GNH Lumber February 2024

KNOW THE VAX FAX: Omicron—the great unknown


The Omicron variant has me worried. I’ll be honest—Covid has terrified me from the start. I wasn’t worried so much about me as I was about my team. I was an oncologist for 35 years (six of those locally after moving to Columbia County) before I became a hospice physician. By a quirk of fate, when the pandemic started I was recovering from chemotherapy for cancer (I am now happily in complete remission). My treatment included a drug that suppresses the immune system, but I had completed it more than 6 months earlier, so I knew my immune system was back to normal (or so I kept reassuring myself). I started work a few weeks earlier than I had planned, when I found out that one of my colleagues had a fever and, sure enough, tested positive for Covid-19 (he was able to return to work without requiring hospitalization).

Fortunately, my duties allowed me to work completely from home, but the nurses and aides were out there every day visiting patients and families in their homes, nursing homes and hospitals. I listened to stories about their patients. It sounded like every other patient had Covid—I was concerned for the patients and my team! The nurses and aides are wonderful people doing so much good. I felt guilty that I was safe at home. It was such a relief when the vaccines were finally approved.

And then came the Delta variant. After vaccination, I was finally feeling safe enough to consider going to a restaurant, and Delta pulled me up short. Who was I kidding? That virus was still running around. I just got over cancer treatment. I could have a recurrence. But I was relatively safe—what about my former cancer patients? How were they feeling? Many of them still had weakened immune systems, either from their cancer or their treatment. After vaccination they might not be able to make the antibodies needed to protect against Covid. And their disease put them at high risk. They must really be frightened

Now Omicron. Is it worse than Delta or just a scare? We’ll probably know in a few weeks. In the meantime, we have to be considerate by wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. But I can’t stop worrying about all those patients at risk for whom getting a vaccine themselves might not be enough. They need everyone else to get vaccinated to protect them. Imagine surviving cancer and dying from Covid because someone else didn’t realize that they need to get a vaccine to protect others? That’s a tragedy.

Covid is bad enough. Cancer is bad enough. Let’s all protect each other to prevent tragedies. Let’s all get vaccinated and boosted. We owe it to each other.

Carl Atkins, MD

East Chatham 
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