Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Assalamo-alaikum and Noa’ia e mau’ri.
Vinaka vakalevu, Khuda Hafiz, Daniyabaad and Fa’eksia.
We collectively blinked and January was gone! A lot of interesting developments and challenges were faced by us in January. Our members in the west had to deal with tenacious flooding caused by tropical cyclone Cody. This put further strain on our resources that had been stretched thin due to COVID but, as always, the resilience of our health workforce shown through this challenge. As we were going towards some semblance of normalcy having ridden the second wave, we were sucker-punched, like the rest of the world with the Omicron variant.
Omicron came in as stealthily as a thief in in the night and before we knew it, we were on our surfboard once again shredding the third wave! The blessing amidst this newest challenge this time around was two-fold. Firstly, we were in a much better space as a population because of our high vaccination rates. Secondly, unlike its predecessor Delta, Omicron was/is not as deadly. Although it was certainly more infectious than Delta, the rates of hospitalizations especially patients needing critical care was low. Was this due to the intrinsic characteristics of this variant versus the fact that our population had high vaccination coverage is an interesting observation. It is likely due to a bit of both. Alas, we did still see some individuals get very sick and the mortalities did rise. This goes to prove that even though the virulence of a particular variant may be lower, the high rates of transmission will equate to a rise in mortality rates. The protective herd immunity that is built up can still be penetrated when transmission rates are high and the most vulnerable amongst us who have weak immune systems can fall victim.
Colleagues, perhaps the single most important lesson this pandemic has taught us is that vaccines are effective against hospitalizations and deaths. A friend of mine who does not have a medical background uttered an interesting remark. He said COVID is about “survival of the fittest”. His observation certainly holds merit as two years on, we have certainly learnt lessons in terms of mortality patterns. As a rule, those who have died from COVID had other underlying comorbidities that weakened their ability to fight it and survive. The one factor that did help such vulnerable individuals later was being vaccinated. There is increasing evidence from real world data that even the most vulnerable individuals when vaccinated, had a very good chance of surviving COVID. And this is one message that we as Health Professionals must unanimously promote. It is sad to see that there are still some individuals within our profession who do not share this view. If one is in doubt for whatever reason, one must fall back on first principles of looking up the myriad of evidence that is available. The next step should be to liaise with experts in the field of infectious diseases plus epidemiologists to get a better grasp of the true picture of just how effective vaccines are. We must remember that the public at large relies on us to provide them with guidance and if they hear conflicting information then they will lose trust and faith in our advice. It is our responsibility as Health Professionals to educate ourselves from expert sources prior to uttering controversial statements as the only purpose that will serve is to undermine all the good work that has been done to gain the trust and faith of the public at large.
It is my humble plea to you all that we as health Professionals continue to educate ourselves with this evolving Pandemic. Let us all endeavor to get the correct information about interventions from trusted sources. Let us peer-review any contrary information we come across as misinformation is rife. Let us make sure that we have discussed and thrashed out our doubts/misunderstandings and any advice or statements we are going to make is aligned with the what the medical community at large is thinking. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the community at large is scrutinizing our words and messages and if we influence the public at large from undertaking proven beneficial medical interventions and there is a bad outcome consequently, then you will be individually accountable. Let us all continue to be advocates of COVID safe behavior and continue to encourage our people to not only get fully vaccinated but also get their booster shots when they become eligible.
Dr Basharat Munshi
Fiji Medical Association