The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has begun and while this is great news, we still have to maintain our vigilance against this virus by following healthcare guidelines to control the spread of the disease.

This week, the United States passed a grim benchmark: more than 300,000 people dead from COVID-19. That is a staggering number. In less than a year, we’ve come close to having as many U.S. casualties to this virus as we experienced in the four years of World War II.

Cullman County has reported 67 of those deaths and our hospital is reporting a record number of patients it is treating for COVID-19. As of Thursday, 16 of those patients were on a ventilator.

People point to the low mortality rate of COVID-19 — less than 2 percent in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University — but there is a lot of space between a mild case of COVID-19 and death by the disease.

Many of the people now living in that space are living with ongoing complications from the disease including damage to the lungs, heart and brain. Even though they are no longer hospitalized, they are going through treatment and rehab. They have lost jobs — often the source of health insurance benefits. They are not among the count of the hospitalized or the dead, but they and their families are definitely among the count of those impacted by this disease.

The speed at which the vaccines have been developed has been remarkable. It’s a process that normally takes a decade or longer, if it’s even possible to create one. The polio vaccine, for example, took more than 20 years to develop and included many failures. Kudos to the companies, the researchers and the government that have given us not just one vaccine but several in such a short time.

Treatment, too, has gotten better as doctors and researches discover better ways to treat patients.

But the key to limiting the spread of the disease before we reach herd immunity through vaccinations (it’s unknown how many vaccinated people it would take to reach that point) is to stop the virus with the individual.

It’s the holidays and we want to be with friends and family. It’s colder outside so outside activities are not comfortable. We want to gather around the table with our loved ones and celebrate with them.

But we have to think of the friends and family members we want to see next year and take the precautions now so we can see them in 2021.

The vaccine is here. That’s a major accomplishment. But it’s going to take several months before it’s available to the general public and during that time, we’ve got to remain vigilant, not just against this virus, but against our own desire to have things be “normal” again.

We’ll get there. We just have to hang on a little longer.

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