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mRNA vaccine was decades in the making

The tragedy of the infected, unimmunized population in Jackson County is overwhelming. Much has been written about the misinformation epidemic but nothing in my 50-year career as a physician matches this issue of public health.

Public health means care of the welfare of the population. Our county leadership has taken the stand that personal freedom to choose to be immunized or to wear masks is more important than death and disease.

Our hospital system is predictably overwhelmed so that anyone with a heart attack, stroke, appendicitis or an automobile accident will have difficulty accessing care due to the burden of those hospitalized with COVID. The lack of immunization among hospital and other health care workers is astounding when they are right in the face of disease.

Concerns are present that the immunization was developed “too rapidly.” To his credit, former President Trump rolled out development of the vaccine at “warp speed.” The truth is that the woman who developed the technology of messenger RNA (mRNA) being used to teach a cell to make antibodies, Dr. Katlin Kariko, spent decades developing the technology. She persisted despite her ideas being dismissed, defunded and ridiculed.

The truth is that in 2018, her work finally caught the eye of a Biontech scientist and in 2020, they were well into developing an mRNA for the season flu. This is more difficult than COVID, which has many protein spikes with little variability (even with mutations).

The adaptation came quickly because she had worked the process out over all this time. The massive studies were ready to roll.

My message is to get immunized, as it is the best gift to yourself and family to not require hospitalization and death. Wear a mask even if immunized. Your health and the health of the public community and hospital services depend on it.

We do this for each other. It is a personal responsibility, not an infringement on your rights. You can always have the right to die and decline treatment.

Declining a vaccine is where I feel the line gets drawn. If you get sick with COVID, stay home and face the consequences of your decision and don’t further overwhelm our hospitals because you now expect health care to save you.

And Katlin Kariko deserves the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Lanita C. Witt, M.D., lives near Ashland.