A lot to be thankful for in fight against COVID

November 23, 2021
Small pumpkins surround a plaque with the word thankful.
A lot has changed over the past year, giving people plenty to feel thankful for. iStock

This Thanksgiving finds us in a very different situation than we were in last year. Scientific advances and new knowledge have changed the face of COVID. We now have expanded access to COVID-19 vaccines that are safe and effective as well as new treatments for COVID infections. The CEO of the MUSC Health-Charleston Division is taking notice. David Zaas, M.D., says it’s easy to be filled with gratitude for the growing list of people and innovations that have put us on the path to the end of the pandemic.

First, COVID-19 vaccines can make Thanksgiving celebrations a lot safer. “Last year, we were anxiously waiting for the arrival of COVID vaccines and filled with uncertainty. But now we have a year's worth of experience vaccinating about 300,000 people through MUSC Health. As we approach the holidays, we are grateful for the science that allowed us to develop, design and mass produce a vaccine for a new infection. This innovation is just amazing,” Zaas said.

“It's a victory to celebrate the benefits as we approach the holidays and look forward to spending time with family. We’ve been so cooped up for so long, right? And the ability to see family members, especially those of us that have older parents and others — that's a really exciting time.”

David Zaas, M.D., MBA, is MUSC Health Charleston Division's  new chief executive officer and MUSC Health System's new chief clinical officer. 
Dr. David Zaas

Second, we now have booster shots for anyone 18 and older. “I think the science continues to evolve, but as we see the waning immunity and the impact of boosters, we all want to feel like we're doing everything we can to keep our families safe. So that flexibility and that ability to say, ‘Right, I'm doing everything I can to keep my family safe,’ I think is huge for our own emotional wellbeing.”

Third, as of a few weeks ago, kids 5 and older can get vaccinated. That should reduce the need for school closures and quarantines if we have another winter wave. Kids and their families have also benefited from the knowledge gathered last year showing schools can operate fairly safely during the pandemic with the right precautions in place. “I think a lot of us are thankful that our kids are back in school. Those things really matter,” Zaas said.

Closeup of a sticker saying I got my shot. 
A girl who got vaccinated at E.B. Ellington Elementary School waits for 15 minutes after her shot to make sure she doesn't have an allergic reaction. Photo by Sarah Pack

Fourth, breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are less severe and they’re less likely to send them to the hospital. “We saw when we had a huge spike with Delta we had a smaller percentage of people hospitalized. We have new treatments that are available for COVID infections. Vaccines are still the best strategy against COVID, but these therapies can minimize the severity of infection for those who get breakthrough infections,” Zaas said.

“We just know so much more about how to care for patients when they are really sick and what other medications and treatments help. So I think even if we see another wave, it should be fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths.”

Erica Tollerson, RN, puts on personalal protective equipment so that she can care for covid-19 patients at unit 5C at the main hospital. 
Nurse Erica Tollerson prepares to take care of COVID patients. Photo by Sarah Pack 

Fifth, fewer hospitalizations means less strain on the health care system. “It's important to acknowledge that people are tired and they've worked exceptionally hard. When COVID numbers are down and the holidays are here, we need to care for ourselves so we can care for others. And if we can't find a way to care for ourselves and refresh and recharge, then we're not going to be at our best. A sense of gratitude and appreciation allows you to do that,” Zaas said.

“We also want to make sure that our leaders and our community appreciate our outstanding health care teams and the great work they have done this year.  Our nurses, our respiratory therapists and even our nonclinical care team members need to know how thankful we are for everything they’ve done and continue to do going forward. I think we get so busy sometimes we forget to say thank you to our compassionate and resilient teams.”

Finally, Zaas is thankful for the role MUSC has been able to play in the effort to end the pandemic, a role that’s ongoing. “As a leading academic medical center, we've been able to be part of the research networks and innovation that have led to some of the discoveries. The MUSC researchers have participated in a large number of clinical trials including the vaccine studies as well as new treatments,” he said. “The research and innovation have created a path to the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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About the Author

Helen Adams

Keywords: COVID-19