Why Can't We Get Along
(And Get Our Vaccine and Go Home)?

Maybe it is just what being human is all about. That is, the right to stand up for one’s beliefs and voice these loudly for all to hear. Ever since man starting walking upright (and likely before) did we have among us those who were off-center from the majority opinion, had their own ways of thinking and doing things. Many of those that never went with the status quo, challenged authority, and fought vehemently for what they thought was right. And that’s okay and has made us all stronger as a civilization. But somewhere along the line, it makes sense to be in line with what are some fundamental and scientific truths. We have come a long way from old methods of medical treatment. Bloodletting, alchemy and distillation, humours, and more were all the fashion of the day way back when. But treatments evolved as did the science supporting them and this continues to be the case for the coronavirus. We continue to struggle with getting all or even most on board for COVID-19 vaccinations and worry that illness will continue to pervade our ranks. Many will continue to become ill and die, and the cycle will continue.

Speaking on Trevor Noah’s late-night program earlier in September of this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke of the need for “trusted messages” to convince those still unsure about vaccination against COVID-19.  He noted there is not a homogenous group and that some need more information, some need coaxing, and that we are reaching a certain point where we’re hitting a wall. Mandates have been put out by the Federal government and various health care systems and other workplaces. Yet a large number seek out ways of avoiding vaccination. Claiming exemption status due to religious or other beliefs is understandable. But how many claim this just as a way of going with the recommendations at hand.  I know of one health care worker who has claimed a strong and healthy immune system…something this person has worked at honing. Another wants to avoid a needle and also has aversion to going with the flow. 

We must all be patient with each other and not question one’s actions. At the same time, the spread of misinformation abounds. Sometimes this is readily apparent and sometimes it occurs in dark spaces. We need to question the intent of those providing vitamins, herbs, and other remedies for a fee in an effort to subvert the recommendations at hand. When information is spread in this manner with the desire to flip the narrative and move in a very different direction than mainstream guidance, we must all be cautious. When TikTok videos acknowledge “pure-bloods” (referencing the Harry Potter fantasy novel series about wizardry, witchcraft, and magic) as regards those avoiding COVID-19 vaccines, the message is even more clear and disconcerting. The term refers to “wizard families with a ‘pure’ bloodline, or an unmixed ancestry that has never intermarried with non-magical people.” (ref. Insider/The, Cheryl/9/16/21).  The racist overtones suggested here are most worrisome.

In spite of our efforts, we must continue to try to work together to get through the pandemic. While it seems clear the coronavirus will be with us for years to come, we must do what we can to limit its deleterious effects. We can wash our hands, practice social distancing, wear masks as recommended, and get vaccinated. For those who have seen a loved one, friend, or acquaintance suffer or die, that may be enough to propel one to seek a COVID-19 vaccine. For others, the risk of losing one’s job will be enough. Lotteries, gift cards, and more have worked for some but not all. And so we must realize that there is some mistrust in the government, scientific community, and public health.  A lack of trust may be longstanding and has many different causes. Bias, racism, and history create a sense of skepticism for many. For the medical community, the stakes are higher. Sending messages that are false, promoting the use of drugs and other therapies with little or no beneficial effect are all problematic as they may cause harm.

As a result, do physicians have the duty to report those they witness in such activities? While some view this as a slippery slope, we must protect our patients and communities. If we witness false narratives that may directly lead to illness or death, we must act. The Federation of State Medical Boards put out a statement on July 29, 2021, that “physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical licensing boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license.”  But things may not be so easy and thus how we should act and what we should do under various circumstances may not always be clear. The majority of state medical licensing boards to date have been inactive as regards to disciplinary action. Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, Professor of Bioethics at New York University has noted “employers, social media pressure, and reprimands from professional societies will have to be used to hold physicians accountable for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.” (Meyer, Harris. Shouldn't Docs Who Spread False COVID Info Lose Their Licenses? [webmd.com)]8/26/21.)
The Medical Society of Delaware looks forward to working with the Delaware Division of Professional Regulation on this and further initiatives. Suffice it to say, we must continue to work toward providing the best examples we can for our patients, communities, and state. The path will not be an easy one to follow and we may sometimes find ourselves on the side of the road. However, we must continue to go with what we know works and push onward for the goal of a healthier world. I believe we can get along if we work with one another for the common goals of health, happiness, and strong relationships among all of us.

Matthew J. Burday, DO