I vividly remember that before my brain surgery in 2012, I signed consent forms. On these forms, my surgery was called “elective craniotomy.” I asked the nurse what that meant; after all, I never got the sense in the months leading up to surgery day that this procedure was optional. They explained that “elective” meant this was not an emergency surgery; I was conscious and able to consent. We scheduled the surgery in advance. It didn’t have to happen that exact day. I had waited three months for this surgery, so that I could finish college first. That’s what elective means in this context.
Having to cancel elective surgeries because of COVID — again — is causing people to have some very important treatments delayed. It’s not a mere inconvenience. These are often necessary and lifesaving surgeries. Hospitals are running out of room and patients are having to be transported great distances and at great cost to other hospitals with capacity. Nearly all (>95% generally, often 99%+) of the patients hospitalized now for COVID are unvaccinated. Everyone, except for those under 12 years old or those with severe allergies to the ingredients in these specific vaccines, has had the opportunity to get vaccinated by now. We could have prevented the hospitals from filling up again. But too many people have refused these very safe and effective vaccines, in the name of “freedom” or whatever. In the richest country in the world, which spends the most per capita on healthcare even before the pandemic, having to postpone one’s very necessary surgery because of a surge in preventable infections doesn’t feel like freedom to me. (Neither did having a house with indoor temperatures in the 40s during the freeze in February.)
These vaccines were developed and purchased mostly with our tax dollars. Every day they’re getting wasted when people don’t show up to get a shot. To waste a vaccine that’s already bought and paid for by all of us, and then rack up the healthcare costs associated with a preventable disease, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, is such a travesty. To lose one’s life to COVID because they believed in misinformation rather than getting a vaccine is also a terrible waste. So-called fiscal conservatives should be outraged by this tremendous waste caused by vaccine refusal. But instead we are hearing about freedom and personal responsibility, and we have neither.
No one has a civil right to spread a deadly contagion. Failure to participate in public health should bar someone from certain aspects of public life. I’m all for employers requiring their employees to be vaccinated, and onerous consequences for those who do not, such as rigid testing requirements. I strongly support any evidence based strategies for getting people to choose to be vaccinated. I just wish we didn’t need any of this. I volunteered over 20 hours in February to qualify for a vaccine. Now it’s easier than ever to get one, and so many still refuse, and the hospitalization rates are climbing. We see so many stories of people hospitalized now saying they wish they had gotten vaccinated. I see GoFundMe campaigns raising tens of thousands of dollars to cover hospital and funeral costs of people who refused a free vaccine. It’s just such a waste.
I feel so much dismay just sitting here on my couch, largely removed from the crisis unfolding behind the closed doors of hospitals. I can’t imagine the frustration and desperation of the healthcare workers handling another wave of COVID, having to hear the patients who can still talk expressing their regret about not getting the vaccine. Or those treating children who of no fault of their own were not adequately protected by the adults around them.
It did not have to be this way.
— Lauron Fischer
Lauron Fischer is a Special Projects Manager for the city of San Antonio. She is a brain tumor survivor, a public health advocate, and a friend to many. She lives with her partner Colin Meyer and their daughter Sloan in Olmos Park, TX.