OPINION

I’m a family physician. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is our ticket back to normal.

Jennifer Bacani McKenney
Special to Gannett Kansas
Jennifer Bacani McKenney

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and endangered our lives in ways we could never have anticipated. The virus has put more than 12,000 Kansans in the hospital, and more than 5,500 of our friends, family members, and neighbors in our state have died.

Recently, we learned of an excellent development in our efforts to encourage vaccinations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. This is fantastic news, and we expect that the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines won't be far behind.

It’s clearer than ever before — we have a vaccine that is safe and effective at preventing severe illness. Over four billion people worldwide are living proof.

But sadly, after eight months since the arrival of our first COVID-19 vaccine, roughly half of all Kansans are still not vaccinated.

The more contagious delta variant is spreading like wildfire through our state.

As the health officer for Wilson County and a family physician in Fredonia, I’ve seen firsthand how the virus continues to threaten the health and safety of my community.

Recently, a local doctor had to call 35 different hospitals to find a bed for a patient critically ill with non-COVID related acute gastrointestinal bleeding. The doctor and medical team managed the patient for 28 hours before they were able to transfer her to a larger hospital with necessary ICU resources.

Every day, we are seeing unvaccinated patients struggling to breathe and asking for help.

Every health care professional I’ve spoken with is discouraged and exhausted, and they’re reaching a breaking point.

As a health care professional, as a member of my community, and as a mother of school-aged kids, I am desperate to bring us all together to work on reducing COVID’s impact.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We have all the tools we need to protect one another and get back to normal.

That's why I urge every Kansan who hasn't been vaccinated yet to do so. It’s safe, effective, free and widely available to everyone 12 years and older.

Visit www.kansasvaccine.gov or your county health department website to find a vaccine near you.

Talk to your doctors. Ask them about the vaccine and other strategies to defeat COVID-19 and make an informed decision to protect yourself and others from the virus.

I am vaccinated. My parents and family members are vaccinated. I will vaccinate my children as soon as they are eligible. I wouldn't ask my patients to do anything I would not do myself.

We each have a choice. Ending this pandemic depends on each of us choosing to do the right thing.

We are Kansans. We care about our communities, and we’ve always risen to meet challenges throughout our history.

True to our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera, reducing the spread of COVID will help us make it through this challenge and continue to the stars together.

Jennifer Bacani McKenney is a practicing family physician and serves as the Wilson County health officer in her hometown of Fredonia.