PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — One year ago this week, Riverside Health took delivery of its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine. It was a game-changer that involved the deployment of a new mRNA vaccine that would stealthily protect patients by teaching their bodies how to produce a harmless protein that triggers an immune response to the coronavirus.
There was so much hope when a FedEx truck arrived. Chief Pharmacist Cynthia Williams was on hand to gingerly remove the precious cargo and place it in super-cold freezers for distribution, which started with front-line medical workers, first responders, the elderly, and other high-risk patients.
One year later, from Aaron Rogers at Lambeau Field, to a Navy captain fired for refusal to get vaccinated or get tested, to podcasters, to pipefitters and other workers at Newport News Shipbuilding, vaccine hesitancy remains persistent.
The medical community was prepared for vaccine hesitancy but it was not prepared for what happened when politics entered the pandemic.
“When we added the political nature, I think one of the more unfortunate things is all of the misinformation disinformation … unfortunately. That has not helped our cause as we try to vaccinate as many people as possible,” said Williams.
According to the New York Times, on the one-year anniversary of the vaccine’s arrival, over the past 14 days, infections are up by 49% and deaths are up by 40% across the country.
Williams says the 2021 holiday season infection numbers mirror the 2020 numbers except for the fact that fewer people are hospitalized. The lessons learned over the past year include the importance of reinforcing tried and true public health prevention measures.
“The nature of this particular virus means that we need multiple layers of protection. Vaccines are one of the best but we need to stay compliant with wearing masks, social distancing, and all those sorts of things,” Williams said.
Health officials say 2021 will exit as the year of the vaccine. 2022 will enter as the year of treatment for COVID-19. Pfizer announced its new pill is 89% effective in treating early-stage COVID-19.
“These will be antivirals that will be taken, depending on the tablet, within three to five days of COVID onset. Really the goal is pretty much like what we have seen over the years with influenza and virals,” added Williams.
Regina Mobley: “How do we prepare for the next pandemic?”
Cynthia Williams: “I think that’s a really good question… I think early surveillance systems to really identify what’s happening worldwide — the World Health Organization — and that surveillance and making sure that there are transparencies from day one because that’s what I think allows us to get on top of things.”
Williams added once the pandemic is over, medical professionals can resume fighting an intense battle on the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health issues.