Once More into the Breach: Perspectives of an Epidemiologist

By Jenna Cebelius, MPH, HAI Program Coordinator | Health Surveillance Epidemiologist, Division of Laboratory Sciences & Infectious Disease | Vermont Department of Health

I meandered my way through several healthcare positions before landing in healthcare-associated infections epidemiology in January of 2021. Those were dark days. We were still well into our first COVID-19 surge. Our Health Department outbreak team worked long hours providing support to healthcare facilities experiencing outbreaks, severe illnesses, staffing shortages, and supply shortages. Many folks had been in and out of lockdown for a year, separated from loved ones and isolated. People were dying.

With the first wave of primary series vaccines, we watched hospitalizations, cases, and quarantines plummet, and we began to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

With waning immunity and new variants sweeping the globe, we saw another surge entering winter 2022. We were back to long days, crisis staffing in facilities, and supply shortages. In March 2022, when additional booster doses were authorized, outbreaks tapered off enough for us to surface for air.

Though my heart clenches when I see the rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses across the nation, we know there is hope. There is precedent both in our experience these last two winters, and in pandemics before our time, if we stand together against this virus. If we work as one to message the importance and efficacy of vaccination, of treating it like it is just like any other vital sign or other medical intervention, we’ll make it through this winter too, and more as we settle into our new normal.

I know we’re all tired. I know it’s all wrong, and that none of us asked to live through such times. But in the wise words of Mr. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings – “in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

We’ve all seen firsthand how vaccines have improved outcomes for the people we serve, which has in turn improved their lives by allowing us to relax infection prevention and control restrictions and return to a sense of normalcy.

The fight may not be over, but neither is it lost. We’ve made it through two dark, harrowing winters. We’ve seen fear, anxiety, skepticism, burnout, and tragedy. But we’ve also seen firsthand how vaccines help carry our infection prevention and control efforts, how they have improved outcomes, and improved folks’ quality of life, especially when you consider the isolation faced without them.

COVID-19 vaccines, among others (including seasonal flu!), have and will continue to be a light for us in dark places.