By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Most people are familiar with the term “shooting the messenger”. This occurs when someone gets angry at receiving bad news. What is not often recognized is that this is normal expected behavior. It does not make it right. It does not make it good. It just makes it expected.

I once was called to the ER for a pediatric resuscitation. It was for an eight year-old girl. She was playing with her friends in a junkyard. A cabinet had fallen on her chest. She arrived in the ER in cardiac arrest. I lived on base as the Hospital Commanding Officer so I was the closest pediatrician.

I even had one of the security policemen follow me to the ER for running a stop sign on my way there. I had to throw my wallet to one of the techs during the resuscitation so the officer could give me a ticket. I really did not have the time to have a discussion with him.

The resuscitation efforts failed. I finally went out to give the girl’s mother the bad news. She screamed and yelled at me. She told me to go back in and keep working on her daughter. I was the messenger.

The autopsy showed that the chest had ripped the muscles in her heart wide open in three places. Every time her heart beat, blood flowed through the holes into her chest. It was a fatal injury. Nothing could have been done.

This is all a natural part of the grief reaction. The sequence is denial, anger, bargaining, mourning and acceptance. The mother in this case went past denial to anger very quickly. She also went to bargaining thinking that prolonging a resuscitation attempt would be life saving.

We see a similar type of thing during the current COVID-19 epidemic. People are being told they should get vaccines. People are being told they should wear masks. People are being told they have an infection that they do not believe exists. People are being told that the medications they think are useful are not as useful as they think.

The normal reaction is denial. We have seen plenty of that already. There is denial that COVID-19 even exists. There is denial that people have the disease when they are told that. There is denial that the vaccine is effective. There is denial that masks are effective. None of this is surprising. When their viewpoint is contradicted, they see it as a loss.

The second stage is anger. This is where things have gotten out of hand. People are angry about mask requirements. They are angry about vaccine requirements. They are angry about the inconveniences caused by the pandemic. This is also not surprising.

What is surprising is the lengths that they have taken it. A shopper in Germany was asked to wear a mask. He went home and got a gun. He came back and shot the store clerk in the head.

A hostess was attacked in New York City for trying to enforce a mask mandate. School board meetings discussing masks for students are often shouting matches. Staff at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho have been accused of intentionally killing patients. People in vaccine clinics have been attacked.

Individuals have the right to be against some of the procedures in place. As I have repeatedly said, they have the right to wait until they get infected with COVID-19. That will occur eventually.

What they do not have a right to do is take it out on innocent people. If they get news that they do not like, they need to behave like rational individuals. It may be viewed as a loss. It may be grieved. It just is not right to blame it on someone who is just the messenger.

COVID update: Nationally, the number of new cases continued to decrease this week. They went from 850,000 last week to 768,000 this week. It continues to look like the average surge lasts about 100 days.

That would suggest that it is likely that we will see another 100 day seasonal surge begin in late November like last year. The numbers should not be as high as they were last year now that so many people have immunity of some sort.

What this should tell unvaccinated individuals is that they have just enough time to get two doses of vaccine and then allow two weeks to build up their immunity before that surge begins.

Sussex County showed a slight drop in new cases from 895 two weeks ago to 898 last week down to 858 this week.

Sussex County has done well from the standpoint of high risk individual vaccination rate. At this point 99.3 percent of individuals over age 65 are fully vaccinated. That means that there are about 500 individuals over 65 (out of about 61,000 total) in the entire county who are not yet vaccinated.

Those are the ones who have chosen to wait until they get a COVID-19 infection. As I have said the choice is vaccine or infection until we reach herd immunity. You can choose one option or the other.

The number of individuals over age 65 vaccinated in New Castle County is 91.1 percent. The number of individuals over age 65 vaccinated in Kent County is 88.5 percent. Thus Sussex is doing better.

One piece of news last week was from Merck. They had developed an antiviral pill called molnupiravir. The announcement was that the drug cut hospitalization rates by 50 percent.

As is often the case, the specifics of the study were not quite as spectacular as the headline. The first issue is that only 385 patients were given a trial of the drug. The other 377 patients received placebo.

The second issue is that the headline made it sound like a huge number of the ones who received placebo had been hospitalized. In actuality only 53 of the 377 placebo patients were hospitalized. That was 14.1 percent. Comparatively speaking, 28 of the 385 patients taking the drug were hospitalized. That was a total of 7.3 percent.

So 7.3 percent is indeed half of 14.1 percent. However, the numbers are small. That means that there were only 385 patients that could be monitored for side effects. Rarer side effects that occur in less than one out of about 400 patients might be missed.

The initial trial will require further review before any kind of approval is given. An emergency use authorization has been submitted to the FDA.

A key question is whether you would place your trust in the safety of a drug that has been tested in 385 people or a vaccine that has been given to almost 200 million people.