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OP-ED: Science: Our best shot for COVID recovery for everyone

By Drs. Luis Benavides (Laredo, TX), Carlos Cardenas (Edinburg, TX), and Roxanne Tyroch (El Paso)

This past year was nothing short of difficult. With a contagious and deadly virus spreading rapidly across our country, many Texans lived in fear. For most of 2020, the country lived in isolation. Businesses shut down, schools switched to remote learning, and we all searched for some glimmer of hope.

Doctors, like everyone else, faced challenges we had never seen – even here along the border. We worked non-stop to continue caring for our patients while also keeping them safe from the virus. As the disease engulfed communities along the border, our efforts to save lives and help those in need became even more urgent.

Today, thankfully, we are finally on a path that will lead us out of this crisis, thanks to the development and release of COVID-19 vaccinations. Just one year ago, as we were trying to understand the real power of this novel virus, scientists at pharmaceutical companies and universities across the nation were already hard at work figuring out how to protect us from it. They tapped into years of research, shared knowledge with one another, and worked closely with federal regulators. Because of that, we now have safe and effective vaccines that are already helping millions of people protect themselves from COVID-19.

We know that some people worry about how fast the vaccine was developed. It normally takes 10 years or more to make one new vaccine. How could we have several – with more on the way – in such a short time? As medical professionals, we feel very comfortable with this amazing achievement. We saw how our pharmaceutical scientists built on decades of knowledge. We saw that they tested each possible vaccine on tens of thousands of volunteers to prove they were safe and effective. We saw everything that went into building a system that is producing and distributing millions of doses of vaccine. And we have confidence in the ongoing way that pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals and government regulators are working together to monitor the health and well-being of the 66 million Americans who already have been vaccinated.

Now, our success depends on vaccinating as many of us as possible. That gives the coronavirus fewer people to infect and fewer people to spread it. Unfortunately, we have seen firsthand that many in our communities who need the protection most desperately have been slow to embrace the vaccine.

As physicians in Laredo, Edinburg and El Paso, we serve communities where the population is more than 80 percent Hispanic or Latino. Far too many of us suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. When people with those conditions catch COVID-19, they get sicker, and more of them die. Data from the CDC shows that Latinos are twice as likely to die from the virus than their White neighbors.

Even our healthy families are more likely to be hurt by the pandemic. The majority of Hispanic adults say that their household has lost a job or income since the crisis began.

But too many in our community are hesitant about the scientific miracle that gives us the best chance of a safe and healthy tomorrow. According to UnidosUS, 28 percent of Latinos surveyed said that they are unlikely to get the vaccine. Patients tell us all the time that they do not want the shot.

This is a big problem for the people we’ve cared for throughout our careers. We have to take action. That starts with bringing to the border better education on the safety and benefits of the vaccine.

As we start to see hope for the future and a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we have two important requests of our state and federal leaders. First, actively promote pro-vaccination messages in our minority communities. Second, continue to support the biopharmaceutical industry whose innovative research has given us the tools to beat back the pandemic.

After months of struggling through the COVID-19 fog, we finally have a clear path forward. But if those most at-risk don’t roll up their sleeves for a shot, and if our elected leaders don’t prioritize and promote vaccinations in our most threatened communities, we will continue to wander, lost, unnecessarily losing more lives.

Make no mistake: getting the vaccine is our best shot at getting back to normal — for all of us.