America broke a century-old record last week for deaths caused by a pandemic. The prior record of 675,000 dead was achieved by the so-called “Spanish” flu that spread across our nation from 1918 to 1920.  As of the week of Sept. 20, the Covid-19 virus had more than 680,293 American deaths attributed to it. For the first time since Alabama started counting births and deaths in a year, that state had more deaths than births, another record broken. Of course, the deaths from Covid-19 are still accumulating and are likely to surpass 750,000 by the end of 2021.  That this virus will stop attacking us by the end of the year is unlikely. We might stop its spread by universal vaccinations, social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, mask wearing, and restricted travel, but America has considered these measures and rejected all of them. Our fate is sealed.

Some have argued that comparing the 1918 flu epidemic to our Covid-19 experience is inappropriate. After all, much less of America lived in urban centers in 1918. The implication is that the 1918 flu was worse than Covid-19, but fewer people died because population centers were less dense. In effect, the disease reached fewer people because we were more spread out. Somehow this view of a much more lethal virus a century ago is supposed to comfort us. The suggestion is that things could be much worse, and that in 1918 they were.   

This is nonsense.  The Spanish flu was seasonal, and Covid-19 is not.  Much of the death caused by the 1918 virus was from lung failure that might have been managed with modern-day ventilators. The deaths with Covid-19 have accumulated despite the widespread access in America to ventilators and other support systems unavailable a century ago.

Our situation certainly could get worse and probably will.  Covid-19 might mutate into a more lethal and contagious variant that eludes all of the currently available vaccines, but even without that worst case scenario, our efforts to contain this virus are being subverted by the group targeted by the virus, humanity. The incessant and insane resistance to all of the measures we currently have available to combat this virus is enough to give America’s healthcare providers angina (chest pain). Many have died from working with patients who have the virus. Many have tired of hearing patients dying from the virus ask for vaccinations when it is already too late for the vaccine to work. 

Many healthcare providers have quit the battle.  Many have left the profession.  Those who remain to work in the intensive care units (ICUs) that are filling up with the unvaccinated, mask-refusing, super-spreader-attending ‘victims’ of this virus are increasingly angry and frustrated. Those who remain to work in the ICUs filling up with children who got the disease from unvaccinated, mask-refusing, super-spreader-attending adults are angry and heart-broken.

Some Americans, including some healthcare workers, have attacked the vaccines and other public health measures being promoted by various government agencies. Even some government officials and highly visible public figures have insisted that the pandemic has been exaggerated and the vaccines cannot be trusted. A nurse interviewed on a national news program insisted that she would not get vaccinated, even if it meant losing her job, because she was concerned about the “long-term effects” of the vaccines. Really? What about the short-term effects of the virus against which the vaccines work? These short-term effects include death.  Long-term effects of the virus include lung and nervous system damage. If you think there is more risk from the vaccine than from the disease, it is probably just as well that you are not working as a nurse or other healthcare provider.

This vaccine resistance is especially puzzling. When the former President decided to back a Star Trek-themed “Operation Warp Speed” to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, there was no resistance.  When vaccine developers not involved with Operation Warp Speed claimed that they had developed vaccines that were effective against Covid-19, the former administration took credit for the development of the vaccines and voiced no reservations about their safety or efficacy.  When the former administration provided funding for and systems to deliver the vaccines, there was no popular or political resistance. It was only with the widespread dissemination of conspiracy theories that undermined confidence in elections, educational institutions (remember Critical Race Theory), public health agencies, and science in general that this vaccine resistance gained traction.

Contrary to popular belief, these vaccines were not developed over the course of a few months.  The scientific struggles to develop a vaccine that could protect against a virus like Covid-19 started in earnest more than 30 years ago.  These vaccines get the body to attack the protein coat that protects the virus and enables it to get a foothold in the victim’s body. It does not involve microchips. It does not magnetize the patient. It does not cause impotence, swollen testicles, or sterility. It is not part of an international plot by Jewish bankers to take over the world.

I have read the research: all the vaccine does and can do is protect people from being killed or crippled by Covid-19. If you doubt this, read the research for yourself.  It is available in journals and books published all over the world by people of every “race, creed and color.” The only thing the hundreds of people from dozens of nations involved in developing these vaccines shared was a desire to know more.

But what about that nurse’s concern with the long-term effects? We have had experience with vaccines for more than a century. Anyone who has gone to nursing school would know or should know that our experience with the long-term effects of vaccines has been surprisingly benign. The same is not true for the long-term effects of viruses. Children who survive measles infections may die from a late attack by the virus on their brains. People who have had chicken pox often develop painful and potentially crippling or lethal outbreaks of the virus decades after the initial infection.  Cold sores caused by viruses can recur year after year. Viral infections of the womb can lead to cancer years after the initial infection.

We have numerous tools unavailable to Americans in 1918, 1919, or 1920.  These tools include ventilators, ICUs, monoclonal antibodies, antibiotics, lung transplants, and vaccines. Unfortunately, we apparently have a limited supply of commonsense. It is that deficiency that poses the greatest risk to us and our children.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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