by Nathan Boddy
Thursday, the 4th of November, was a day that many parents in Ravalli County were looking forward to. Following the November 2nd announcement by the CDC giving approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, some breathed a sigh of relief. Less than 48 hours later, they were asking their children roll up their sleeves.
Michelle Larson, Medical Assistant at Sapphire Community Health in Hamilton, said that the clinic received their shipment of the vaccines at noon on Wednesday the 3rd, and moved quickly to make them available to the public by the next day. “We opened it up this morning (for vaccinations) and we filled it within hours. So far, the kids are doing very well.”
Dr. Johanna Dreiling, Chief Medical Officer at Sapphire, was able to take a short break from her work to see the vaccine administered to one 10-year-old, her youngest son, Tucker. While having her youngest child vaccinated will not mean that Dreiling is done dealing with the Covid pandemic here in Ravalli County, she says that having Tucker vaccinated will put her mind somewhat at ease.
“I see patients every day,” said Dreiling. “There is always a chance that I could bring Covid home to my kids or to my elderly parents. At least now I know that he has a greater level of protection against getting sick, and if he does get Covid, he’ll be a lot less likely to get seriously ill from it.”
Dr. Dreiling has been the Chief Medical Officer at Sapphire since summer of 2020, and has been dealing with the pandemic since day one of her tenure. She expresses frustration at having to see people get sick in such large numbers as well as the deaths that have resulted. “Many of them could have been prevented,” she says.
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, reading about and in meetings about Covid,” says Dr. Dreiling. “We just want to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible.”
Part of the reason for the ongoing struggles against Covid, says Dreiling, is the quantity of misinformation that exists about the virus, and the vaccine itself. “People may have heard something from a friend, or read something on social media that has no scientific merit, and that can be dangerous. I am more than happy to spend the time to help someone make a good, informed decision. But, sometimes, it’s hard to compete with the barrage of misinformation that’s out there.”
Ultimately, say Dreiling, she feels that all of the misinformation that people collect from inaccurate sources is eroding trust. “Trust is the basis of how we practice medicine. If patients don’t trust that their provider is telling the truth, or giving accurate medical advice, you can’t have a therapeutic relationship.”
Dr. Dreiling points out that vaccine hesitation has always been present in Ravalli County for a variety of reasons, but hesitation about the Covid vaccine goes even further. “This is very different. There are far more people who are specifically hesitant about the Covid vaccine than people who are hesitant about vaccines in general. I talk to many patients who have received all of their vaccines, their annual flu shot and everything else, but don’t get the Covid vaccine. They may express fear about the vaccine being developed too quickly, fear about FDA approval, or they simply don’t feel like Covid is really a problem. At present time, it’s the third leading cause of death in Montana,” says Dreiling. “It’s definitely a problem.”
“Many say they want to wait for a while, to see what happens with the vaccine or they are worried about long-term consequences of the vaccine.” Dreiling says that these concerns are somewhat ironic because, “The truth is, what we do know is that the Covid infection often has long term consequences. The vaccine, on the other hand, is only designed to stimulate your immune system to recognize the virus.”
Dr. Dreiling encourages people who do want to read up on the virus and the vaccine, to do so on reputable sources like the CDC and Mayo Clinic. “There is no reason to put your trust in an anti-parasitic, which at this point has not been scientifically proven effective, but yet not to trust thousands of researchers and physicians who are saying the best way to protect yourself from Covid is with a vaccine. I wouldn’t be vaccinating my youngest child today if I didn’t believe that was the best and safest option we have against this pandemic.”
Editor’s Note: Reporter Nathan Boddy is married to Dr. Johanna Dreiling.