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Q: Do I need to get a vaccine even if I’m young and healthy? Doesn’t the coronavirus mainly affect the elderly?

In the first phase of the pandemic, older people seemed to be hit harder by COVID. That’s not the case anymore. The patients we are seeing at the hospital now are much younger than we’ve seen in previous surges, and they're very sick. Normally, a younger person can fight off serious viral illness without any residual effects, but with COVID we’re seeing otherwise healthy individuals decline quickly.

Currently, around 60% of COVID patients being treated at Maui Memorial Medical Center are under the age of 60. This is partly because the Delta variant is so much more aggressive, and partly because younger people are less likely to be vaccinated. Also, younger individuals (compared to those older than 60) are more likely to be out and about, whether it is because their jobs require them to be in contact with people, or they are attending more social gatherings.

The bottom line is the vaccine is very effective at preventing hospitalization, severe illness, and death from COVID-19. The majority of patients we’re seeing in the hospital now are unvaccinated. Sadly, most patients I’ve treated have told me they wish they could turn back time and get the vaccine. Many beg their family members to get vaccinated, so they don’t end up in the hospital.

COVID-19 is not like the flu. With the flu, most people get better after a few days. Rarely does a young, healthy person end up on a ventilator or die because of the flu. Compared with the flu, the severity of COVID illness in young people is staggering, especially with the Delta variant.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and highly effective. Protect yourself and your community by getting vaccinated today. If you have medical, religious, or other personal reasons why you can’t or won’t get vaccinated, please take extra steps to stay safe. While it is true that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can contract and spread COVID, current research still shows that vaccinated individuals carry far more protection against serious illness from COVID than those that are not vaccinated.

Michael J. Shea , MD

Critical Care Medicine

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793