That’s the simple message in a letter signed by almost 100 doctors and other providers from both ends of Longview’s Fourth Street medical community and in between.
Christus Good Shepherd and Trinity Clinic. Diagnostic Clinic of Longview. Longview Regional Medical Center. Texas Oncology. Longview Orthopaedic Clinic Association. Physicians from all those entities and others signed their names to the letter urging residents to consider “this life-saving intervention” and to talk to the physicians about any “reservations” people might have. The letter wasn’t able to circulate to all local physicians in the couple of weeks it made the rounds.
“We, the physicians of East Texas take our charge seriously to provide you, our patients, the best possible health care, as well as providing accurate input into the medical decision making that directly affects your health,” the letter says. “For this reason, we can, without reservation, encourage you, our longstanding patients, to take the COVID vaccines. We have assessed the inaccuracies and myths surrounding the vaccines and have noted these assertions unfounded. According to the American Medical Association, 96% of all the physicians in the United States are fully vaccinated. We agree and stand with our colleagues throughout this great nation.”
Doctors who signed the letter saw importance in expressing their support for vaccination as they shed light on the local COVID-19 situation.
“I don’t think people realize how serious a problem this is,” said Dr. Robert M. Wheeler with Diagnostic Clinic of Longview, describing talking to patients every day about getting vaccinated if they haven’t been.
It’s smart, he said, for people to educate themselves before taking any kind of action.
“The problem we have is most people get their education from the wrong places,” he said, such as Facebook.
The point of the letter, he said, is to hopefully influence people’s decision about COVID-19 vaccination by showing them local doctors who support it.
“I don’t know where you go to convince people that this is a serious illness and they need to be vaccinated,” Wheeler said.
“It’s very obvious to me the right thing to do,” he said of vaccination.
COVID-19 kills about 1 to 2% of people who catch it, he said.
“Everybody thinks they’re going to be the lucky one that doesn’t die,” Wheeler said, but he’s seen patients as well as their husbands and their friends and family members who died from the illness.
COVID-19 is as contagious as Chickenpox, he said. The country eventually will reach herd immunity — with some estimates showing five or six years, he said. If it kills 1 to 2% of people who catch it, estimates place the number of deaths between 3.3 million and as many as 6 million people, he said.
“That’s a lot of people to die,” Wheeler said.
In the meantime, the virus will continue to mutate, he said, expressing concern that a strain could develop that won’t respond to medicine or the vaccine.
“What we really need to do is stamp this out and get rid of it,” so it doesn’t have time to mutate, Wheeler said.
Vaccines have been around for centuries, he said, and he noted that he studied messenger RNA, the method used to develop COVID-19 vaccines, when he was in medical school in 1976.
“This is not something they’ve newly discovered,” Wheeler said.
Dr. Rick Earnest, Christus Trinity Clinic, said he was proud to sign the letter “because I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
He added that almost 100% of doctors support vaccination.
“Our hospital is full right now, and the majority of people have not been vaccinated,” he said, describing how patients have been seeking treatments such as ivermectin, even though there’s no evidence it works.
“There’s evidence showing vaccines work,” he said.
Earnest recalled a nursing home he worked with when the pandemic began, and 50% of the patients who contracted COVID-19 died. Now that the virus is surging again, none of the nursing home patients are dying because they’ve all been vaccinated, he said.
Dr. Chris Yancey with Diagnostic Clinic of Longview said the fact that East Texas is one of the most under-vaccinated regions in the state makes it a prime target for “more disease and more death.”
“For physicians, the COVID-related illnesses and deaths are not just some abstract idea they are reading about in newspapers or social media. Health care providers are experiencing these horrific and emotional outcomes firsthand and thus have a unique perspective that no one else has,” Yancey said. “Ninety-six percent of physicians are vaccinated. Over 99% of COVID deaths occur in the unvaccinated.
“Our only agenda is the health and well-being of our patients for whom we have each sworn an oath to protect. This vaccine is safe and effective. The alternative is deadly. We have to have help from the community if we ever expect to contain this. We implore this community to please help us become part of the solution. Help us to slow the spread of this horrible disease in our community.”
The safety of patients and staff is the top priority during the pandemic, said Dr. Bill Taylor with Texas Oncology--Longview
“We have been committed to following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines throughout the pandemic,” he said. “We serve a uniquely vulnerable patient population — cancer patients — and we strongly urge them and the people they live with to get vaccinated for protection against COVID-19.”
Dr. John Dipasquale, emergency medicine physician at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center said all hospitals in the Christus system “are experiencing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19, with the number of positive cases, patients in the hospital and ICU patients that have surpassed the high points seen in 2020 and earlier this year.”
“While the recent rise in COVID cases has resulted in devoting more of our resources to COVID care, our emergency rooms are open and treating patients, and our providers, nurses and all of our associates are rising to this challenge and to meet the needs of our community,” he said. “However, we need our community’s help — we continue to urge our communities to protect themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors.”
Dr. Julie Lundy with Diagnostic Clinic of Longview advised people to get vaccinated in a personal Facebook post she made this past week describing what she said was “the most difficult week of my career.”
“I had two beloved patients pass away from COVID. They were patients I have known for years, and I know and take care of their families as well — my heart is broken for them,” she said. “I also had two patients who lost their adult children to COVID last week; no parent should have to bury a child, and it is gut wrenching to watch them grieve. I worked long hours, far longer than normal, treating patient after patient who is positive for COVID. I missed dinners with my family and homework with my kids; my staff is working on the weekends in an attempt to keep up with our patients who need us, and yet, we are still falling short.
“As I am preparing to start a new week, I am filled with dread because I know this week is going to be even worse. Our local hospitals are full and care is already being delayed. Local ICUs are housing twice as many patients as they are equipped to handle, patients are ‘holding’ in the ER or days because there are no hospital beds available. ... I fear the medical system is near the breaking point... where people die before they can get the care and resources they need to save them. Never, in my wildest imagination, did I think this would happen in the U.S. ....”