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Doctor, patient: More people need to get vaccinated (TribStar)

Credit: Sue Loughlin, Terre Haute Tribune Star, Published June 9, 2021

Marshall, Illinois, resident Melissa Nicholson tested positive for COVID on March 31 and only recently returned to her production job at a local company.

The 49-year-old suffered severe symptoms, including pneumonia, from which she continues to recover.

“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever been through. I don’t ever want to go through it again,” she said in an interview Tuesday. She had no underlying health problems that made her more vulnerable to COVID.

Before she knew she had the infectious disease, “I got the shakes super bad,” she said. “I was so cold I couldn’t get warm.”

She lost her senses of taste and smell and “had body aches so bad, I hurt all over,” she said. “I was freezing one minute and hot the next.”

Nicholson could not taste or smell for about six weeks, although both senses have returned. She was short of breath and “so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open.”

She took anti-biotics and steroids, but didn’t improve.

“I was so sick,” she said.

She eventually was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia and received pulmonary therapy at Union Hospital. Fortunately, she never had to be hospitalized or go to the emergency room.

“There were several times I thought I would have to go to the emergency room. I couldn’t shake it,” she said. “There were times I was so miserable and struggling to breathe, I thought I would have to go.”

She’s back to work, but still experiences joint pain, at times, and fatigue.

“I still struggle,” she said. “I think I could sleep 24 hours a day.” She still has pneumonia, but is much better.

With her doctor’s approval, Nicholson went ahead and got her Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 28. “I’m so thankful I’m vaccinated. I feel so much better knowing I’m vaccinated,” she said. “I was really upset with myself for not being vaccinated to begin with.” Nicholson had every intention of getting vaccinated, but earlier this year, she had been looking after her father, who was sick and on hospice care; he passed away in February.

She strongly encourages others to get the vaccine. “I know some don’t have symptoms, but some people get it and it’s really bad,” Nicholson said. “I know it’s so controversial right now” and some believe COVID is a hoax.

“It’s not a hoax. It’s real,” she said. “You could be like me and have the severe symptoms and long lasting effects. It’s not worth it not to try to protect yourself and others.”

She was healthy and had no underlying conditions prior to getting COVID. “You don’t think it can be that bad, but it can,” she said.

Dr. James Turner, a family physician and chair of the Vigo County Board of Health, hopes that stories such as Nicholson’s encourage more people who may be “on the fence” about vaccination to go ahead and get it done.

Nicholson is his patient. “We’ve seen the number of people getting vaccinated drop off nationwide” and locally, he said.

In Vigo County currently, just 40% of those 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. Turner points to several reasons why people should get vaccinated.

Since winter, when people first started having access to COVID vaccines, 103 people have been admitted to Union Hospital’s COVID unit, and only one of those patients was vaccinated.

Vaccination “will keep you out of the hospital,” he said. The vaccine is safe. More than 300 million doses have been given in the U.S. so far and more than two billion worldwide, Turner said. He also pointed to the prevalence of “long haulers,” people who have post-COVID syndrome, which means their symptoms extend beyond 12 weeks. “They still can’t taste,” he said. “They still can’t smell. They are short of breath.”

Long haulers may continue to have chest pain, fatigue, brain fog and confusion.

“It’s become a very big issue,” Turner said. From 10% to 15% of people who have COVID or are hospitalized with it suffer from post-COVID syndrome. “This is a significant number of people,” he said. It has become such a big issue that Union Hospital has developed a post COVID rehab unit for people to get pulmonary care, physical therapy and cognitive training, he said. At least two of his own patients have had to go on disability because of breathing issues.

Many people who suffer from COVID with shortness of breath develop pulmonary fibrosis, in which their lungs become so scarred, they are never going to be able to function normally, Turner said. “This is not a simple flu. This is not a simple five-day virus ... There are some serious consequences,” he said. Which is why he is encouraging more people to get vaccinated. “The more people get vaccinated, then we can get back to our normal life,” he said. The vaccine “has made a huge impact worldwide. We need to make a final push here over these next few months.” When Turner sees patients, he asks them their thoughts on the COVID vaccine. About 50% have been vaccinated.

Among those who have chosen not to be vaccinated, their responses include:

- “My friend had side effects.”

- “I’ve got allergies.”

- “I’m confused about it.”

- “I don’t think it really works.”

- “They brought it to the market too quickly.”

- “I just don’t feel comfortable getting that vaccine; I want more people to get it first.”

If they are open-minded to listening, Turner will provide them with reasons why they should get vaccinated and in Marshall, Illinois, where he has a family practice, he’ll refer them to the Clark County Health Department if they’d like to be vaccinated. As of Tuesday, Indiana ranked 38th among states in the percentage of people vaccinated, “so we still have a long way to go.” According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 36.4% of those eligible were vaccinated, based on CDC data.

“We can do much better,” Turner said. Illinois ranked 27th, with 41% of those eligible vaccinated.

As to those who say the vaccine is too new, Turner points out that the research on messenger RNA vaccine technology has been underway for many years. With COVID, the federal government funded development of the COVID vaccine, and those companies involved were able to bring it to market with little financial risk, Turner said. As to why people might be reluctant with the COVID vaccine, when other vaccinations are required for children to attend school, he said, “One question would be whether politics played any role in any of this the way it was sort of handled initially.”

But with the COVID pandemic, “This is uncharted waters,” a new infectious, highly contagious disease with many unknowns as it unfolded, he said.

“I think overall, what the health care system has been able to do in the last 1 1/2 years is pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s been a remarkable public health effort, in my mind.” Still, many people remain unvaccinated, and there’s more work to do. “Let’s stay with it, keep the push on. It’s a safe vaccine. Let’s get away from this virus,” Turner said.


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