For the last 18 months, I’ve been serving alongside my colleagues on the frontlines of this global pandemic by personally caring for COVID patients as they fight for their lives. Together with nurses, respiratory, physical, occupational, and speech therapists, pharmacists, dieticians, environmental service and transport personnel, and other support staff, Intensive Care Unit teams across the state have worked tirelessly to help their fellow Coloradans.
Frontline health care workers have sacrificed greatly during this pandemic. Prior to the availability of vaccines, we were literally putting our lives on the line for our patients. We worked long hours in difficult conditions, putting on and taking off protective equipment, while trying not to get sick ourselves. There was a sense of purpose – driven by a common mission that COVID patients needed our help. It was what we were all trained to do. We stayed in our patients’ rooms to try and diminish their sense of isolation because their family members were unable to visit the hospital. We held our patients’ hands and tried to provide reassurance. Sometimes, we held our patient’s hands in order to comfort them while they died.
The availability of extremely effective and safe vaccines (whose development is truly one of the greatest achievements in modern medicine) created a sense of optimism that the pandemic might end. After receiving my first vaccination in our hospital auditorium, I cried with joy when I realized that I might not die in the line of service. There was hope. That December sense of hope, however, now seems short-lived because despite the vaccine being freely and widely available there are still too many unvaccinated Coloradans.
Our state should be proud that its efforts have resulted in more than 77% of eligible Coloradans receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, but we need to do better. The pandemic rages on due to an unacceptable rate of unvaccinated individuals. People who remain unvaccinated put themselves at risk, as well as their families, their children, friends, neighbors, community members, and the future of our health care system. Non-COVID patients are at risk of not getting the care they need for other medical problems because hospitals are using their resources and personnel to care for unvaccinated COVID patients. As the virus continues to mutate and surge, vaccinated immunocompromised patients are contracting COVID because inherently they are unable to mount a sufficient immune response. Pediatric cases are on the rise. Some COVID patients require long-term treatment for post-COVID symptoms which impacts their quality of life and could strain our healthcare systems across the state.
COVID has also accelerated the parallel pandemic of psychological distress in health care professionals. The new wave of predominantly unvaccinated COVID patients may ultimately “break the souls” of my colleagues. According to recent studies, one out of three frontline health care workers is considering leaving their profession. We remain committed to providing excellent care to our patients, but the sad truth is that many health care workers are simply exhausted.
Prior to the pandemic, I never had to care for a husband and wife, or two sisters in the ICU at the same time with the same disease. COVID and the Delta variant are still ravaging our communities. The good news is that we have the straightforward solution to end the pandemic and return to a sense of normalcy. Even with the Delta variant, the now FDA-approved vaccine is safe and remains extremely effective for preventing severe disease.
Gov. Jared Polis and the State of Colorado are working collaboratively with health care workers to make it as easy as possible to get the lifesaving vaccine, no matter where you live. You can visit your local health care provider, stop by your primary care physician, walk up to one of the many mobile vaccination clinics around the state, or pharmacy. Just visit covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine to find a location near you.
This pandemic has caused enough loss, pain, and far too many deaths. On behalf of the tens of thousands of health care professionals in the great state of Colorado, and the other front-line workers who have worked on your behalf, we urge you to get vaccinated.
No one else needs to die from this preventable disease.
Dr. Marc Moss is the head of the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and an intensivist at the University of Colorado Hospital