The Delta variant continues to wreak havoc across most of the U.S., particularly in the west and south. Just over 53% of the total population is considered fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. As new hotspots emerge and hospitals start turning patients away, some have deemed this current chapter the “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated”.
However, a semi-retired nurse practitioner says blaming one another for the current surge is the wrong approach. She encourages empathy in the face of misinformation and confusion.
A Change in Approach
In a recent op-ed, Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN says using the phrase “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” is not only harmful, but also inaccurate.
On one level, she argues this language may further the divide between red and blue states. Republicans are much less likely to get vaccinated than Democrats, with the newest hotspots occurring in largely rural Republican strongholds.
Regardless of political party, Goodman says it would be unfair to blame the unvaccinated for the current surge. Why?
First, she says blaming the unvaccinated assumes the current COVID-19 vaccines are 100% effective, which isn’t true. Even though the majority of these “breakthrough” cases tend to be mild, research shows that vaccinated individuals can still contract and spread the virus. She also points out that at least 15 million people never completed a second round of injections, which means they are not considered “fully vaccinated.”
She also asks readers to look at what’s happening in both the United Kingdom and Israel. So far, over 65% of the population is fully vaccinated in the U.K. Israel, on the other hand, was once widely considered the most vaccinated country in the world, with over 84% of the population vaccinated. Unfortunately, both countries have seen their progress hampered by the latest round of variants.
New variants of the virus will continue to emerge in other regions unless most of the world is vaccinated.
Avoiding The Blame Game
Regardless of where you stand on vaccines, Goodman argues that blame is never the right approach. She believes blame shows no compassion. It can also scare away vaccine-hesitant individuals that may otherwise sign up for a shot.
“Labeling reminds me of one of the saddest cases in my career,” she writes.
She goes on to recall one of her worst days on the job, in which she had to care for a man that suffered a motor vehicle accident that killed his entire family. Her patient was likely the cause of the accident, with a blood alcohol level of 0.40%+ post hydration, intubated and ventilated, with a flailed chest and multiple orthopedic injuries, as well as blunt head trauma.
“Multiple times I was asked how I could possibly care for such an individual, by the police and even a few colleagues. But it was not my place to judge the man,” she writes.
As a nurse, she resisted judgement to do her job.
“He was in pain, and he was dying. I comforted him for the 2 weeks it took his battered body to pass into the next realm. No one visited him except the police, eagerly waiting for the man to wake up to explain the tragic events that occurred. It was my job to ease what pain I could and protect him from labels. Did he deserve the labels? Who knew? I did not care. I cared about his writhing and his physical anguish.”
Goodman implores her fellow nurses to focus on understanding when treating patients. She writes that many of us don’t stop to see if the patient “deserves” saving or if they took precautions to prevent their injury or disease.
“We would not be nurses if we did this,” she writes.
She argues that the vaccine is a tool used to help people stay healthy and avoid death or hospitalization in the face of the pandemic. Regardless of personal choice, what matters is our humanity.
“We should be people first…human beings that remain interconnected by our need for care and survival, not conservatives, independents, or liberals, not “vaccinated or unvaccinated,” not seen as “breakthrough” infections, or the immunosuppressed possibly unable to mount a robust response to COVID.”
These labels may not matter as much as they do today, the further we get into the pandemic.
“In fact, the longer this pandemic continues, the more likely it is we will need to live with this as an endemic disease, so we should stop blaming those who become ill and need support. It could be any of us,” she adds.
Goodman is a semi-retired nurse practitioner who works from home in association with the COVID-19 Task Force, helping respond to misinformation on the pandemic and vaccines.