vaccinated more readily. Experts said that employers — including hospitals, clinics, medical offices, and care facilities (such as nursing homes) — could increase health workers’ vaccinations by providing them more and better information and offering shots at the workplace. Health workers, particularly those of color, said their jobs have been overwhelming enough and they struggle to access vaccinations in their communities.
Health leaders — notably senior medical personnel and respected clinicians of color — could boost vaccination effort by spending time, one on one, with colleagues throughout their workplace, listening to concerns in nonjudgmental fashion, and addressing them with scientific evidence and personal experience.
Readjustments won’t be a snap
Indeed, leaders, bosses, and supervisors in many different workplaces will need to be attuned to individuals and their needs as vaccinations and public health measures help the country return to greater normality, meaning more people emerge from the shelter of home and a small group of contacts. As USA Today reported:
“It feels strange, the idea of being together in the world again. Public transit makes us sweat. The prospect of crowded restaurants and bars is thrilling but unfamiliar. People thirsting for daily interaction now worry they’ve lost the ease with which they once socialized. For so long we’ve been looking toward a world that gathers and touches, a world where smiles are unobscured and conversations unmuffled, but the longer we’ve been denied it, the more stressful its return has become. ‘Covid definitely has shifted our experience, our perception of what’s considered normal,’ said Lynn Bufka, senior director of practice transformation and quality at the American Psychological Association. ‘We should expect that there’s going to be some period of time when how we respond to the world around us is going to be different, where we’re going to potentially feel like this is … awkward. But what can be helpful is to recognize that everyone likely feels that way to some extent …’ The pandemic has forced us into a massive social experiment. We’ve never been apart quite like this before. Has Covid fundamentally changed our social lives, or simply paused them? Nearly half of Americans say they feel uneasy thinking about in-person interaction once the pandemic ends, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Stress in America report. Adults who received a Covid-19 vaccine were just as likely as those who haven’t been vaccinated to express unease.”
The challenges may be greater for individuals who are introspective, introverted, and dealing with anxiety or other disorders. As the New York Times reported:
“A new survey from the American Psychological Association found that while 47% of people have seen their stress rise over the pandemic, about 43% saw no change in stress and 7% felt less stress. Mental health experts said this fraction of the population found the quarantine protective, a permission slip to glide into more predictable spaces, schedules, routines, and relationships. And the experts warn that while quarantine has blessed the ‘avoidance’ of social situations, the circumstances are poised to change. I am very worried about many of my socially anxious patients, said Andrea Maikovich-Fong, a psychologist in Denver. That anxiety ‘is going to come back with a vengeance when the world opens up.’ She doesn’t for a moment diminish the larger picture of the pandemic’s toll. Millions have died around the globe, and the plague itself has caused severe grief and anxiety — for parents and children, medical workers and those just trying to survive economically. The mental health industry, she said, ‘is struggling to keep up.’ But for people with severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, these sharp restrictions in some ways reinforced their intense impulse to withdraw.”
The extroverted, gregarious, the energetic and carefree young, and people who may want to make a political point with their aggressive return to public activities all may want to push the public to just jump back into a world that existed a year ago before the pandemic. But, even with popular activities like dining indoors at restaurants or attending sporting events in person at stadium, Californians expressed continued concern and caution, even reluctance, an opinion poll found.
The pandemic is far from over
That may be good news for public health officials. They keep reminding people, emphatically, that the pandemic is far from over. Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have declined sharply. But they have plateaued at still unacceptably high levels. And concern is rising over the spread of coronavirus variants that appear to be more contagious and potentially more deadly.
The vaccinated can do more, safely, but getting the shots is not an invitation to go wild, experts say. The end of a big and scary winter surge may be reason to ease some public health restrictions, including a major push to reopen schools (especially at the elementary level) with experts saying a smaller distance among children (three- and not six-feet) may be acceptable.
Still, for most of us, the precautions stand, experts say: We should practice great hygiene (especially hand washing), cover our faces, maintain distance, avoid closed and poorly ventilated spaces, stick near home and with members of a single household, and get vaccinated when it is appropriate.
Don’t forget the coronavirus can be debilitating and deadly
Those who continue to dismiss the pandemic and public health precautions, especially vaccines, may wish to spend time with the increasing number of long-haul coronavirus patients, plagued with weeks or even months of problems like soaking sweats, crushing fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, and muscle pain, ABC News reported.
The federal government has committed more than a billion dollars to study long-haulers and improve their treatment — which may include getting them some reported relief after vaccination for a disease they’ve already had.
If folks have not gotten the message already, avoiding a debilitating or deadly coronavirus infection — by precautions and vaccination — is far smarter than not, right?
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including: dangerous drugs, risky and defective products, abuse and neglect in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and car, motorcycle, and truck crashes. In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may crow about the need to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering.
It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. We have much work to do, so please stay cautious and healthy!