As a physician, I know that COVID-19 is extremely dangerous. That message has been lost on some. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is killing more than 3,000 people in the United States each day. We now have the “antidote” in two highly efficacious and safe vaccines. Once the vaccine supply increases significantly this spring, we can stop the death, illness, emotional toll, and economic destruction the pandemic has wrought upon us. We need a large population to be vaccinated to end the situation, and we can largely do so by the second half of the summer. Yet, there is still a sizeable percentage of people who are hesitant to receive vaccine.
From years of experience with vaccines for many types of disease, I know that they are safe. The clinical trial data for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 showed they, like other vaccines, are also safe. I received the vaccine myself, and I am thrilled to be one step closer to protecting my family and friends. As you have heard, these two vaccines were shown to be highly efficacious at preventing COVID-19 at around 95 percent. What is even more remarkable is that the vaccines had an even greater effect at preventing death, hospitalization, and debilitating disease.
Already, during the first week of vaccination for the public, the uptake is very high. More than 21,000 Vermonters 75 and older have already signed up for their vaccine. (Those 75 and older can still get an appointment at https://vermont.force.com/events/s/selfregistration.) Greater than 7 percent of the U.S. population is now vaccinated, and 41 percent of adults surveyed intend to get the vaccine as soon as they can. Another 31 percent said they will wait to “see how things play out.” Now that 25 million Americans have received the vaccine, there is no need for that group to wait any longer. Get the vaccine as soon as you can. It is the best course of action.
Given the heightened emotions and anxiety we all have experienced over the past year, the apprehension to vaccine is completely understandable. I regularly have dialogue with patients and groups with specific concerns and those who simply want to talk through the decision. The thought process can be broken down into five simple statements that are easy to remember and comprehend:
1: The COVID-19 vaccines in use are safe and now have been received by millions of people.
2: COVID-19 is incredibly dangerous and has killed nearly half a million people in the U.S. and had detrimental impacts on countless more.
3: The vaccines work incredibly well.
4: Those who do not get vaccinated will undoubtedly contract the virus within 2021 or 2022. There is no avoiding the virus without extreme measures for years.
5: These lead to the simple recognition that being vaccinated is immensely safer than not being vaccinated.
People who are worried about receiving the vaccine have a lot of good questions, and I want to answer them.
Q: What were the results of the Pfizer and Moderna trials in regards to safety?
A: Similar to other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines can cause fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and injection site pain. Up to 15 percent reported lymph node swelling in the armpits that was temporary and due to the body mounting an appropriate immune response. Serious events for both sets of vaccine recipients were the same as those experienced by those who received the placebo, meaning they were not due to the vaccine itself.
Q: What about all the claims that the vaccine causes harm?
A: The false assertions placed on the internet by certain individuals are harmful to society and, sadly, may extend the duration of the pandemic. They are biologically implausible, and it disheartening to see them cause unnecessary anxiety among thoughtful, intelligent, caring people simply trying to learn and make a rationale decision for themselves and loved ones.
Q: Why does everyone have to get vaccinated? Won’t the vaccinated people be protected even if I don’t get vaccinated?
A: I noted above that the vaccines are around 95 percent efficacious, which is remarkable. With enough encounters to unvaccinated people who are carrying the virus, even vaccinated
people are at risk. For illustrative purposes, think about drawing a number out of a hat containing 100 numbers. And let’s identify the number 25 as an example. Your chances of drawing the number 25 is very low, one in 100. If you repeat this exercise only on rare occasion, the chances you draw number 25 remains sufficiently low. However, if you do this on a frequent basis, the chances of drawing the number 25 becomes almost certain. You will eventually find the number 25 in your hand. The “chance” here is similar to the “risk” associated with getting COVID-19. The more often you encounter someone carrying the virus, even if you are vaccinated, the greater the “chance” you will contract the disease. Getting most everyone vaccinated soon means you will rarely — or never — have to draw from the hat again.
If you have questions about the vaccine, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to answer them in next week’s e-newsletter.
We have so much to gain — and nothing to lose — by getting vaccinated. Please join my colleagues and me by getting vaccinated, listening to the concerns of those who are reluctant to get the vaccine, and providing them with reliable sources of information about the vaccines. These actions are our best hope to reduce severe sickness and deaths, to be able to travel again, and to gather with friends and family again.