Representative Bryan Terry, MD (R-Murfreesboro) was the first Tennessee legislator to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and is one of the first Tennesseans to recover from a breakthrough infection. He is thankful for the vaccine and has encouraged others to talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated.
“I know what it was like in our hospital and across the state. I’ve walked willingly into hospital rooms and ICU rooms to take care of COVID patients. With what I’ve encountered, I feel fortunate to have not contracted COVID before a vaccine was available,” stated Terry. “I have since contracted, and recovered from, COVID through what is called a ‘breakthrough infection.’ With my health history, it could have been much worse. I am convinced the vaccine protected my health and possibly saved me from an extensive hospitalization or death. All Tennesseans, especially those with risk, need to talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated.”
Rep. Terry is the Chairman of the Tennessee House Health Committee and an anesthesiologist in Murfreesboro. He has had asthma since childhood and survived four blood clots in his lungs in 2016. He exercises daily and incorporates running, yoga, and HIIT training into his routine. Yet, he says that the coronavirus knocked him down as it ran its course.
“I often joke and tell people that I may not be the picture of health; however, I am the Chairman of health. In all seriousness, though, I do exercise and get my steps in every day, but I carry a few co-morbidities,” explained Terry. “I recently had a known exposure to COVID and developed some symptoms. I tested positive and went into quarantine. Muscle and joint pains, fatigue, and other cold-like symptoms kept me down, but I never developed the severe respiratory problems associated with COVID. I credit the vaccine for helping prevent major problems. I’m still not 100 percent, but I’m getting there.”
Though roughly 3 million Tennesseans have been vaccinated, Tennesseans and the rest of the country are starting to see breakthrough COVID-19 infections in vaccinated people and some reinfections in those with previous COVID infections. The Delta variant has been prevalent in the US and accounts for roughly 80 percent of new infections in Tennessee. Statistically, 97 percent of hospitalizations in Tennessee and 98 percent of deaths are in unvaccinated individuals.
“I’ve never been under the illusion that I would never get infected even after vaccination. It’s just been my hope that, when I did get infected, I wouldn’t have a major reaction,” stated Terry. “I’ve had medical and legislative colleagues that have had severe and deadly reactions. I’ve seen patients on ventilators and have bad outcomes. I don’t wish that on anyone. Many folks don’t trust the government, the media, or politicians, but most trust their doctor. It’s a conversation folks need to have.”
Though only 38.5 percent of Tennesseans are vaccinated, that statistic doesn’t tell the complete story. When combined with patients who have developed natural immunity from a previous COVID infection and those under 12 who are ineligible for the vaccine, the percentage of Tennesseans at low risk is around 70 percent. That leaves about 30 percent of the population who are eligible and don’t have some immunity. Additionally, over 25 percent of those over age 60 aren’t vaccinated, and that number is concerning to Terry.
“When you look at the demographics of the subset of unvaccinated, eligible Tennesseans, what stands out to me is those over 60. While the majority of those who are unvaccinated are much younger and have a much lower risk, the older you are, the greater your risk,” explained Terry. “As an elected official, when you talk to folks over 60, Medicare and their grandchildren are the top topics. As a state representative, I can’t do anything about Medicare, but I can advocate for a healthy grandparent-grandchild relationship. Decreasing one’s risk of a COVID infection is certainly one way to ensure a healthy relationship.”
Once the vaccines became available, the rate of hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID dropped dramatically, but communities are starting to see an uptick in new cases and hospitalizations. Though most recent COVID-related morbidity and mortality are in unvaccinated individuals, breakthrough infections are occurring in vaccinated people. Lower efficacy against COVID-19 variants, one’s own immunocompromised state, or even decreased effectiveness of the vaccine over time are factors doctors are studying that may lead to breakthrough infections. Still, Dr. Terry believes that vaccination, while not perfect, is the most effective way medically to prevent serious complications or death from COVID.
“While every medicine, including vaccines, has some side effects or risks, and each individual has different health, family, and work circumstances, the risk/benefit ratio benefits most folks. The more folks that get vaccinated, the lower the overall risk for the community, as well. Every American has had and continues to have an opportunity to get vaccinated. Knowing what I know, seeing what I have seen, and experiencing COVID-19 myself, I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking counsel with your doctor about getting vaccinated,” concluded Terry.