WATERTOWN — I am writing in response to state Assemblyman Kenneth Blankenbush’s letter of Sept. 9.
Titled “Mandatory vaccinations are not the answer,” he suggests “the governor and health commissioner want to punish those who fail to get the vaccine” and calls it “a callous disregard for their freedom of choice and ability to make a living.” As a practicing physician for 32 years, I have a different perspective.
However, Mr. Blankenbush and I likely have some things in common. I expect that if he rolls up his sleeve, he can show you a scar about the size of a dime on his upper arm where he got his smallpox vaccination. I’ve got one too.
But since 1972, no one in the United States has required a smallpox vaccine because the disease was eliminated by a vaccination program. I expect we also both had parents who were thrilled that the polio vaccine was released in 1955 so their children would not be crippled or killed by this horrible disease.
Polio also has been eradicated in the United States by a vaccination program. But vaccines only work if people get them.
First, let me be clear that there is abundant scientific evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines save lives. They reduce the likelihood of becoming infected and the severity of illness if one is infected.
By reducing the number of susceptible individuals, the spread of the disease also is reduced. These are facts. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either misguided, misinformed or just lying.
I don’t understand all the reasons people decline the vaccine. By now if someone in health care hasn’t had the vaccine, it’s not for lack of opportunity. The vaccine has been readily available for hospital workers since December.
Some say they are concerned about the emergency use approval of the vaccines. But the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine now has full FDA approval, and I believe other vaccines will be approved in due time.
Some of my patients have suggested sinister motives to the vaccine. But since the novel coronavirus virus seems to be doing a good job of killing both Democrats and Republicans, I can’t see how there could be a partisan plot buried here somewhere.
There is a lot of false information circulating on the internet and by word of mouth claiming risks, harmful effects and/or ulterior motives related to the vaccine. What I have seen amounts mostly to just a pile of BS, if you will. Serious side effects of the vaccines are uncommon.
Mr. Blankenbush suggests this mandate disregards health care workers’ “freedom of choice,” but health care workers are still free to choose. I ask each of you to please choose to receive the vaccine.
Choose to protect yourself and family from this deadly virus. And get the shot.
Choose to put aside the mantra of “my body, my choice” and help protect our patients who need you in this frightening time. And get the shot.
Choose to put aside wondering whether the virus was created in a lab or arose spontaneously in nature, because it doesn’t matter — the vaccines were developed for this virus, wherever it came from. And get the shot.
Choose to accept that you are respected for your role in providing care to the sick and injured and elderly in our community — and this applies to you whether you mop the floors, administer medications, deliver meals, hold a dying patient’s hand, comfort a grieving family or anything else that we do in health care. But with this respect comes the added responsibility of doing everything you can to prevent harm to our patients.
Choose to accept this responsibility. And get the shot.
I hope and pray that health care workers at Samaritan Medical Center and other facilities in the north country will choose to be vaccinated. It will be devastating to these facilities, to our community and to the care of our loved ones if they choose not to.
Unlike Mr. Blankenbush, I do not want the state of New York to allow an alternative so unvaccinated health care workers can continue in their jobs. The governor and the health commissioner are tasked to protect the people of New York.
An essential part of that is ensuring that hospitals and health facilities provide safe care to their patients and residents, which includes protecting a vulnerable population from this highly communicable and often fatal illness. The best way to protect our patients from COVID-19 is to get the staff vaccinated.
So in this case, Mr. Blankenbush, if staff members refuse to be vaccinated, mandatory vaccinations must be the answer.