Part of my job is to provide Haematology services to New Plymouth Base Hospital. I visit every month to catch up with my patients.
Risks of the immunosuppressed
The majority of the people I see have serious blood disorders and are immunosuppressed. That means that their immune system has been damaged by their disease or chemotherapy.
This causes two significant problems now COVID is around.
First, it means my patients cannot fight infections, so if they catch COVID, they will become seriously unwell. Studies from overseas show that patients with blood cancers are at least three times more likely to end up in hospital or die from COVID.
The second problem is that patients do not gain much protection from the COVID vaccine. The vaccine works by using your own immune system to produce antibodies against the virus. If your immune system doesn’t work well, you don’t make many antibodies. My patients are entitled to a third injection which can help. However, international studies have shown that some patients with blood cancers do not produce antibodies even with three doses of the vaccine, and therefore they remain at risk of infection.
My patients can only be safe if everybody around them is vaccinated.
Who has the right to choose?
I’ve heard many reasons why people won’t get vaccinated, but one that concerns me is the belief that it should be up to the individual to decide. This fails to recognise that choosing not to have the vaccine has significant consequences for other people. For my patients, their lives literally depend on the choice of others. For those who believe being forced to have a vaccine is a breach of their human rights, should remember that my patients have rights too; they have the right to be safe, the right to mix in society and the right to live.
Not just cancer patients and those on chemotherapy are at risk. Many other people are immunosuppressed, including my three children with Down syndrome.
My patients are members of your whanau and family, they are your friends and neighbours, and they are members of your community. They rely on you.
The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
If you know somebody who is not vaccinated, ask them to put aside their hesitancy and doubt. If they get vaccinated today, they are helping to protect the most vulnerable in our society, including my children.