Hospitals across the country are often full at this time of year because of seasonal illnesses, like the flu. This year, however, we are also still contending with COVID-19. In addition to the Delta variant, which caused the largest and worse surge of the pandemic thus far, the Omicron variant is now the predominant variant and spreading rapidly.
According to early reports, the Omicron variant may not cause as severe illness in many; however, it will cause severe illness (including death) in some, especially the unvaccinated. It also appears to be the most contagious of all of the variants. That means that the number of people expected to be hospitalized could put enormous pressure on Piedmont Athens Regional and the nation’s health-care system, both of which are already stressed.
Speaking on behalf of all of the physicians, nurses, and staff members of our hospital, I am urging every member of the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, if they haven’t already done so. If you have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, be sure to get your booster shot as well.
Initial data from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggests that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide just 33% effectiveness in preventing severe illness/hospitalization against Omicron. However, third doses show high levels of protection against Omicron, about 70 percent. Early data also indicates that the antibodies resulting from people who have survived COVID-19 infections (sometimes referred to as “natural immunity”) does not provide the same amount of protection against this variant.
While the vaccines can’t entirely prevent people from contracting COVID-19, they do an excellent job of preventing hospitalization and death.
Preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 is vitally important. We need to keep hospitals beds open and staff available for non-COVID urgent and emergent medical needs, as well as some much-needed elective procedures.
The greatest gift you can give your friends, family, and community is the assurance that you are doing all you can to stop the spread of COVID-19. While that means getting vaccinated and boosted, that also means continuing to practice the 3 W’s: Wearing a mask, Washing your hands, and Watching your distance. We also recommend that when possible, people use the at-home tests, available at local pharmacies and retailers, before attending a large gathering with vulnerable populations.
December marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 vaccine being available. Over 200 million Americans are now considered to be fully vaccinated. That is an enormous help, but as a nation we can, and must, do better. If we ever hope to put COVID-19 firmly behind us, we need everyone to remain vigilant in doing all the right things.
On behalf of our caregivers, thank you for your support and your cooperation.
Sinyard is chief medical officer of Piedmont Athens Regional.
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