Won't You Please, Please Help Me

Near where I was born in London, there is a very famous pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road outside the recording studios bearing that name, and the photograph of the Beatles crossing that road was the cover for the Abbey Road album. 

For medical school, I went to Liverpool, and Beatles references were everywhere: Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, the Cavern. And in 1965 they recorded “Help,” which appeared on the album of the same name and was also the title of their second movie. “Help” is my topic for today, and to misquote John Lennon – but now these days are come I’m not so self-assured. I am talking about our responsibility as doctors to patients in this phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. And the responsibility patients have toward us.

Recently, a very clever friend of mine told me that had the American narrative about vaccination relied on how people view themselves – blessed with freedom – there may now be fewer issues; if, instead of mandates, there were pleas – “if you want to preserve freedom, wear a mask,” and “if you want to be free to attend social events, please consider vaccination.” I think he is right, Americans do not like being told what to do, so I am going to make some pleas about freedom.

As I have explained before, viruses constantly mutate; there is nothing new here. And viruses do not have an intellect, a conscious essence. Their sole raison d’etre is to find a new host that they can use to replicate; if a virus aggressively kills its host, the virus disappears. An ideal virus is one that is highly transmissible but does not kill the host and, in fact, the new coronavirus variant, the Omicron, is doing just that. Also, evidence suggests that those who have received three vaccinations are highly protected. I have and am making a plea for you to consider the same.

Recently, someone very close to me was on a commercial flight and told me about two passengers, one wearing his mask as a chin sling, another who was coughing continuously and telling people not to worry, he just had bronchitis. Is the guy with the misplaced mask being arrogant, ignorant – or both? And what was the coughing bloke thinking? “It’s just bronchitis!” Indeed.

Second, a dear friend who I know to be incredibly smart and talented has resolutely refused to be vaccinated as has this person’s partner. A relative my friend sees frequently has an illness that compromises his immune system and has rationalized to not get vaccinated based on the way governments have rolled the vaccine out, questions data about how bad the disease is and how safe the vaccines are. Oh, and this person recently contracted Covid and has been very sick! When chatting, I was told that the relative is protected because he has been vaccinated – therefore, my friend simultaneously trusts and does not trust the vaccine. How can this happen? So, my second plea is to really think through the implications of one’s actions – wearing masks, being vaccinated protects other people and may save their lives. We all encourage every passenger in GA aircraft to wear seatbelts – it’s the same principle. My second plea, if not vaccinated please explore your reasons carefully and reconsider.

I do not think the medical profession has been aggressively vocal enough and could have done, and should do, more. Yes, some of my colleagues have, like me, published articles or given talks about the pandemic and on August 23, around 75 Florida doctors gathered in Palm Beach Gardens to hold a press conference urging Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The week before 1,486 Floridians were reported to have died from the condition. And yes, lots of doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and so on have caught the virus and succumbed before vaccines were available. These doctors were rightly complaining that they were being put at risk by people not getting vaccinated. So, another component of my plea above – there is no point asking to be vaccinated when hospitalized with Covid. The larger the pool of unvaccinated people, the higher the likelihood of nasty mutations arising. And none of us want that!

I know a lot of people moan about wearing a mask and some go so far as to say they cannot breathe. I appreciate that they are not comfortable – but then again having pneumonia is hardly a breeze. And as for not being able to breathe, in my work as a surgeon I would wear a mask for many hours a day and seemed to breathe perfectly well.

Recently, I was on a London tube train and saw a twenty-something-year-old lad opposite me flouting the rule making masks obligatory on London transport. He was not wearing one of the badges proclaiming him to be exempt, and noticing that there were several elderly people nearby, I talked to him quietly. He was at first a tad aggressive and told me to mind my own business. So, I told him it literally was my business.

When I asked if he had parents or grandparents, I got the response, “Yeah, I do, so what?” And then I said, well maybe you don’t care if you get the disease, but if you bring it home to your relatives and one of them succumbs, how are you going to feel? And his response, “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” and he sheepishly dug a mask out of his pocket and donned it. Given all the media attention and public notices advocating distancing, masks, not coughing, and so on, the facts are not penetrating skulls. Maybe that’s because there is so much misinformation competing for synapses – and of course the alternative view of the crisis is so much easier to digest – things like:

“There is no pandemic” or “the vaccine is unnecessary,” and here are some others that make my teeth itch.

“The people who have died from so-called Covid-19” – don’t you love that? You just need to say “so-called” and whatever one is talking about is devalued. Anyway, “The people who have died from so-called Covid-19 were going to die anyway. Nonsense. Let’s look at some numbers from the UK – because it is one health system, it is easier to access good data, and the American statistics are per capita quite similar. From March 5, 2020, to March 5, 2021, 1.5 million potential years of life were lost in Great Britain (England, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland) due to people dying from Covid. And if one looks at the 146,000 people who died from Covid, on average each lost 10.2 years of life. And I knew some people who fell to Covid. People in their 40s and 50s.

Then there is the comparison to flu. Well, we know that during the periods of lockdown there were fewer cases and deaths from flu – because we know that not being exposed to a highly infectious disease works. Just like there were fewer motor vehicle deaths, fewer industrial accidents and so on. Duh!

So again, let’s look at the critical numbers. In a really bad flu year, around 30,000 Brits die from flu and pneumonia – and that equates to around 250,000 lost life years. 1.5 million Covid, a really bad flu year? One-sixth of that. And the US numbers? As of today, the American population is 333,802,540 and the UK is 68,399,452, so the USA is 4.88 times larger. And deaths? In America, 5.58 times higher, so the numbers are very comparable. So another plea – get your flu jab as it can also take you out of the sky and off the earth.

And let’s be clear: Covid can kill anyone. Yes, obviously it has a tendency to pick on older people and those with pre-existing conditions. But it also picks on men more than women and those from deprived areas who are twice as likely to be killed by the virus.

My final plea? We all need to have open and honest discussions – we can disagree but there is no need to be disagreeable. I consider that I have an obligation to correct misapprehensions that have arisen from incorrect or ill-intentioned news. I can respect why people may hold opposing views, but I consider my fellow aviators to be smart and capable men and women and I think you all “get it” and can spread the news to those you love. One other aviation issue to consider here – any virus that causes respiratory symptoms may cause long-lasting lung damage that could impair one’s ability to safely fly. And other chronic sequelae such as cardiac or neurologic issues. Defending our freedom to fly should include a dialogue about being medically informed and taking proper action.

Get vaccinated – the government is not tracking us via implanted microchips; we have our cell phones for that! To quote the Beatles one more time, “Won’t you please, please help me?”

You can send your questions and comments to Dr. Sackier via email: [email protected] and listen to his weekly podcasts at:

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification, Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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