How Vaccines Helped Reopen Our Practices
To borrow a phrase used by the Queen of England in 1992, last year was an annus horribilis for our patients and our practice.
To borrow a phrase used by the Queen of England in 1992, last year was an annus horribilis for our patients and our practice. It started on January 21, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first case of the COVID-19 found in the United States. The situation quickly deteriorated. By February, the U.S. government had declared a public health emergency. By March, the World Health Organization and CDC had declared it a pandemic.
At the end of March, in Texas, where I practice, the State Board of Dental Examiners decreed that only emergency therapy could be provided. This order stood until the first week of May. Every week, there was a new set of dictums from some regulatory body concerning guidelines that would need to be met in order for us to reopen. These were often contradictory and, in some cases, impossible to achieve. One of our worst nightmares was finding legitimate personal protective equipment. Our periodontics office literally received real N-95 masks the day before we were allowed to reopen. We used the down time to perform a major overhaul of our office that included negative airflow in treatment rooms and suction devices that exponentially reduce aerosols. So, in May, we felt we could deliver care in the safest possible environment. Our patients disagreed.
Their reluctance to seek periodontal care began to change in December when the first vaccines became available. With few exceptions, patients admitted that science had won this one. To come up with effective inoculations so quickly was a tribute to the advanced state of modern vaccine development.
PATIENTS ADMITTED THAT SCIENCE HAD WON THIS ONE
Unfortunately, somewhere between manufacturing and injection, the ball was dropped. It seemed that every state, every county, and every city had a different plan for distribution. Deliveries were spotty, and only limited doses were available at each location. One of the biggest problems was that no one seemed to be in charge; patients were on their own. Thus, for early adopters, the great vaccine hunt was on. We had patients who spent hours on the internet and telephone to track down their doses. Their quest was complicated by decisions regarding vaccination priority. Most agreed that essential healthcare workers and those in nursing homes should receive the vaccine first. Fortunately, as a result of their intense efforts, many early adopters have now received their inoculations.
Even then, many patents were not convinced. Two things eventually helped change their opinions. Most had friends or family who became infected — and some of these outcomes were catastrophic. Hesitancy initially prevailed in our office. That quickly changed after four out of 10 staffers came down with the coronavirus. Second, as more positive results were reported, more patients became comfortable with receiving the vaccine. Attitudes changed once they were vaccinated. Patients felt safer.
As a result, many started to return to our office. Some had delayed needed dental work, some were just happy to leave the house, and some even had disposable income. As a result, former patients are returning and we are seeing an increase in new patients. In spite of the emerging data on virus variants, many have come to accept the current situation and look positively to the future.
Maybe the new normal won’t be so abnormal after all.
Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
From Decisions in Dentistry. April 2021;7(4):5.