COVID-19 was first described in Wuhan, China, and spread quickly all over the world within a matter of weeks. This virus has claimed more lives than any other pandemic in recent history. Statistics reveal 231 million cases worldwide and 4.75 million deaths, with the U.S. being affected the most with over 42 million cases and over 680,000 deaths to date.
In March of 2020, when we knew very little about the Covid-19 virus, I was struck by the virus and cared for by my family, as we did not have any treatments beyond quarantine and the knowledge to treat any viral illness.
The practice of immunization dates back hundreds of years when Buddhist monks drank snake venom to confer immunity to snake bite. Variolation (smearing of the skin tear with cowpox) to confer immunity to smallpox was practiced in 17th century China. Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the west, after he inoculated a 13-year-old boy with the vaccinia virus (cowpox) and demonstrated immunity to smallpox in 1796. In 1798, the first smallpox vaccine became available. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, worldwide immunization against smallpox resulted in its global eradication in 1979.
Vaccines have been developed against major infectious diseases such as cholera, anthrax, plague, tetanus and polio to name a few. Millions of lives have been saved because of vaccination. The past two decades have seen the application of molecular genetics and genomics to vaccinology. Mass polio vaccination has eradicated the disease from many regions around the world. Despite the enormous gains from immunization programs, there has always been resistance to vaccination by some groups. Anecdotal reports and uncontrolled and improperly conducted studies falsely claim that vaccines can cause diseases such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autism. Many large, well-controlled epidemiological studies have shown no causal relationship between vaccination and any disease.
All medications, including vaccination, have side effects, but the majority of individuals have mild reactions to immunization. Occasionally serious side effects do occur, but they are uncommon and are used by the anti-vaccination lobby to frighten people.
As with the flu pandemic of 1918, we’re seeing waves of new Covid infections as the virus mutates. At Albany Medical Center, we have seen a significant increase in hospitalization compared to January of this year, and more children have been admitted with severe Covid than ever before. The vast majority of our Covid patients are unvaccinated adults.
We as Americans have always faced up to challenges, but this virus is not to be taken lightly and every method available to contain the pandemic should be used. As of September 16, 2021 there have been 383 million vaccine doses administered in this country. So far over 200 million people, or over 60% of the total US population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. The vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality. These vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in US history.
As an infectious disease specialist, serving Columbia, Greene and Albany counties for over 25 years, I have endeavored to give my best in keeping people healthy and free of infectious diseases and I implore all to get the benefit of the vaccine and to keep our communities, especially our children, safe so that we can get back to life as we knew it before this pandemic.
-Ananthakrishnan Ramani, MD FACP AAHIVS CIC
Infectious Diseases Specialist, Albany Medical College