Doctor: Lenoir-Rhyne made wise decision to require vaccinations
As a native of Hickory and a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College (University), I am most concerned about the recent turmoil about Lenoir-Rhyne’s efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic. I write in response to recent comments in the Hickory Daily Record related to Lenoir-Rhyne University’s requirement of vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Lenoir-Rhyne University’s decision requiring all students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated is based on well-documented science as well as genuine concern for the health and well-being of the LRU community. LRU’s requirement provides protection for those on campus, as well as for families, alumni, and others who come to campus. In addition, LRU is but one of a large number of academic institutions requiring vaccination of its students, staff, and faculty such as Duke and Wake Forest universities.
I am a retired infectious disease faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, where I spent 29 years attending patients, teaching, and doing research. I was introduced to pandemics at my first internship at Emory University. During the peak of the 1968-69 influenza pandemic, I was assigned to Grady Hospital emergency center, Atlanta. The overflow of patients required opening an auditorium to accommodate the sick. Once again we are seeing that access to care for the coronavirus is similar to or worse than that influenza outbreak.
During medical school, a department chair announced he was not getting the flu shot. I decided if such an important physician would not be immunized, I would not either. That December I got the flu and for two days I was in bed with a sore throat, terrible cough, severe muscle pain, and high fever. Since then, I have never missed receiving an annual flu shot. I was luckier than the 100,000 people in the U. S. and 1,000,000 worldwide who died from the ’68-’69 pandemic.
The lesson is that because a person of stature says something does not make it true. We must keep both science and personal opinion in perspective. Science stands up under severe inquiry. Opinion, however, has no restraints. The internet testifies to the fact that many opinions about the pandemic are simply untrue. As stated recently, “We currently have a pandemic of misinformation.” Some opinions are so preposterous that they would be comical if people were not dying.
It is a fact. Vaccines have been the lifeline in reducing and/or eliminating infectious diseases and have been a major contributor to increasing our life expectancy.
Anyone who was alive before the polio vaccine will recall the terror that gripped the nation. Children were in iron lungs, people otherwise healthy were paralyzed or dying. My neighborhood junior high school quarterback died from polio. Thanks to the vaccine, polio has been eliminated from our country. Smallpox has been eradicated from the globe. Measles was eliminated from the U.S.; yet, because people choose not to be vaccinated, it is making a comeback.
The current pandemic is a challenge for America, not because of the coronavirus but because of the way it has been managed and how the population has declined to be immunized. As a respiratory virus, it is predictable. It can cause both disease and death in susceptible individuals if they remain unvaccinated.
Presently there is no curative therapy for the virus. Fortunately, we have very effective vaccines that have been administered to millions with proven safety. In addition to the vaccine, masks have shown to reduce transmission of the disease.
The most immediate and effective way to stop the virus is by vaccination. Currently, over 600,000 individuals have died in the U.S.
What is more frightening is that the Delta virus, a mutant strain, has emerged and is more dangerous than the present coronavirus. It is more infectious and is present in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It especially attacks in alarming numbers young adults and children who are unvaccinated. The daily escalation in cases in Catawba County, North Carolina, and the nation is profoundly worrisome. One thing is certain: infections and deaths will continue to rage if people are not vaccinated.
We must understand that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We must both affirm and respond to the finding of science and do everything possible to motivate those who are unvaccinated to be vaccinated. Lies and misinformation must be called out and addressed. But the wisest and most compassionate response is to require vaccination when possible.
Unfortunately, other strains are inevitable, and future mutations can and will be more challenging and even lead to an increased death rate. Love of neighbor requires that we do everything possible to support vaccination of every person in America and the world.
Lenoir-Rhyne University has made a wise decision in requiring students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated.
Terry K. Satterwhite, M.D.
University of Texas Medical School