COVID-19 diary from a pediatrician

Brenda Thurlow, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist, is boosted for her patients and herself

Sanford Health doctor portrait in an exam room.

Sanford Health News asked doctors to share their experiences with COVID-19 patients and their reasoning for getting a COVID-19 booster shot. These are Dr. Thurlow’s words.

I have been a pediatrician and pediatric diabetes specialist with Sanford Health for 19 years at Sanford Children’s in Fargo. I grew up in North Dakota and I’ve lived in Fargo since junior high.

I take care of children from birth to young adulthood. Many of the children I take care of have diabetes, which places them at high risk for complications from COVID-19. I also take care of children with organ transplants or who have other conditions that compromise their immune systems.

Some children are too young to be immunized or for other reasons can’t be vaccinated so it’s been really important to focus on immunizing as many people who are eligible for vaccine to protect those who aren’t.

I live with type 1 diabetes and in the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 was just becoming such a widespread challenge for the health care profession, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that, if it does not respond to anti-inflammatory treatments, requires immune suppression. So I made the difficult choice in the summer of 2020 to start taking medication that suppressed my immune system in the middle of a pandemic.

When I was eligible to become vaccinated for the first time it felt like a weight was lifted. It was a really big deal. As more and more people were able to become vaccinated around me, things started to feel safer because the vaccine only protects to a certain point. If someone is immune-compromised, you never know how the vaccine is going to work. Having everyone else immunized around you provides another layer of protection.

I think that’s important for people to remember when they’re out in the community. You never know just by looking at someone if they’re at high risk for complications from COVID-19, so it’s important that we all take care of each other. Even if we feel like we’re healthy, we could infect someone who isn’t.

When I was eligible to get my booster vaccine, it was nice knowing that I had that extra level of protection for myself personally, but also for when I wanted to be around my parents and my older relatives. In addition, I chose to get vaccinated and boosted to protect my patients who are at risk for complications from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has caused a lot of anxiety for health care providers because of the unknowns and the potential risk for complications for our patients. Among those most concerned are parents whose children may not be old enough to be immunized. We get a lot of phone calls every day from people who had a school exposure or a day care exposure and have questions. For example:

“So what do we do now? What do we do about our other children? What do we do about their grandparents who are supposed to be coming to visit this weekend?”

I try to help my families navigate decisions that have to be made every single day. Answering those questions has had a huge impact on my practice and the people I work with.

We’ve learned so much about how important it is to get a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Getting two doses of the vaccine is a great initial protective measure, but that booster dose is vital to create longer lasting immunity and to increase your level of protection against infection with COVID-19.

It is also important to know that we’ve learned people who are immunized for COVID-19 don’t spread the virus as readily if they become infected. People need to know that it does give you protection, but it also helps protect those around you.

When I talk to the parents of my patients about COVID-19 vaccine, I tell them I am very confident in the safety profile of the vaccine and the effectiveness of the vaccine. We talk about how important it is to protect not only their kids, but also the people in the community their kids come in contact with.

As someone with patients who are at risk for complications and as someone who is immune-compromised, there was no question that vaccination was absolutely the only choice for me.

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Posted In Children's, Coronavirus, Fargo, Immunizations, Physicians and APPs