… and Why People Who Won’t Follow Public Health Guidelines Clearly Have Zero Empathy For Front Line Workers & Those Whose Lives They’re Trying To Save

My Thoughts On The Coronavirus Vaccine (& Why People Who Won’t Follow Public Health Guidelines Clearly Have Zero Empathy For Front Line Workers & Those Whose Lives They’re Trying To Save)

I know that if I post anything about vaccines, I’m opening Pandora’s Box… Several of you have asked me whether I would get a Covid vaccine, and just for the record, my answer is that in my career as a doctor- and as a patient and mother- I have never been an early adopter- of any pharmaceutical. When I was practicing medicine and fancy new drugs came out, the drug reps would do their best to flatter me, wine and dine me, and manipulate me into prescribing their drug. I never did- for at least a year- because in my clinical experience, those fancy new drugs sometimes got pulled off the market very quickly because of dangerous side effects and/or lack of efficacy, and I never wanted to be responsible for causing undue harm. I learned to move slow with new technology. New technology can sometimes be dangerous because pharmaceutical companies rush things to market and rush through FDA approval because although they give lip service to patient wellbeing, their #1 commitment is to the wealth of their shareholders and the financial bottom line.

With that disclaimer, we never had a worldwide pandemic that was killing hundreds of thousands of people back when I was making decisions about early adoption of new drugs or medical interventions. Times like this are different, and waiting a year to assess whether a vaccine is safe could mean countless more deaths and long time disabilities in those “Covid long haulers” who recover but not without disabling long term damage

Am I skeptical about a new Covid vaccine rushed to market with Operation Warp Speed? You betcha. Do I think it has nano-robots and makes us a 5G antenna? Hell no. Do I believe an mRNA vaccine will permanently alter your DNA as the conspiracy theorists propose? Oh good God no. (Watch ZDoggMD debunk Christiane Northrup’s absolutely paranoid, delusional, nonsensical, and misinformed Covid vaccine conspiracy video, fact by fact, here . [Yes, Christiane Northrup wrote the foreword to my book ten years ago, and no, I don’t trust a word coming out of her mouth in 2020. While she was a great pioneer in the mind-body medicine field, and her body of lifetime work has been a boon to many, she seems to have had some sort of breakdown and can no longer be trusted to give sound medical advice.]

Do I trust Big Pharma to protect the public health of the population? Hell no. Do I believe the CDC and the WHO are 100% trustworthy, with no hidden agendas? Nope, but I sure think they care more about public health than our reckless White House “leadership.” Do I think a safe Covid vaccine would be good for the world? Yes. Absolutely. Did I vaccinate my daughter with childhood vaccines? Yes. Slowly. And all of those vaccines were old, well tested, and had a long history of safety.

Will I be the first to rush to give myself or my daughter a new vaccine? No. Given the vaccine rollout plan, we wouldn’t be qualified to be the first to get the vaccine, even if we wanted to be, since we’re both low risk. I’m working from home, and she has been in remote school since March, so we’re not at high risk of contracting the virus. Since I’m not on the front lines any longer and it’s possible for us to stay sheltered, I would rather stay sheltered longer while we get more safety data- and yes, I’m aware that this is a mark of my privilege to have the option of waiting. Will I get the Covid vaccine once we have long term safety and efficacy data? Yes. Would I get the vaccine if I were a front line doctor now? Without a doubt. I’d absolutely take the risk of a new vaccine over the risk of dying of Covid or becoming a Covid long-hauler if I were at high risk of exposure. How long will I wait to get vaccinated? I will most likely accept the vaccine when public health officials make it available to me, which probably won’t be until close to summer 2021. (See the New York Times’ summary of the rollout plan below.)

Like it or not, it’s now clear that mass vaccination is going to be the only way we’ll get back to any sort of normalcy. With approximately 1.7 deaths for every 100 new cases (you can read about those stats in the New York Times here, herd immunity without vaccination will simply be too costly. I wish this wasn’t true. I have my own vaccine skepticism and wish this would all just blow over without the need for mass medical intervention. But that wish seems to be a pipe dream.

It is likely that vaccination will be mandatory if my daughter is going to ever attend in person public school (she started public school this year after 9 years of Waldorf). If my daughter’s school moves to in person school soon and I have to make a decision about whether to pull my daughter out of public school to avoid mandatory vaccination with a poorly tested vaccine without good long term safety data, I will have to make that choice if that day comes. Probably I would go ahead and vaccinate her, but at almost 15, she’s smart and wise and intuitive and old enough to participate in that choice. So I would ask her to help make that choice.  Until then, we are safely sheltered and making the best of it. I know many are having a much harder time and for their benefit, I will get the vaccine as soon as I trust that it’s been tested enough.

Rolling Out The Covid Vaccine, (Excerpted From The New York Times)

What’s the plan to distribute the Covid vaccine? The UK is the first to approve use of the Pfizer Covid vaccine. We have yet to see peer reviewed data, and I never trust early reports until I do, but assuming efficacy and safety data continue to be unveiled for the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, a panel of scientific advisers just released its initial guidelines for who should receive the first coronavirus vaccines — recommendations that will influence states’ policies across the country.

“The obvious question on many people’s minds is: When can I expect to be vaccinated? While there is still a lot of uncertainty, it’s possible to lay out a rough expected timeline. I’ve done so below, with help from public health experts and colleagues who are covering the virus.

December: Health care workers and nursing home residents will likely be the first people to receive the vaccine, as the panel recommended. Up to 40 million doses could be available to Americans before the end of this year, from a combination of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines. That would be enough to vaccinate the three million people who live in long-term-care facilities, as well as most of the country’s 21 million health care workers.

January: Keep in mind that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second dose a few weeks later to be effective. So an initial batch of 40 million doses would be enough to vaccinate only 20 million people.

By early next year, Pfizer and Moderna are likely to be able to ship about 70 million doses per month, Moncef Slaoui, a top federal vaccine official, told The Washington Post yesterday. People will likely receive the shots at doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacies, as well as at specially created clinics in some places, my colleague Katie Thomas says.

February and March: The next priority groups are likely to be people over the age of 65 (and especially those over 75); people with medical conditions that put them at risk of death if infected; and essential workers, like those in education, food, transportation and law enforcement.

One exception to this second wave of vaccine recipients may be people who have already had the virus, making them immune from it for at least some period of time.

If other companies in addition to Pfizer and Moderna receive approval for their vaccines, the total number shipped each month could reach 150 million by March, Slaoui said.

April, May and June: The most likely scenario is that even people who don’t qualify as a priority — like healthy, nonessential workers younger than 65 — will begin receiving the vaccine by the spring. The vast majority of Americans could be vaccinated by early summer.

Once that happens, life will still not immediately return to normal, partly because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective. “There will still be risks to people,” as Caitlin Rivers, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, told me.

But those risks will be small compared with today’s risks. Treatments continue to improve, reducing the death rate for people who get the virus. And widespread vaccination will sharply reduce the spread, helping protect even people for whom a vaccine is ineffective. Rivers predicted that social gatherings will again be common and largely safe by the summer.

All things considered, the spring isn’t that far away, which is yet another reason for people to make extra efforts to avoid unnecessary risks — like eating inside restaurants and gathering indoors with friends — for the next few months.”

So…I’m allowing myself cautious hope for summer 2021. Until then, stay hunkered down, stay patient, stay connected to the Divine inside (it’s the best company you can get when you’re not allowed to be with others), and let’s all try to stay in our hearts and in our care for one another during a very very hard year.

Why People Who Won’t Follow Public Health Guidelines Clearly Have Zero Empathy For Front Line Workers & Those Whose Lives They’re Trying To Save

While many people responded to these two Facebook posts with gratitude and relief for a nuanced, non-binary point of view, a large number of people were absolutely spewing hatred at me for suggesting that the vaccine is a wise public health measure. In response to the poisonous vitriol, I wrote this as a way to have the backs of so many of my friends, colleagues, and clients who are battling the pandemic from the front lines of the hospitals:

I have to confess to you all that I had a part that felt bitterly disgusted reading through so many of yesterday’s comments in response to what I posted about the Covid vaccine. I’m so upset about how insensitive so many people in this country are that I’m seriously considering quitting social media. I went to a great deal of effort to go out on a limb and write my nuanced opinion- which includes my flagrant distrust of the very corrupt pharmaceutical industry and my hesitation about any new medical intervention rushed to market. Even so, the number of people who posted abusive comments and unscientific misinformation and propaganda condemning any kind of vaccination solution to the pandemic makes me feel infuriated. This egregiously disrespectful and misinformed behavior lacks all empathy for the vigilant, exhausted, scared, anxious, overworked front line doctors and nurses who are saving lives every day because they care about public health, sacrificed and devoted themselves to years of education in order to have the skillset and knowledge to manage complicated ICU patients, and are taking huge personal risks by going to work every day.

Yes, I know conventional medicine has many problems. Yes, I know preventable medical error was the #3 cause of death in the United States (see my post here) until it got outpaced by Covid, which is now the #3 cause of death in the US in 2020- and the year isn’t over yet. Yes, I left the hospital in 2007 and never went back on ethical grounds- because of the moral injury of trying to work inside such a corrupt system. Yes, I created a training program for doctors (the Whole Health Medicine Institute) and devoted the past 13 years of my life to trying to be part of the solution to a broken health care system.

