Vaccinations the best route to end pandemic, doctor says

Staff Report

Parents should not worry about the effects the COVID-19 vaccine has on their children, according to the physician-in-chief at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

Rigorous testing prior to the vaccination proves it’s safe, even though the fears about its effects persist nearly a year after the vaccine became available. But the concerns are well-founded, said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, who addressed the Press Club of Baton Rouge at its weekly luncheon last week.

She admits she became concerned for a moment when she had her kids vaccinated. 

Dr. Catherine O’Neal

“I’ve seen so much fake news that even I said, ‘Oh, dear Lord, please let them be healthy after this vaccination, because if not, I’ll feel so bad,'” said O’Neal, who also serves as an associate professor at LSU Health Sciences. “I knew they would be fine, but as a mom, I am responsible for them.”

The concern and hesitation are natural, she said, since most parents “worry that everything becomes something that might hurt your child.”

But she emphasized that the risks of COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of vaccination.

Despite the vaccine and fewer new cases, COVID-19 remains a threat and still qualifies as a pandemic.

A total of 801,000 COVID-related deaths have been reported across the United States since it was declared a pandemic in 2020.

By comparison, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic – previously the worst on record – claimed 675,000 lives across the United States.

COVID-19 remains a pandemic, defined as “a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world.”

“A public health crisis is something we all have to fix because we can’t grow while it happens,” O’Neal said.

The biggest problem with the pandemic in 2021 centers around how many Americans assumed that it’s over. 

Many believe it’s not their problem, she said.

“That’s the biggest mistake anyone can make,” O’Neal said. “When I bring my kids to the doctor, I don’t ask my pediatrician about the evidence about the vaccines they get. My doctors do what’s needed for my kids to be safe, and they need them to go to public school,” she said.

But the vaccine is considered an individual choice when it should be a community decision, she said.

“That’s not what vaccinations are about, and that’s not what a response to a public health crisis is – it’s not an individual choice,” O’Neal said. “Our economy is a collective thing, and our health is a collective thing.”

Mitigation measures helped Americans continue forward and keep the economy going, but not everyone is applying them. It has kept the nation in a public health crisis, and it’s time to take the next step, she said.

The approach to previous health crises required vaccinations for polio, MMR, hepatitis – all of which helped keep the nation out of a health crisis.

Resistance remains strong

“I’ll tell you fewer kids have polio, fewer kids were on an iron lung than we have seen kids die in the pandemic,” O’Neal said. “This is far worse, but our knowledge is not, yet we’re not thinking about it in the same way as other immunizations.”

The public needs to pay attention to educators and doctors who have studied the disease and vaccinations, and not the media, she said.

“If you look at this pandemic, we’ve had 800,000 people die – that’s a little over 1,000 deaths a day – and that’s 10 times more than the tornado event,” she said. “If we knew we’d have tornadoes like that every day, we’d be in a bunker and we would be fearful, but we’re not addressing the health crisis that way.”

Americans need to take the lessons learned and do better the next year, particularly with omicron, which is much more infectious, but with mild cases.

“When we talk about these things, we can’t look at influencers come into our state and into our social media and our Twitter, we have to remember that we’re not going to be okay in 2022 if we don’t apply the lessons we’ve learned,” O’Neal said. “We’re going to have to make movements together as a community to get past this pandemic.”