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Battling the Lingering Effects of COVID-19

Keith Graham, MD, D-ABSM

Keith Graham, MD, D-ABSM

“If you think you are young, vigorous and invincible, which a lot of us think that way, you are probably not.”

In March 2020, Keith Graham, MD, D-ABSM, pulmonologist at Cape Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, a Saint Francis Medical Partner, contracted COVID-19. He was one of the first in the region to be hospitalized and waged a significant fight against the deadly virus. Months later, Graham is back to treating patients, but he and his family still notice long-term mental and physical side effects of COVID. He urges everyone eligible to get vaccinated. Read more about his experience with COVID to better understand why…

Can you describe your personal experience with COVID-19?

“I contracted COVID relatively early in the pandemic. I wound up in the hospital for quite some time. I had everything you would get if you were sick with COVID: I was on a ventilator and had to have dialysis, blood transfusions, a tracheostomy, plasma exchange and rehabilitation. Although it was early, the doctors at Saint Francis Medical Center extensively examined articles to find what treatments would work and which were not as effective. Eventually, I got better, but it took several months of recovery.”

What was the recovery process like for you?

“I was not able to return to work for six months. At least four months of that, I was pretty sick with an ongoing cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. Some of those things still persist today, but to a lesser degree.”

What effect did your hospitalization have on your family?

“My wife gave updates about my entire hospitalization on Facebook. If you read through those, you can see the emotional roller coaster and physical toll it took on my family. If you can prevent your family from enduring that, I don’t know why you wouldn’t. I was sedated, paralyzed, or both most of the time I was in the ICU, so I do not remember any of it. I do remember recovery and how long it took to get better, but others remember everything. It was definitely a burden for my whole family. That is another reason to get a vaccine: so you do not have this happen to your family.”

Did you get vaccinated even though you had COVID?

“Yes, I did. The CDC still recommends the vaccine for people who have had COVID because we do not know how long natural immunity will last or if it will be effective against variants. The vaccine offers additional protection. If you had COVID, you still need a vaccine. If you have not had COVID, you need a vaccine to prevent you from getting COVID. If you are not worried about getting COVID, get a vaccine to protect those around you who are worried or at higher risk.”

Some people are declining the vaccine due to its rapid release. What are your thoughts?

“The vaccines received emergency-use authorization to expedite their distribution. A lot of people get hung up on the fact the vaccines are not FDA approved yet; however, they should be approved soon.”

How effective are the vaccines?

“The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are around 95 percent effective at preventing infection. They all prevent severe disease, and are also effective, to some extent, against the newer, increasingly dangerous Delta variant.”

As a medical professional, can you dispel rumors about the vaccines?

“The vaccine does not track you in any way. It does not have a chip in it or change your DNA. Two of the vaccines work through messenger RNA and the other vaccine deals with a part of the protein carried inside the virus – these do not affect DNA at all.”

What about herd immunity?

“At some point, we will reach a high enough immunity in the population, but we are far from that. Plus, we still do not know what percentage of the population has to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Is it 50 percent of our population? 70 percent? Because of this, everyone above the age of 12 should get vaccinated.”

What is the point of getting vaccinated if you can still get COVID?

“The vaccine should prevent you from having a severe infection. Getting vaccinated is another way to protect you, protect your family and protect the community at large.”

What are your thoughts on the level of protection the vaccines offer against COVID variants?

“The vaccine offers some protection against these new strains. To what extent, we do not know, but it is better than having no protection at all. We also know the Delta variant is causing more problems in younger people. We are seeing unvaccinated younger people get infected with the Delta variant and having more profound clinical courses and more serious complications. If you think you are young, vigorous and invincible, which a lot of us think that way, you are probably not. You still need to go ahead and get the vaccine.”

Any final thoughts regarding getting vaccinated?

“Nearly every individual in the country has already benefitted from vaccines: for example measles, mumps, rubella, polio and pertussis. The vaccines you get in childhood are similar to what we are getting now. The arguments that you do not want to get a COVID vaccine because of safety or the way it is manufactured are faulty. The entire process is similar to the way we have done it forever. Nobody wants to go back to the days when polio was prevalent, and the reason polio stays gone is the vaccine. Smallpox was eradicated because of the vaccine. If we want to prevent large pandemics, the only way to do that is through vaccination.”


To schedule a COVID vaccination at Saint Francis Medical Center, please call 573-381-5958.

If you have additional questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and your personal health history, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or locate one here.

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