To Be Anti-Mask Is Anti-Empathy

That said, these front line doctors and nurses so many of you seem utterly insensitive to are my friends and colleagues and clients- and it makes parts of me insane to think how little people in this country care about them, including those doctors sheltered in their fancy houses spouting absolute nonsense. Not one of those front line workers that I know personally is anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-social distancing, or anti any public health measures. The only doctors I see promoting this nonsense are doing so from the safety of their fancy house shelters on social media- not from the front lines.

If you spent even one hour in a Covid ICU, you’d have more empathy. This is like wartime medicine for doctors and nurses who have no experience with war. With all due respect, I have no tolerance for the people who don’t have an ounce of empathy for front line workers and the sick and vulnerable humans they care for. So please- just go away if you’re one of those people. Unfollow me and go harass someone else. You are not welcome here, where I’m working my ass off trying to educate the public, protect people in dangerous times, and be a spokesperson for my friends in Covid ICU’s, who are my most trusted sources. I trust the New York Times but I trust my friends on the front lines even more to tell me about what’s actually happening with this pandemic, and it’s real, terrifying, and getting worse, not better.

Why American Individualism Falls Apart In A Pandemic

I know how many of you think, “Well that’s fine if other people want to get the vaccine, but don’t make me or my kid.” Don’t worry. At least in modern times, nobody in the United States is going to hold you at gunpoint and force you to get a vaccine. The lawyers have decided that the medical ethic of informed consent outweights the public health benefit of mass vaccination. What they can do to pressure you to comply with public health measures is withhold privileges, like public education for your child or the right to get on a plane. This is not some sort of authoritarian dictatorship; it’s concern for the health of the collective of humanity. The problem with American individualism is that people in this country- so many rebel types- think about themselves but neglect to care about others. But pandemics don’t work that way. If you choose not to get vaccinated, you put others at risk, especially front line workers, the elderly, and the chronically ill.  Sure, maybe you’ll be fine if you get Covid (though many otherwise young and healthy people have died or gotten disabled, so that’s not a sure thing.) But let’s say you do survive Covid unscathed, you might infect and kill others because of your infection. Herd immunity only works if approximately 70% of the population is immune. Because the risk of just letting Covid rip through the population seems too great- and we’re unclear whether surviving Covid even confers long term immunity- that means we’ll need to find a vaccine that does confer long term immunity- or suffer the consequences. And then the majority of the population will need to receive it so we can protect those most vulnerable.

What this means is that it’s not just about you. I’ll get the vaccine and give it to my daughter not as much because I don’t want us to get Covid, but because I don’t want us to give it to someone who might die from it. And I want us to be able to gather again in public without being at risk of getting infected or infecting someone else. Just think how you would feel if you found out you infected Grandma or your best friend who is in cancer treatment. What if your child had a long term Covid disability because you refused to get you or your child vaccinated? Now I know Covid is not polio, but ask any polio survivor how the world felt when an effective vaccination was finally discovered. We’ve become complacent about how lethal infectious diseases can be- because of modern medicine. Let us not forget that even vaccinations can be Sacred Medicine.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the idea of a Covid vaccine either. I wish there was another solution, but short of a delusional slide into magical thinking, I’m not seeing another safe way through this. I’m all for safety, caution, and standing up against Big Pharma, and I’m all for holding the pharmaceutical industries accountable for their corruption, greed, and unsafe practices.

I’m still considering whether to leave social media. The toll it’s taking on me to see how terribly so many of my fellow countrymates are treating the brave souls who are doing their best to get this pandemic under control makes me want to just leave the public sphere and quietly focus on being a mother, bringing to fruition my non-profit work at Heal At Last, and making my art.  If I choose to do that, I’ll let you know, but until I decide, please grant me just a morsel of human dignity and leave me the eff alone. If you’re one of those people disrespecting front line workers, Covid patients, and the marginalized and vulnerable people who are still at risk of getting sick and dying, I can keep you in the fold of humanity who deserves care and compassion, but frankly, I don’t want to engage with you. As sacred activist, Joanna Macy says, “We have work to do, so get out of my way.”

*The photo in the blog of nurse Kathryn shows how she looks before going to nursing school- and now. Think of her next time you’re tempted to post anti-public health propaganda. And please, open your heart.

*This blog is dedicated to my front line Covid physician friends Ed Savay, MD, and Rick Loftus, MD, as well as all the doctors in my Finding Meaning In Medicine circle with Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, and all of my clients in the Whole Health Medicine Institute. Your courage and love for humanity crack my heart wide open. In any way I can broadcast to the public on your behalf from inside my shelter, I’ve got your backs.

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