What Public Health Means

What Public Health Means

Welcome back to the Hitchen Post. My inbox has been flooded with emails raising alarms around vaccine mandates and passports, along with mask mandates and how these ideas are taking away people’s rights. I am going to share my perspective as an elected official and a science teacher.

Viruses are not alive the same way that plants and animals are alive (with a function based on getting food and reproduction). Their sole existence is to replicate, and to do so in as many new hosts as possible. This type of virus will continue to mutate as long as WE make it easy for it to do so. We have the power to control this process as individuals, a family, a community, a state, a country and the world. We either work together to defeat it, or we live with the consequences.

What would happen if the next mutation caused severe reactions in babies? What would happen if we find out youth exposed today that get COVID, are more likely to have severe upper respiratory disorders for the rest of their lives, making it impossible for them to work? What would happen if the rate of hospitalization and death doubled, or even tripled? As we allow this virus to replicate unchecked, we allow it to mutate.

Every time this virus gets into another person (vaccinated or not), it can mutate. That is why we are seeing new, stronger versions of the original COVID-19 virus. Because people did not get vaccinated, or do the things needed to keep it from spreading, like masking, it mutated. Each variant survives based on new attributes. Evolution of variants happens when a virus strain spreads quickly without “dying”, resists treatment, affects a larger age demographic and mutates to infect new hosts.

Build your immunity TPCHD graphic of a vaccineThis is what our Public Health system is trying to solve. For a while we were able to work together and follow the directives and recommendations of our Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Washington Department of Health, the Governor and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We stayed home, we masked, we limited gatherings and in general avoided spreading the disease. As we loosened our regulations to help our economy and our mental health, we saw the numbers go up. Seeing the number of cases increasing and the number of hospitalizations increasing, Pierce County and the state re-implemented a mask mandate.

Every time someone chooses to ignore the health directives given by those hired by our county to provide that expertise, they put the community at risk. Every time I hear someone say: “my rights” are being imposed upon, I look beyond the individual to see how many other members of our community are at risk because they put themselves before anyone else. What about the rights of children that can’t get vaccinated or wear a mask? What about the rights of the employees in businesses that cannot get vaccinated because they are in treatment for cancer? What about everyone else?

Our health care workers are beyond exhaustion and grief. If you refuse the vaccination, then you need to wear a mask. If you refuse to do both, then you need to stay home, and away from all group settings. But too many people are ignoring basic science and not doing the simple things that are either required or recommended by our public health officials to help stop the spread.

Therefore, we end up with variant after variant. We end up with people becoming severely ill or not receiving care because our hospitals and medical clinics are overrun. We end up with members of our community that put their personal choices above the health and lives of others. I truly believe you have the right to choose BUT when your choice puts others in harm’s way, it is the duty of the government through public health organizations to do what they can to put up guidelines.

Now that a vaccine is approved by the FDA, I have no qualms with saying it is required. If people choose to leave a job for fear of a vaccine, that is their choice. I will point out though that we have required vaccines for school and work in parts of this country for well over 100 years. The Childhood Immunization Initiative was set up in 1977 and was adopted by all 50 states.  I have no issue with businesses requiring their employees or patrons to show vaccine status. It is to protect each other, and impacts their ability to keep their employees safe, and the community safe. And like every business, if they choose to do so to protect themselves and others as part of their business plan, I will support that. You can choose not to do business with them.

I will say this again and again, we all need to be doing as much as we possibly can to stop the spread. If we all committed to getting vaccinated, staying out of group settings, wearing masks every time we left our home and getting tested regularly, we might get numbers under control and make sure this winter we don’t see a sixth, seventh or eighth wave. Instead, we fight amongst ourselves about personal freedoms, who is right, and which study we selectively quote from.

Think about our Public Health directives as speed limits. Many people don’t like speed limits, and not all follow them. They work because MOST of us do. Because of that, we can all drive anywhere in the country. Until we get enough people driving the speed limit (vaccinated and masking up), it is like the whole country has said: “drive whatever speed limit you want, anywhere you want.” Some will get lucky and survive with no issues. Some will stay home, never driving anywhere. Some will have minor fender benders, causing a little damage. However, many will crash, causing injury and possibly death, or long-term issues that will impact them for the rest of their lives. We, as individuals, are making these personal decisions that impact the health and safety of the community. Therefore, the government is having to set some new “speed limits.”  Those limits for our county are providing testing at no charge, encouraging vaccinations in everyone eligible, supporting businesses that want to require you show your vaccination or negative COVID status before entering and under a mask mandate.

When it comes to public health, it is all about the community, and what helps keep the most people healthy. I implore people to start thinking of others, for the sake of our public health. We are in this together.