'Misinformation and disinformation' have caused COVID-19 infections to 'soar' in Alaska: Emergency room doctor

'Misinformation and disinformation' have caused COVID-19 infections to 'soar' in Alaska: Emergency room doctor

At least 75% of U.S.-based adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been either partially or fully vaccinated for COVID-19. But in Alaska, the Mayo Clinic reports, the number is only 59% — which is the type of figure that frustrates President Joe Biden and his top White House medical expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. It's also the type of figure that frustrates Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska's chief medical officer and an emergency room physician. Zink, in an op-ed published by the Washington Post on October 27, cites "misinformation and disinformation" about vaccines as a key factor in the unnecessary suffering she is witnessing in her state.

"Alaska has fared comparatively well overall during the pandemic," Zink explains, "but this fall, the infection rate soared. Surgeries were postponed, patient transfers were delayed, and nursing ratios were stretched as hospitals ran out of staffed beds and almost ran out of oxygen. Our hospitals were like seaside rocks slowly being drowned by a rising tide of COVID-19 patients."

Zink recalls that when COVID-19 vaccines first became available in the U.S., Alaska "led the nation with high vaccination rates."

"Eventually, as occurred in many other rural states, our vaccination effort stalled," Zink laments. "Hesitancy and misinformation made many people underestimate the risk of COVID-19 infections and overestimate the risk from the coronavirus vaccines…. With little natural immunity from previous COVID-19 surges, relatively low vaccination rates and a population weary of mitigation measures — and with temperatures falling and indoor gatherings increasing — Alaska was overrun by the Delta variant."

In her op-ed, Zink describes the unvaccinated COVID-19 patients she is seeing — for example, a man who was "struggling to breathe, blue and scared, with oxygen levels not usually compatible with life" after choosing "not to be vaccinated because he feared side effects and misunderstood the risk of COVID."

"My patient, who remains hospitalized, was suffering not just because of the virus, but also, because of the deadly combination of misinformation and disinformation in a broken health-care system, in a country of broken trust," Zink writes. "As both an emergency physician and Alaska's chief medical officer, after 22 months of fighting this pandemic, I found myself exhausted as I sat there with him, humbled by this virus and acutely aware of how much work we have yet to do."

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