Local doc who had COVID stresses importance of vaccines


For Athol Daily News
Published: 9/27/2021 1:16:49 PM
Modified: 9/27/2021 1:16:49 PM

WINCHENDON — Each Friday, Heywood Healthcare President and CEO Win Brown provides weekly updates on the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on his staff and on the community as a whole. On Sept. 24, however, Brown afforded Dr. David Havlin the opportunity to discuss the need for everyone to continue taking the scourge of COVID-19 seriously.

Havlin related his own experience contracting the virus during COVID’s first surge.

For 35 years, Havlin, a family physician, has treated patients at Heywood Hospital and Winchendon Health Center. Havlin sees patients from throughout Heywood Healthcare’s primary service area, which includes Athol, Gardner, Phillipston, Petersham, Royalston, Winchendon and a number of other communities.

“I have treated many of you both in the hospital and at the office,” said Havlin, “at the nursing homes, at the group homes, on the football fields, and in your own homes. I have seen births, injuries, illnesses, diseases, and deaths. I have attended wakes and funerals. We have laughed together, and we have cried together.

“But never have we faced anything like this pandemic.”

Havlin went on to stress that both COVID-19 and the newer delta variant are all too real. He said the lives of individuals, nations — the entire globe — have been upended by the virus.

“Nearly a year and a half ago, during the first surge in spring of 2020,” he related, “I was laid low by the virus. In April, I go the infection while caring for residents at a local nursing home. The virus hit the facility hard and fast in late March.”

Havlin described the progression of symptoms he experienced, beginning with fever, muscle aches, weakness, and shortness of breath. He also lost his senses of smell and taste.

Ultimately, he was admitted to the intensive care unit at Heywood Hospital for treatment of acute respiratory pneumonia. He spent six days in the ICU. He then went through a lengthy recovery period and was only able to return to work in June of this year.

“It took six months for my breathing to fully recover,” he said. “Diminished taste and smell still linger to this day.”

Havlin said treatment of the virus has “come a long way” since March 2020.

“But people are still becoming critically ill and are dying from the infection,” he cautioned, “and many people who have recovered are developing ‘long COVID syndrome’ that may last months or longer.”

The doctor noted that front-line workers — doctors, nurses, and other support staff — continue to provide the best treatment possible, despite the risks to their own health.

“More than 3,600 health care workers in the United States, and over 17,000 health care workers worldwide, died in the first year alone. Over 600,000 Americans and over four and a half million worldwide have died. As of this month, 1-in-500 Americans have died from this viral contagion.

“Today, it is heartbreaking to care for our patients because most of these hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths are now preventable.”

Preventable, he stressed, because of the availability of vaccines.

“Now, after rigorous testing, we have effective vaccines in the U.S.,” he explained. “These vaccines did not come out of nowhere. They are the result of 30 years of painstaking research and development by dedicated scientists who have made amazing strides. There is no natural-born immunity against this virus.”

There are, he said, only two ways to gain immunity against the virus.

“First, through the infection that carries a 20 percent risk of hospitalization and a 5 percent risk of ICU admission, and a one percent risk of dying for a low-risk patient, but as high as a 10 to 30 percent risk of dying for a high-risk patient.”

The only other means of gaining immunity to the virus, said Havlin, is vaccination. He said vaccination carries a .005 percent risk of a serious adverse reaction.

“These vaccines are safe, and they are effective in preventing hospitalizations and death,” he said. “That is the bottom line.”

Dr. Havlin said he has heard many excuses for not getting the vaccine.

“But I’m saying that after all is said and done, your vaccine is waiting for you. Get it done. Your vaccine is not just for you, but also for your family and your neighbors, for your schools, for the rest of us.

“Remember,” he continued, “the virus does not care who you are, what color skin you have, or where you live, whether you’re rich or poor, how old you are, what your religious beliefs are, or what political views you have. The virus survives only by replicating inside of you and spreading to other humans.”

The state’s Weekly Municipality COVID-19 Vaccination Report for Thursday, Sept. 23, indicates the number of eligible people in the 01331 zip code (Athol and Phillipston) who have received at least one shot has finally reached the 60 percent mark. That is far below the statewide average of 73 percent.

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