I work as a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician in the southern Maine area. I met my first patient with COVID in our ICU sometime in March 2020. I have taken care of dozens of patients with COVID infections since. Most survive, but sadly, some don’t.

I remember my first experience working in a COVID unit. I admit I was worried about contracting the virus. At the time, case reports were emerging of physicians dying from COVID after exposure to infected patients. We took special precautions when entering the COVID ICU. I removed my wedding ring, watch and covered any exposed skin. A scrub nurse stood outside the unit and double checked the donning of my mask, face shield and protective coverings. We double gloved so that we could remove one set of gloves between patients without exposing our skin. We performed procedures with sterile gloves over the latex ones. At the end of our shift we carefully disposed of our scrubs and showered in a private call room. At the time we were working 12-hour shifts among four ICU docs (including myself). I would come home and usually worry about what the future held.

For months I pored over the latest scientific literature regarding COVID infections, epidemiology and potential treatments. I studied constantly. I waited with nervous anticipation for data regarding a potential vaccine.

It was with relief and gratitude that I received my first COVID vaccine inoculation on Dec. 15. At the time I truly believed that we finally had the tool to “beat” COVID. I think because of my intimate relationship with critically ill COVID patients, I never envisioned so many people would purposely avoid the vaccine. Despite Maine having one of the highest rates of vaccination of any state, roughly three out of 10 eligible residents have thus far refused it.

It has been nearly 18 months since I met my first patient with COVID. I will soon be back in our ICU. I will be taking care of patients critically ill with COVID pneumonia and the acute lung injury that follows. Our patients are nearly all unvaccinated and significantly younger than those infected in 2020.

Many people don’t realize that once patients with COVID become sick enough to require ICU admission, even if one survives, it generally requires weeks in the hospital. Long-term disability is almost a given. For patients that leave the hospital, their lives are forever changed. The long duration of hospitalization is the reason behind critical care bed shortages. The duration of ICU days generally far exceeds those with non-COVID illnesses. It is important to know that when hospitals are overwhelmed it increases the chances of dying or suffering an adverse outcome due to a non-COVID illness.

I must say that like most of us living through this pandemic, I am tired. I’m tired of trying to convince patients to be vaccinated. I’m tired of hearing people complain about wearing masks. I’m tired of hearing about the conspiracy theories and misinformation that patients continuously rely on when explaining to me why they won’t get vaccinated. Empirical data has shown us that vaccinations reduce the prevalence of infection, reduce hospitalizations and reduce the number of people dying. Serious side effects to the vaccines are incredibly rare. How do our lives return to normal? It is really a simple math problem: mass vaccination. It is our answer to ending this pandemic.

What I am especially stunned and saddened by are health care workers who refuse COVID vaccination. In my opinion if you are an EMT, paramedic, nursing assistant, nurse, therapist, advanced practice professional or physician, you owe it to your patient to be vaccinated. We are the ones who must lead the way in both caring for patients with COVID infections and reducing the spread of disease. Asymptomatic spread of the infection two to three days before symptom onset is the hallmark of COVID-19. It is why it can spread so fast through a community. Why would one want to risk spreading the virus to an unsuspecting patient who needs our care?

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