Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve heard from doctors, nurses and hospital administrators who are pleading with the public to help them push through the current wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Medical staff are running ragged with worry for their patients and themselves, they tell us. Systems are being strained by having to care for so many people sick with the pandemic coronavirus. Vaccines are being rolled out, but they need to be widely accepted in order for herd immunity to be reached without major loss of life.

That’s where we come in. Medical personnel are asking us to wash our hands, wear masks and maintain our distance when out in public, and get vaccinated as soon as doses become available to us.

Dr. Alaa Farahat, a well-respected internist at North Texas Medical Center, shared his thoughts about the pandemic in the minutes before he received his first dose of vaccine. He urged people to take the disease seriously and strongly consider pursuing vaccination when that becomes possible.

“The short-term safety of the vaccine is known to us,” Farahat said. “We know it’s safe. Long term, nobody knows. I don’t see an alternative.

“The alternative is you can get COVID-19,” he emphasized. “You might get a simple illness if your factors favor that. If you’re one of the unlucky ones – and there is no way for us to know – you might get the illness of your lifetime.”

We interviewed Dr. Farahat just before Christmas, mere weeks after he’d lost his own father to the pandemic disease. He acknowledged that people who are young and healthy may not feel they need to be worried about COVID-19 and might not want to be vaccinated. But “chances are you either have a parent or grandparent who is not young and healthy,” he said, “or you have a child who is not healthy.”

“We’re all connected, one endless network with other people,” Farahat went on to say. “We don’t live on an island. So if you’re young and healthy, great. I’m sure you are around people who are not and have to think about them.”

Although they’re new, the vaccines have undergone rigorous study with few documented side effects. But COVID-19, Farahat said, is a disease “like no other.”

“We’ve seen scary, scary, scary cases,” he said. “We’ve seen all kinds of tragedies over the last nine months…. We’ve seen a lot of good folks, younger people, 50s, 60s, completely functional, and didn’t make it.”

And compared to that, he said, the vaccines developed for COVID-19 carry much less risk.

“What we do in medicine, really, we don’t offer anything ‘safe,’” Farahat explained. “We offer the least risky of our options. Tylenol itself is not entirely safe. All we do is say, this is less risky, and the risk-benefit ratio justifies it. We get more benefits than risks.”

Based on what we know right now, the risks from COVID-19 itself are much worse than the risks from the new vaccines, the doctor said.

“Life rarely offers certainty, so as humanity we have to take our chances,” Farahat said. “We have to jump into it and hope things will work out. Because the alternative is more of that miserable year.”

Our doctors and nurses are pleading with us to help them end the “miserable year.” Let’s listen to them.

This editorial published in the Gainesville Daily Register, a sister paper of the Times-Review.

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