With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising across Montana once again, we need to speak up and urge Montanans to take action to protect the health of their families and our communities.
The Montana Medical Association, the leading physician-only organization in Montana, representing 1,400 physician leaders in all areas of our state, prioritizes the health of all Montana citizens as its mission. That’s why we’re advising Montanans to get vaccinated and wear a mask in indoor public places to curb the continued spread of COVID-19 across our state. As the physician community of Montana, our goal is to ensure you have the best evidence-based health information available. We want to be clear on the science and communicate facts about what we can do to help each other.
Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history, including almost 1 million doses administered to our own patients here in Montana. Like all of the vaccines we rely on to protect us, they may have short-lived side effects such as fever and body aches. Allergic reactions can be treated while being observed after injection. We now know that the risk of any serious side effect is extraordinarily low, especially compared to the risks from a COVID-19 illness. Currently, the vast majority of the people hospitalized are unvaccinated. Vaccines prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19. They are safe, and they work. The FDA’s announcement on Aug. 23, which granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, should provide yet another layer of confidence.
Wearing masks in indoor public places or crowded venues greatly reduces the spread of COVID-19. As long as the virus is widely present in our community, wearing masks will decrease the risk for everyone.
We now face the extremely contagious Delta variant while beginning a new school year. Children under 12 cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and teen vaccination rates have been fairly low. These conditions make masking especially critical for the prevention of COVID-19 related outbreaks in schools. Thus, we support school officials who take the important stand that masks should be required in schools this fall – to keep them open and safe for students and staff.
The current increase in cases is again putting stress on our Montana health care system. We have genuine concern that Montana hospital facilities may be stressed beyond capacity. We see what’s happening in the southeastern part of our nation and closer to home in neighboring Wyoming as the Delta variant spreads. Now is the time to act and step up our game collectively to stop the wave of COVID-19 from continuing to build in Montana. Our statewide emergency rooms, businesses, and schools depend on each Montanan to follow the proven prevention methods: Get vaccinated and wear a mask in indoor public spaces or crowded areas. We can still prevent a public health disaster if we all work together.
As physicians, Montanans trust us with their health every day. We follow the science and encourage you to do the same. We know what works. Masking, social distancing when able, and vaccinations are simple yet critical steps for individuals, families, small towns, and larger communities across our great state. Now is the time to act. Montanans have the power and the will to make the greatest impact on the health and safety of us all.
Dr. Pamela V. Cutler is the president of the Montana Medical Association; Dr. Greg Holzman is the chair of the Medical Association COVID-19 Workgroup.
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