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Commitment required for final push in pandemic marathon

It has been said that complacency is the enemy of progress.

This is no less true in public and personal health than it is in our corporate culture and professional lives. It especially holds true during a global pandemic.

A mere 14 months ago, a national public health emergency was declared on the recognition that a new and deadly strain of coronavirus was freely spreading among humans in multiple regions of the world. The United States quickly became the epicenter of this pandemic, as waves of infections in the spring, summer and fall 2020 took hold.

Communities, large and small, quickly took up the call of public health experts to practice tried-and-true measures to limit the spread of the virus as tens of millions became infected and, sadly, hundreds of thousands of Americans died. Universal mask wearing in public and private settings; physical distancing; respiratory and hand hygiene; and limitations in travel, work and schooling became the norm as clinical science worked to develop effective vaccines.

We knew almost from the beginning that we were engaged in a marathon and not a sprint.

Marathoners often say the last 6.2 miles of the race are the most intense and grueling. After substantial effort, runners “hit a wall” as they struggle to complete the challenging task of reaching the finish line. It requires mental effort, grit and renewed commitment to finish the race.

I believe we find ourselves in a similar situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We are definitely in the late stages of the effort. We are physically and emotionally exhausted. So much has been accomplished. We are so near our goal. But the task is incomplete, and it will require every ounce of our remaining energy and focus to truly reach the desired end.

Much of our progress is attributable to public health measures and vaccination. More than 55% of eligible U.S. adolescents and adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, less than 50% are fully vaccinated. To be clear, full vaccination is defined as two or more weeks after the second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

You may have heard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised that universal mask wearing in both public and private group settings is no longer needed for fully vaccinated people, in most circumstances. This is good news and reflects the progress made through public health and vaccination efforts. The CDC also indicated that mask wearing is still recommended for those who are not yet fully vaccinated. This is essential to ensure continued reduction in the spread of the virus.

Unvaccinated adults need to pursue complete vaccination and maintain mask wearing and physical distancing until fully vaccinated. Newly eligible adolescents should be scheduled for vaccination at the earliest opportunity.

We will get to the finish line. It is so close. It is typically this stage in the race that continued effort becomes much more difficult, but we must remain committed.

Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.