Advice Against Catching COVID on Purpose
I have heard some buzz in the community and among national media that people who are vaccinated and boosted and who have not yet been infected with COVID are considering becoming infected on purpose. This is not a good idea. Let me tell you why.
“Mild” is a relative term. Those advocating for getting sick on purpose are listening to scientists and medical leaders who say that, as a vaccinated and boosted person, they are not likely to get a very serious case. This is true. I have said it myself. Please understand that I am seeing the sickest patients, patients on ventilators, patients who have been in the Intensive Care Unit for many weeks. By comparison, a case that keeps you out of work for 2 weeks looks “mild” to some healthcare leaders using these terms. But the illness usually causes overwhelming fatigue, often with unrelenting cough, bone and joint pain, and residual low energy that make returning to work, caring for children, and restarting school look impossible for days to weeks after illness is over.
Infection doesn’t provide protection. Omicron is not the chicken pox; getting it now will not protect you over the long term. So getting infected with omicron now has the potential to take you out of work or school for weeks without any long term benefit beyond 90 days or so.
Any case of COVID could become serious. We get vaccinated and boosted to vastly decrease our chances of getting a serious case of COVID, not to eliminate the chances entirely. You could have a complicating condition that you don’t know about yet. Don’t take the risk.
COVID is still tricky to treat. Some of the most effective medications for treating COVID are currently limited to those with high-risk conditions. Even then, some are not in abundant supply.
Infection could relate to long-term symptoms. You remember “long COVID?” We are certain that long COVID affects a percentage of those who battled the original strain of COVID. We are not yet certain that it doesn’t affect those who are infected with delta or omicron. Please do not gamble your future health and wellbeing.
Maybe most importantly, catching COVID keeps the virus in circulation and puts others at risk. What if, in the few days between when you become contagious and when you develop symptoms, you spread COVID to someone who is not as well protected by the vaccine as you are? That person could end up in the hospital. That’s very sad for the patient and equally as sad for the doctors and nurses caring for them. We are already overextended. Please don’t be nonchalant about continuing the pandemic!
Continuing mitigation doesn’t mean you can’t live your life. There is so much you can do while still protecting yourself and others from a potentially deadly virus. Hang out with small groups of fully vaccinated and boosted people. Meet up with bigger groups of people or those who are not vaccinated outside. Wear a well-fitting mask in public. Patronize theaters and restaurants who require customers show their vaccination card.
The prevalence of omicron and the low vaccination rates worldwide have scientists betting that this will not be our last variant. In fact, we could be dealing with serious cases of COVID for years to come. Rather than needlessly infecting ourselves, I recommend that we finally come to recognize mitigation measures as the norm.
Marie George, MD, is the infectious disease specialists at SVMC Infectious Disease, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.