Opinion: ‘Let’s learn to live with COVID-19 instead of listening to those who think we should live in fear of it’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares some thoughts on COVID-19 born out of lessons he learned from his mother, Donna Vance

It’s been 17 years since my mom, Donna Vance, passed away but I’m thankful to say she’s still guiding my life with her wisdom and example.

Donna Vance
Donna Vance

On Mother’s Day’s past, I have written in this space about my mom, her legacy and how thankful I am to have had her as my mother. I think about my mother all the time. After my father, Roy Vance, died in 1998 (six years before mom passed), I made a commitment to myself that I would call my mom every day and in those final six years there were only a few days that I didn’t keep that promise. I remember taking her to a doctor’s appointment during that time period and we ran into a good friend of mine, who commented how I was a “good son’’ for taking his mother to her doctor’s appointment. My mom smiled wide and said, “and he calls me every day!’’ That urge to call her still hits me on most days and it makes me very sad that I can’t pick up the phone and hear her voice.

I say this affectionately, my parents were simple, blue collar folks. My mom was educated beyond high school, to what degree I’m not sure. She received a certificate to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in Iowa when she was still a teenager, if I remember correctly. But, most of her life was spent as a laborer, often working more than one job. Her primary job was as a cook in an elementary school in our community. In this past column, I shared with you the many reasons why my mom was “the most selfless person I’ve ever met.’’

Even though my mother and father weren’t wealthy, or educated by societal standards, they provided me an education that money just can’t buy. We had our own version of “The Golden Rule.’’ The Vance family believed “what goes on in our neighbor’s yard is none of our business and what goes on in our yard is none of their business.’’

That life decision, or mantra, is one of the many reasons I thought of mom this week. You see, like most of you, I’ve really been struggling with what I believe are our mixed messages and conflicting information regarding COVID-19, and specifically immunizations.  This column, nor will any other I write, won’t tell you whether or not you should get a COVID-19 vaccination. This column will only share my struggles with my own decision and how my mom’s example has impacted that decision.

My mom died from a blood clot five days after having an elective surgical procedure. She had complained for months that she struggled with her breathing, especially after increased activity. Now, my mom was the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. Even at the age of 76, she was on her feet most of the time. I tried to explain to her that it was normal that she couldn’t do as much at the age of 76 as she could do at the age of 46, or 56. I encouraged her to slow down and not expect the same out of herself physically. But, she couldn’t accept that so she kept seeking a medical solution. After having every possible test, examination and medical assessment, my mom settled on the surgery to repair a deviated septum. My three brothers and I told her we didn’t think the potential benefits offset the risks of surgery at her age, but in our family, we don’t tell each other how to live. We speak our mind and then lovingly get out of the way. I firmly believe that if mom wouldn’t have elected to have that surgery, we would have had more years with her.

The thing that resonates with me about my mom’s decision is that it was made out of a desire to have a greater quality of life and it wasn’t made out of fear. It is my belief that many of our elected leaders and health officials have recently attempted to manipulate our behavior out of fear and coercion and I don’t think it’s working. I believe they would be more effective if they encouraged us to seek life, rather than fear death.

This past week, I ventured out socially for the first time in a couple of months. I’m not complaining, but I’ve basically been living in quarantine, which is my choice. I will be 58 years old in July and I have comorbidities and I’m not thrilled with the idea of rolling the dice with a bout of COVID-19. So, I’ve taken advantage of the ability to work and live at home. My interaction with others is limited and I wear a mask and social distance when appropriate.

That said, I had a long overdue lunch with a very close friend on Thursday. He has been vaccinated. We wore our masks into the restaurant. We watched as they sanitized our table, which was an acceptable distance from any other patrons. There was never a moment I didn’t feel like I was safe and acting responsibly.

I was struck on my way to lunch by the message on a Washington State Department of Transportation billboard on Interstate 5 southbound near the 39th Street exit in Vancouver. The message encouraged people to continue to wear masks out in public even if they are vaccinated. The message irritated me because it conflicts with some of what health officials have told us.

Thoughts from Dr. Alan Melnick

Dr. Alan Melnick
Dr. Alan Melnick

I had the pleasure of speaking with Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick this past week. He was generous and gracious to me with his time and I was struck by his transparency. We discussed many different issues regarding COVID-19 and specifically vaccinations. Obviously, Dr. Melnick would like to see as many of us get vaccinated as possible. But, he didn’t express that to me out of fear. He offered encouragement to those who might decide to get vaccinated.

“Hopefully, depending on how well we can tamp down the numbers, there are a lot of things that people who are fully vaccinated can do that they couldn’t do before,’’ said Dr. Melnick, referring to the list of things outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those who have been vaccinated. 

The very first thing on the CDC’s list for those who have been fully vaccinated is that you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart. 

Clark County Today published a story earlier this week about a recent interview Dr. Raul Garcia had on a Seattle radio station. Dr. Garcia, who is a Board Certified Physician with an extensive background in Emergency Medicine and a former gubernatorial candidate for governor in Washington, was asked about President Joe Biden’s recent address to a joint session of Congress. Only one quarter of the house chamber was filled, yet everyone there was wearing a mask, even though every member of Congress has been vaccinated twice. I agree with Dr. Garcia that it was a mixed message to the American people and the president was contradicting the CDC’s guidelines of what we should be able to do if we are vaccinated.

Herd immunity “elusive’’

Despite delivering the mixed messages, Biden continues to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, even though he doesn’t offer examples of how his actions have changed after getting vaccinated. The president has set a goal of having 70 percent of all Americans vaccinated by July 4. In my opinion, there is absolutely no chance of that goal being realized. The reality is we will likely never reach herd immunity in this COVID-19 pandemic and I believe the lack of a clear message is a key reason why we won’t.

“One point I want to make is the more people who do get vaccinated, regardless of whether or not we reach herd immunity … the more people who get vaccinated helps contribute to lower transmissions,’’ Dr. Melnick said.

Dr. Melnick went on to say that when it came to measles, we needed about 90-95 percent of the population vaccinated in order to have herd immunity. He said, originally, health officials were thinking we needed 60-65 percent of the population to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to reach herd immunity. However, due to mutants and variants, he says that figure is now closer to 80 percent and even that number is not guaranteed.

“I think there is a chance we will be living with COVID-19 longer than we originally believed,’’ Dr. Melnick said. “Reaching herd immunity may be elusive. Nationally, about 30 percent of the people say they will never get the vaccine.’’

You may not need a reason to get vaccinated. It may be an easy decision for you. For me, it’s not an easy decision. Like I said, I’m going to be 58 years old soon and I have comorbidities. I’m an obvious candidate for the vaccine. But, I also have a long history of allergic reactions to medications and even anesthesia and the reactions seem to be getting more severe each time. I dread the next time I need an antibiotic because it’s like playing Russian Roulette for me.

But, I will tell you this. Whether or not I decide to get vaccinated, or live longer with the risk of transmitting COVID-19, I’m not going to do it out of fear. My mom taught me not to live life that way. And, I think our leaders will be more successful in their efforts to lead us out of this pandemic if they took the same approach. Let’s learn to live with COVID-19 instead of listening to those who think we should live in fear of it.

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