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Editor's Page: Hesitancy and Healing
Dan Cook
Publish Date: November 1, 2021

My young daughter wakes up in mid-sentence. Each morning, she stands next to me as I pack her lunch and talks about pinecones and princesses and Play-Doh.

Mmm, hmm. Wow. Oh really?

When she comes home from school, I’ll often take my laptop outside so she can play in the driveway. Whenever a neighbor walks by, my daughter sprints to greet them and holds court on the sidewalk, chatting away about leaves and lemonade and libraries.

Mmm, hmm. Wow. Oh really?

I was hardly surprised last month when she prattled on as her pediatrician prepared to administer the influenza vaccine. My daughter sat on the edge of the exam table, swinging her legs back and forth while telling the doctor all about horses and hats and HGTV. 

Mmm, hmm. Wow. Oh really?

She talked straight through the shot and didn’t flinch when the needle pricked her skin. The doctor smiled at me — well, that was easy — before reaching for a Band-Aid. It was only then that my daughter finally stopped talking — and began to scream.

Bewildered, the doctor looked at me. I rushed to comfort my daughter and explained that she hates to have bandages put on because she dreads having them ripped off. To her, the healing is scarier than the hurt.

I thought about my daughter’s reaction while reading about the intense emotions sparked by the push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination across many sectors of society. The debate about requiring all healthcare workers to be vaccinated is layered and complicated. It feels strange to express my opinion while working from home next to a snoring dog and in relative isolation.

My general viewpoint is in line with Dr. Marty Makary, a Johns Hopkins professor and healthcare pundit who shares his thoughts on the subject in this month’s cover story. He believes some sort of immunization requirement for healthcare workers who provide direct patient care makes sense, but emphasizes the importance of considering natural immunity — the development of antibodies from previous infection — when determining who should receive the shots.

I believe healthcare providers should be immunized to keep themselves and their patients safe, but hesitate to call for vaccination as a condition of employment. Several surgical professionals I spoke to last year when elective surgeries restarted after the nationwide shutdown — before vaccines were available — said they had trained their entire careers to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. They claimed to feel safer working in their facilities than they did walking into grocery stores.

Can unvaccinated healthcare professionals still protect themselves and provide safe patient care? I realize acute care settings are far different than elective surgery spaces, but a blanket vaccine mandate wouldn’t differentiate the level of risk involved in individual facilities. Perhaps providers who aren’t vaccinated or can’t prove previous infection through antibody testing should be subjected to regular testing and follow a universal masking policy. 

I trust the science and the researchers, immunologists and physicians who are working hard to make us safe. I have faith that immunizations and natural immunity will turn COVID-19 into an endemic disease if healthcare leaders, policy makers and frontline workers have transparent, constructive and collaborative discussions instead of heated debates about the efficacy of vaccines. The healing shouldn’t be scarier than the hurt. OSM