As I pause from composing this message and look out my window here at BUMED headquarters I’m pleased to see that spring has finally arrived. Spring fever means something much different this year than last. A year ago it meant the clinical manifestation of a virus we were only beginning to understand. Twelve months later spring fever reflects our impatience to enjoy the blessings of the natural world without the precaution of having to wear a mask or stay at least six feet away from our friends and families. That we are emerging from this pandemic is a reflection of the hard work done by everyone on the One Navy Medicine team, several examples of which I have shared with you in prior messages. Our initial efforts to get testing to the field have been matched by a full court press to get vaccine in arms and you have responded. Whether it is supporting local immunization efforts at your MTF or on your installation or participating as a member of a Community Vaccination Team in support of FEMA and the states, you have answered the call. Bottom line, while we are still fully engaged in defeating this viral adversary, we can pause, do some mental “spring cleaning” to reset our expectations and look forward to the promise of the future once again.
One way that the One Navy Medicine team can accelerate this return to normalcy for ourselves and our communities is to maximally leverage the most important weapon we have in this fight: COVID-19 vaccines. In my discussions with those who remain reluctant to take the vaccine the two keys concerns are the perception that the vaccines were developed too quickly and that they would lead to serious side effects. In fact, the rapid fielding of the vaccines represents a triumph of medical technology and genomics years in the making and they have proven themselves extremely safe. There is no better protection for an individual, a family or the community than the immunity produced by the COVID-19 vaccination.
As we have learned over the past year, there is tremendous power in listening. By suspending judgement and putting our biases aside we deepen our understanding and acceptance of difference. This is essential to the development of mutual respect and trust. The issue of whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccination is an opportunity to exercise this skill. If you remain hesitant to receive it, listening to the evidence about the vaccine and comparing that against your preconceptions will hopefully address your concerns. For those who are advising those who have not received it, stepping back and listening to their concerns will deepen your understanding of how individual difference, perspective and background inform personal medical decisions, an essential skill not only for clinicians but all of us as we seek first to understand and to celebrate our individual strengths.
So, as you prepare to enjoy the annual renewal that spring has to offer, step back for a moment and reflect on how far we have come in a year. Your dedication, persistence and resilience will continue to pay an increasing dividend as we redouble our efforts to achieve maximum immunity for ourselves, our families and ultimately our communities.
With my continued respect and admiration,
Bruce L. Gillingham, MD, CPE, FAOA
RADM, MC, USN
Surgeon General, U.S. Navy
Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery