COVID-19: Social distancing is our responsibility. Vaccines are too.

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Our country is facing a national health crisis on a scale that has never been seen before in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 pandemic is unchartered territory—a new strain of an old virus that has so far claimed more than 1,000 lives. Right now, we are all nervous for what’s still to come—not just for ourselves, but for our parents, grandparents, and the vulnerable groups, who seem to be most severely affected. An emergency response has been called for “social distancing”—a measure to avoid the spread of the virus by increasing the physical distance between one another. People are asked to stay home. Schools are shut down. Public events are canceled. All of this has created huge disruptions to our lives, but if there’s any chance of beating COVID-19, this is it—social distancing helps keep everyone safe. All across social media, physicians, nurses, and frontline healthcare workers are urging people to #StayHome and practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. Now more than ever, it is critical that we work together for the greater good.

If history has taught us anything, it is that everyone needs to play their part or else the system breaks. Vaccines are the prime example. Just last year, we battled a measles resurgence when pockets of people across the country chose not to vaccinate (measles was officially eliminated in 2000). Before that was the large pertussis outbreak in 2012 that led to 50,000 cases and 20 deaths—all of which could’ve been avoided. Beyond just individual protection, vaccines promote herd immunity to prevent transmission of these diseases to one another—something that our most vulnerable populations, like newborn babies, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients, rely on because they themselves cannot get fully vaccinated. It’s a travesty that, despite having science so clearly on our side, some people still choose to act against vaccination recommendations—even when that means putting others’ lives in danger. What these people seem to have forgotten is that vaccination is not just a personal choice; it is a social responsibility that requires full participation to work.

When this pandemic is finally over (and it will), we need to be fighting our vaccine-preventable diseases with the same sense of urgency that we are with COVID-19. While we recognize that social distancing and vaccines are not the same, they are underpinned by the same moral code that we owe one another — make a choice for the greater good; protect those who don’t have a choice.

Alvin Chan is a pediatric gastroenterology fellow. Kim Ramirez-Chan is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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