September 01, 2021

The significant impact of personal decisions

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We’ve learned many truths throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been exposed to new meanings of unity and integrity. We have harnessed the power of resilience, letting it steer us through the very worst days. We’ve learned a new context of perseverance—witnessing the ways it drives decency and goodness. Our perspectives have grown and changed; many have been stretched beyond what we thought we could handle.

Now, 20 months into the pandemic, we have a new understanding that our personal impact on the world around us is more significant than we imagined.

Our decisions—small and large, collectively and individually—have the potential to impact others. Early on, we discovered that transmission of COVID-19 is as sensitive and far-reaching as a toppling row of dominos. Now, we are seeing the true impact of personal decisions with the current COVID-19 surge.

In the past month, the southeastern region of the United States has made national headlines for depleting ICU beds, increasing hospitalization rates, and record-breaking case counts per day.

Unvaccinated individuals are suffering the worst. And because enough people did not get vaccinated earlier, SARS-CoV-2 had the opportunity to mutate into a much more contagious and intense virus, causing breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals.

At this time, only 38% of Alabama has been vaccinated. Our state is a hotspot. Our hospitals are stretched thin. Currently, 62 people per every 100,000 people are being hospitalized. The decision not to get vaccinated is affecting all of us.

On the contrary, states like Massachusetts and Vermont report much higher levels of vaccinated individuals and far fewer hospitalizations. Massachusetts has a 66% vaccination rate, and only 7 per every 100,000 people are being hospitalized. Vermont has a 68% vaccination rate, and only 5 per every 100,000 people are being hospitalized. In comparison, UAB had 204 patients yesterday and 48 under investigation, while Massachusetts General in Boston had only 26 patients.

We have talked data and discussed numbers for a year and a half. Now, we must recognize that real people—families, individuals, friends—are the ones impacted.

My hope is that Alabamians will realize that our freedoms and rights allow us the opportunity to practice thoughtfulness. Our freedoms give us a unique chance to think of others before ourselves. We have the freedom to love our neighbors. Right now, loving our neighbor in action looks like getting the vaccine, which will allow our loved ones with cancer, diabetes, heart and kidney disease to continue to access the care they need from our hospital. It also looks like wearing a mask until the surge decreases and not gathering in large indoor settings.

As an academic medical center, I am optimistic that we can move forward by thinking about the collective before the self—that we can put our loved ones at the forefront of our minds when we make decisions.

Right now, the world is watching the southern United States. At UAB, it is truly up to us to set an example. Choosing not to get a vaccine or wear a mask perpetuates the brand reputation of our state. We can do better.

We are a pillar of innovation at the hub of Birmingham—a status we can feel proud of and celebrate. Our regional campuses expand our footprint throughout Alabama, making UAB employees, faculty, and students the heart of some of our biggest cities. Plus, we have family medicine clinics in large and small towns all across the state. With this large geographical impact comes the large responsibility to be drivers of discernment and integrity.

We have a responsibility to our community in this moment, but also to our future recruits and top talent who may one day consider joining our faculty and training programs. What impression do we want to make?

If our bad decisions have a domino effect on the individuals and communities around us, imagine how far-reaching our good decisions can go.