As a physician in the land of 10,000 lakes, it's only natural that Dr. George Morris turns to water to explain why it's important to vaccinate virtually everyone eligible against COVID-19.
Consider the waves that spread from the splash created when a rock is tossed in. A similar ripple effect has powered the pandemic, said Morris, a CentraCare vice president who still sees patients. One person who becomes ill can infect others. But when vaccination rates are high, the protection conferred by the shots halts broadening circles of COVID infection.
"We're now at around, I think, of 85% of [those] 65-plus. We're now at around 33% of our community members throughout the state that are vaccinated," Morris said. "Let's all join that group. These are positive community members that are looking out for themselves and looking out for each other."
Morris is exactly right. Getting vaccinated isn't just about protecting yourself. It's about protecting your family, friends, community and country. It is an act of caring and service, one that is urgent with the state at risk of another COVID surge.
Minnesota is making admirable progress. On Friday, it ranked 11th in a Becker's Hospital Review of population percentage fully vaccinated. There's still a long way to go. Herd immunity, the term for the threshold that thwarts viral spread, won't be reached until an estimated 70% to 90% of the population is protected.
Progress varies within Minnesota. Cook County, in the state's northeast tip, leads the state with 63.8% of its population having at least one vaccine dose. Benton and Sherburne counties are at the back of the pack, with 22.8% and 23.1%, respectively, according to the Star Tribune COVID tracker. Todd County, also in central Minnesota, trails as well, posting 27%.
St. Cloud-based CentraCare, where Morris practices, is one of the state's largest health care systems. It has eight hospitals, more than 30 clinics and 11 senior housing facilities throughout the state's core region. Morris is a trusted physician practicing in the area and a respected Minnesota health care leader. That's why he was tapped to address two stubborn misperceptions for the Star Tribune Editorial Board's "Our Best Shot" series targeting vaccine hesitancy. The misperceptions:
• COVID is no worse than the common cold or flu. Not true. While COVID belongs to a family of viruses whose members do cause the common cold, this one is different. It is capable of causing "severe illness that is life altering, life-changing and life-stealing for many people," Morris said. In just over a year, nearly 7,000 Minnesotans — and more than 565,000 Americans — have lost their lives to COVID. In contrast, there were 126 influenza-associated deaths in the state during the 2018-19 flu season.
Morris also notes that COVID survivors have risks — even those who had mild cases that they weathered at home. Long-term problems can include fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain or memory problems. Damage can occur to the lungs, heart or brain. Doctors still don't have a complete understanding of these risks yet, because COVID hasn't been around for long.
• I'm young and healthy, so I don't need the shot. Again, not true. Good health decreases the risk of severe COVID, "but it doesn't make that chance zero," Morris said. Children and young adults with COVID have been among those hospitalized at CentraCare, he said. Sadly, hospitalized patients have also included family members of young, healthy people who recovered from COVID but spread it to loved ones. Severe COVID can affect anyone, Morris said. "There is no COVID 'get-out-of-jail card.' What we're seeing is if COVID trips you up, it hits you and it can hit you hard. We just really can't predict who that is."
Morris urges those who are concerned about vaccination side effects to speak with their physicians. The risk isn't zero, he added, but it's "much lower than the risks of the disease and the side effects and the death that happens."
To see the video interview with Dr. Morris, go to bit.ly/3wWMEtf.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The faster we vaccinate, the faster the COVID-19 pandemic ends. But the speed with which the shots were developed has led to understandable questions. The Editorial Board's #OurBestShot series enlists Minnesota health and community leaders to deliver timely, trustworthy answers.
Here's a collection of articles, videos and other resources presented so far, with more planned:
Editorial: The big risk is in not getting vaccinated (March 28).
Video: Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic discusses the potential side effects of the vaccines, and explains why the risks and impacts are low.
• • •
Editorial: Communities of color face unique vaccination fears (April 4).
Video: M Health Fairview, in a conversation with leaders of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in the Twin Cities, addresses questions and concerns about the vaccines.
Frequently asked questions: A report from the Sahan Journal, a trusted St. Paul-based source of news and information for migrant and immigrant communities, provides and wealth of vaccine information while also dispelling rumors that the shots contain pork or other products not considered halal.
• • •
Editorial: Needle phobia? There's help available to deal with fear (April 11).
Video: A fear of needles "shouldn't be something people feel embarrassed about." A conversation with Dr. Andrew Slattengren, a veteran medical provider and president of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians,
The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and is not involved in setting newsroom policies or in reporting or editing articles in other sections of the newspaper or StarTribune.com.