The recent discovery of the “delta plus“The COVID-19 mutation has many experts concerned, especially with colder months approaching that will soon bring more people indoors. If it spreads and creates another spike in cases this winter, the nation will face a delta of a different kind that will seriously hamper our ability to fight it: fewer medical and public health workers.
The exodus is daunting. A recent study found almost 20 percent of medical workers have resigned since the start of the pandemic. Another 30 percent have considered leaving. The factors range from burnout to security concerns to low wages. These dedicated professionals have been working tirelessly since the pandemic began, providing care and delivering vaccines. Not surprisingly, many have decided that they cannot continue.
And they are not just the ones on the front line. As of spring, it is estimated 250 public health officials he had quit work, many citing the pressures of the pandemic. The vitriol they have encountered due to recommending and implementing mask mandates and other measures to keep the public safe has made them question whether the target on their back is worth the effort.
Who can blame them? Public health professionals are committed to serving the public good. They worked hard in school, some earned advanced degrees, and then entered the workforce. Many traveled the world motivated by the desire to help humanity.
And then came the pandemic. As a nation, we turn to them for guidance on ways to stay safe. They had studied, volunteered, and worked to be prepared for this moment. What did they get in return?
Threats of death for urging the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. Security details for national figures like Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciPoll: Most Voters Say Fauci Should Step Down Here’s Why We Should End Pandemic Immigration Restrictions Olivia Rodrigo Reveals The ‘Strange’ Gift She Received When Visiting The White House MORE, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been vilified by opponents of masking and other remedies to stop the spread of the virus. In Washington state, a public health official lives in constant fear from being discovered when you leave work and consider taking different routes home each night to prevent people from knowing where you live.
These dedicated and skilled professionals have been bullied, bullied, and overworked to the point that many are giving up. The once-passionate passion for helping others, which propelled them into a life of public service, has been extinguished by those who have politicized the pandemic and prioritized individual rights over collective responsibility to work together.
At a time when we need public health figures to be seen as independent arbiters, armed with data and evidence-based recommendations, vocal opponents have ridiculed them and armed the national response. It is causing many to throw in the towel. All they have ever wanted to do is keep America safe. We should thank them, not drag them into the town square and publicly shame or threaten them.
Opponents of vaccines are pushing away the very people we desperately need to address this crisis and the challenges we will inevitably face in the future. And the attacks are discouraging the next generation of public health advocates from entering the arena.
The very districts that pressure these people are pushing state legislation prohibiting vaccine mandates, which could open a Pandora’s box regarding other successful vaccine practices that have suppressed past pandemics. Potentially, questions could arise about whether school systems will be able to require other vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, as a condition of enrollment for children.
There’s a reason we rarely hear of a measles outbreak anymore. We accept the need to prioritize the health of the country with the MMR vaccine, and in doing so, we significantly reduced transmission. Although there has been a increased doubts about measles vaccineFew have tried to use their constitutional rights as a rallying cry to block MMR requirements for children returning to school (for now).
Modern lessons can be learned from the way Americans worked collaboratively to implement the MMR vaccine over the past 50 years. We can beat COVID-19 by following the science, trusting our public health officials, and sacrificing certain personal freedoms for the greater good.
But we stand no chance if we overwork, underpay, intimidate, or intimidate those in the healthcare community who have diligently served the nation during the pandemic. They deserve our praise, not our anger.
Lyndon Haviland, DrPH, MPH, is a distinguished scholar in the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy.