Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020 | 2 a.m.
The day I wrote this, I woke up with soreness in my right arm, having been an early recipient of the newly approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Development of the vaccine in less than a year from the first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States is a testament to our ability to mobilize resources in times of crisis and to the hard work and ingenuity of the global scientific community.
Many people wonder whether they should get the vaccine once it is available to them. Absolutely! Not only is a COVID-19 infection potentially fatal, the longer-term complications include damage to the lungs, heart, brain and nervous system. As with everything in medicine, we look at the risk compared with the benefit. For the COVID-19 vaccine, the risks are small while the benefits of preventing serious illness or even death are great. Even if you have had a documented case of COVID-19, you should get vaccinated to improve your ability to fight off the infection and to prevent its spread to others. Unfortunately, the vaccine has not been tested in pregnant women or in children under 16, and is therefore not recommended for these populations. Additionally, people with vaccine allergies should consult their physicians.
Many wonder when the vaccine will be available to them. Distribution is focusing on high-risk groups first. Those include front-line health care workers, first responders, and the elderly in nursing homes. Hopefully, within weeks to months, the vaccine will be widely available for most adults. Remember, vaccines will not end the pandemic; people getting vaccinated will. Getting vaccinated not only helps you but also others by reducing person-to-person spread. Additionally, while we wait for people to get vaccinated, public health measures such as hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask remain important measures to prevent viral spread.
In addition to shorter-term methods to control the pandemic, Las Vegas needs some long-term change to protect the community. This pandemic has exposed disparities in health care and has proven just how important it is that we increase the number of health care providers so we can care for more people. We must work together as a country to figure out how to provide basic health care to all of our citizens.
Another thing the pandemic has made clear is the need for diversification in the Las Vegas economy to protect us from future shocks in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Part of this should come from biotechnology and health care. Health care is an emerging sector in Las Vegas with the opening of the UNLV School of Medicine. Biotechnology will be a harder reach, but with land availability and a favorable tax structure, as well as crowding experienced in California, Nevada is primed to attract new business.
Finally, we need to take care of each other. Feelings of isolation and despair are common after a crisis. We need to reach out to those in our community who have lost loved ones or jobs, and those who have experienced other major disruptions. Let’s all help by referring those who are struggling to counseling services, including faith-based interventions meant to assist those in need. Together, we can create a supportive environment for the betterment of all of us.
So, I am glad I got vaccinated. In less than 10 hours, my arm felt good enough to pitch for the Las Vegas Aviators. So there is no reason I would not do it again for my patients, friends and family, and for the people of Las Vegas — but not for another three weeks, when my second dose is due.
Marc Kahn is dean of the UNLV School of Medicine.