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Local doctors trying to persuade patients to get COVID vaccine

Dr. Bill Borgos

Dr. Bill Borgos, chief medical officer at Hudson Headwaters Health Network, was among the many employees vaccinated in late December. Now, most of his patients are vaccinated against coronavirus, too, but he gets two or three every day who don't want the vaccine.

Every day, Dr. Bill Borgos tries to convince two or three of his patients to get the COVID vaccine.

Borgos, chief medical officer and a primary care physician for Hudson Headwaters Health Network, said at a vaccine hesitancy panel Tuesday that most of his patients are vaccinated. But he always suggests it to the few who haven’t gotten the shot yet.

“It’s really an opportunity during those visits to have one-on-one conversations in the privacy of an exam room,” he said. “That’s a lot easier than giving out general pronouncements.”

Due to the pandemic, he now has a computer in the exam room, which has helped.

“It’s really easy to spin the screen around, show people graphs,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I heard on NBC news …’ and we can actually go to the site, find the story and answer their questions.”

His goal is to get them vaccinated.

“I’m doing my best to reach them,” he said.

It seems to be working: the larger Hudson Headwaters centers open a vaccine vial every day, he said.

Dr. Wouter Ritsema goes straight to that 1% death rate.

Ritsema, a doctor at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, is the coordinator for the northern region regarding the logistics and administration related to vaccination efforts.

“One in 100 is a big number — in Clinton County that would be 800 deaths,” he said at the panel. “If you had those odds in the lottery, I mean the big lottery, how much money would you invest?”

Dr. Elizabeth Bartos has had patients tell her they won’t get vaccinated because so few people die.

Bartos is a primary care physician at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

“I’ve heard that same argument from even a relative. Frustrating,” she said at the panel. “That’s a valid question. I understand why they would think that. The answer to that is the people who are surviving who had it, you may suffer from long-term symptoms. There’s people who had brain fog and extreme fatigue and were not able to go back to work.”

Borgos has gotten that question about the death rate too. He explains that some patients who survive end up with long-haul COVID. Medical science isn’t yet sure why that happens to healthy people.

“We do have patients for whom this lingers. I tell patients, place your bets on not getting COVID at all,” he said.

Some patients have objected because the vaccine does not have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. That is expected this summer. Until then, the vaccine has emergency authorization.

“The whole deal that it was given emergency passage is a big problem for a subset of people,” Bartos said. “They view that as it’s experimental and we’re being experimented on.”

She added that the vaccine is “not at all experimental.”

Other patients say they don’t want it because they have heard the vaccine wouldn’t stop them from spreading COVID. That concern was cited by the Centers for Disease Control as a reason for people to keep wearing masks this winter. Epidemiologists criticized the CDC, saying that the real purpose of the rule was to continue public mask wearing by everyone so that unvaccinated people did not stop wearing masks. The CDC has now acknowledged that vaccinated people are not likely to spread the vaccine and do not have to wear masks or even quarantine if they are exposed to the virus.

“These vaccines are incredibly efficacious in preventing transmission,” Borgos said. “If we do this one small thing, get vaccinated, it’s going to protect our friends, our neighbors, our family. So we really try to talk about that a lot.”

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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