Dr. Robert Prentice

I’m upset and worried. I am a 79-year-old retired pediatrician who worked for 50 years – 44 years here in Cheyenne – diagnosing, treating and, hopefully, preventing disease. I am about to give you what some might say is too much information.

There is a short version. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Yes, I’m talking about COVID-19.

I am astounded at the misinformation and misunderstandings about what this disease means to society and about the vaccines to prevent it. Millions of people have died from an illness that can now be prevented – or, at least, lessened. Globally, millions of people would love to have access to the vaccines that we have available to prevent this disease.

Yet, in Wyoming and Laramie County, only about 34% of those eligible have been completely vaccinated. The only hoax about COVID-19 is calling the disease a hoax. Some say, “Well, you have to die of something.” It’s not whether you are going to die. It’s the when and how. Oxygen deprivation is awful. There is no joy in the loss of a child, brother, sister, parent, grandparent or friend.

A major part of pediatric medicine is educating parents about preventing disease through vaccination. I’m old enough to have had or seen many of the diseases that can be prevented. The list is long and includes: measles, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, German measles, mumps, Haemophilus influenza and pneumococcal meningitis, meningococcal meningitis, Hepatitis A and B, Human Papilloma Virus (the virus that can cause cervical and penile cancer), and Rotavirus diarrhea and dehydration. All of these diseases can now be prevented through vaccination. Like COVID-19, even influenza can be prevented or lessened.

I am very concerned that today’s oppositional attitudes will lead to a resurgence of diseases that many current physicians have, literally, never seen and who will be unprepared to recognize. It is certainly possible that without early recognition, these diseases may progress to the point where lifesaving intensive care is needed.

One poignant memory for me is that the last case of Haemophilus influenza meningitis in Cheyenne was in a child who was left with profound deafness. This was 35 years ago, one week before she would have been eligible for the new vaccine. No cases have occurred since.

It has been difficult to develop antibiotics against viruses, because of their biology. I have told many parents (ad nauseum) that their child’s illness is viral, that we can only treat the symptoms while the disease has to run its course. The vaccines for COVID-19 are 95% effective in preventing serious disease including hospitalization and death. There are not many medications that are that effective. It amazes me that a patient will request – even demand – a chemotherapy that might delay death by a few months, but refuse a prevention as effective as the vaccine.

How long do you think our hospital providers are going to be able to care for you with COVID in the future? We are heading into third and fourth waves of disease in the U.S. and worldwide. Physicians and nurses are getting sick and burned out. And this is in the U.S. Can you imagine what is happening in the poorer countries?

Public health officials have received death threats – yes, death threats – or lost their jobs for telling the truth about vaccination and safety precautions. School boards are afraid to do what’s right to stop the spread of disease in mostly unvaccinated children. Wearing masks has been tolerated well by most children. It is only their parents who have thrown a fit.

Masks are highly effective! Just ask any pediatrician what this past winter of mask wearing did for their patients. No RSV, no influenza, much less strep and essentially no COVID. COVID-19 outbreaks in schools were very rare. Cases resulted from family gatherings outside of school.

If the student and classmates wore a mask, the disease wasn’t spread. LCSD1 was a perfect example of the effectiveness of mask wearing. No shutdowns. Mask wearing needs to continue until all school-age children can be vaccinated.

It is disappointing that vaccines will not be available for children under age 12 until late 2021 or early 2022. I believe that the present vaccines will prove to be safe and effective for children. In the meantime, adults and children, 12 and over, need to vaccinate to prevent illness in the younger children.

Similar to pregnant women getting whooping cough and influenza vaccines before birth, COVID vaccination in pregnant women produces antibodies that pass to the baby through the placenta, providing passive protection against COVID for four to six months. If other family members are vaccinated, then disease can be prevented until the infant can receive vaccinations. Vaccines for the many other diseases listed above begin at 2 months of age.

As far as I am concerned, COVID vaccines are no longer experimental. No vaccine trial has ever included as many people as the millions who have received the COVID vaccines. Scientifically, COVID vaccines are no longer experimental. The mRNA vaccines, in particular (Pfizer and Moderna), have been especially effective and safe. The technology in their development is the future of vaccines and is being used in cancer therapy. No person’s genetic code is changed with these vaccines. The vaccines stimulate your natural immune system to recognize and fight the virus.

Will we need a booster shot? Maybe. But unvaccinated, this pandemic will flare and continue. It will threaten lives, jobs, travel, school and social life as we know it. As the old typing exercise said, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

Dr. Robert Prentice completed his medical school training in 1970, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1970-73 and has been a pediatrician in Cheyenne since 1973, except for the time he served as the associate executive director at the American Academy of Pediatrics from 1985-88. He retired in November 2020.

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