In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Jack Kingsley R.N. attends to a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. Credit: Kyle Green / AP

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Thomas P. Judge is the executive director of LifeFlight of Maine. Norm Dinerman is the medical director of LifeFlight.

We need your help!  

In April 2020, to beat the pandemic, we noted the need to collectively mobilize in the same way we came together to win World War II. We locked down to protect our first responders and hospitals to make sure they would be there when a critically ill or injured patient needed them. We bought some time for science.

Now, LifeFlight cares for multiple, critically ill COVID patients every day. Our hospitals are struggling to absorb more critical patients. This is you, your loved ones, your friends with heart attacks, strokes, trauma, or the myriad diseases needing our operating rooms and ICU’s.

Maine has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the country. More than 870,000 Mainers have started or completed vaccination for COVID-19. A tremendous effort, but more than 450,000 Mainers, over 35 percent of us, are not vaccinated, including all of our children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

In the news, people argue about new state and federal mandates focused on making sure all healthcare workers, the people who take care of you when you are sick, are vaccinated to keep you safe, as well as working towards more universal vaccination. We know people are not comfortable with mandates. We do not like mandates either.

But, the mandates are driven by the game-changing impact of the Delta variant. New hospitalizations and deaths continue rising at alarming rates. The increased transmission and virulence of the Delta variant are not being held at bay by our previous mitigation measures of lock down, masks, social distance, or hand washing. We know, while small in number, even people who are vaccinated can acquire and transmit COVID, hence the return to masks indoors. All mitigation measures remain vitally important, but vaccination is the only true protection.

We know people are hesitant about a “new” vaccine. We understand their concerns. We know from national data, there can be both adverse (health impacting) and unpleasant side effects (short lived, not health impacting) from the vaccines. But, the risk of an adverse effect is miniscule compared to the number of vaccines administered; the risk of unpleasant vaccine side effects are minimal compared to the risk of acquiring COVID.

The COVID vaccines have undergone the most intense monitoring program ever undertaken for any vaccine or medicine. You are far more likely to die from COVID, which we now know is possible to contract again. At this point we absolutely know the vaccines are safe and effective.

Nationally, the numbers change every day but according to the Mailman School of Public Health, 1 in every 3 Americans has acquired COVID, and while most people have mild to moderate illness, approximately 1 in every 160 Americans have been hospitalized and 1 in every 496 Americans have died from COVID. Our colleagues across the country are in even worse predicaments with physicians having to triage who gets care and who does not, as there are more patients than resources. These are staggering wartime numbers.

Worse, with this surge, critically ill patients are much younger — 20 percent are less than 20 years old with younger children in much higher numbers. What is happening in other states, and it frankly scares us, is on the edge of happening in Maine. We are at war with an insidious disease that evolves faster than we do. This is a worldwide war fought with science, not weapons, with safe practices and vaccines, not bomb shelters.

Vaccine mandates are to protect our businesses, our communities, and our economy. Most importantly, vaccination protects our children as we send everyone back to school. As much as it may feel uncomfortable and ‘not right’, vaccinations are critical to making sure all of us are safe.

We are all in this together and we need all of us to work together, to come together to defeat COVID. LifeFlight needs your help to save lives.