As a doctor, along with millions of others on Monday I whooped for joy to see the first people in the world receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the UK. The same vaccine was authorized by the FDA in the US on Friday night. This monumental event is on a par with other historical developments such as the discovery of penicillin or the first steps on the moon.
So after all the heartache this despicable virus has caused, why would anyone not want to get vaccinated? According to a recent poll, only about half of Americans want to get the vaccine. Nearly a quarter remain unsure, and the final quarter plan to refuse.
I’m incredulous. So I’m writing this to set the record straight.
Here’s the question: Do you want life to return to normal by the spring? Read on to see why refusing to get the COVID vaccine would be your #1 worst mistake, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
The Many Benefits of Vaccination
Vaccines save millions of lives. Across the globe, immunizations that are currently in use protect against 19 different viruses. Every year, these vaccinations save 2 million to 3 million lives. Vaccines are a phenomenal public health success. The new COVID-19 vaccine now becomes number 20 on the list.
Vaccines can eradicate viruses completely. If enough of the population gets vaccinated, it is possible to eradicate an infection completely. However, even if total eradication is never achieved, a virus can still be essentially eliminated because cases of infection become so rare.
Vaccines protect you. For you as an individual, the aim of having the vaccine is to stop you from becoming infected. If, however, you do become infected after being vaccinated, there is every likelihood that the infection will be less severe and less prolonged. Vaccines stop you from becoming severely ill and can save your life.
Vaccines create large healthcare savings. Vaccinations have overall health benefits for every country. Worldwide, vaccinations result in billions of dollars of healthcare savings. They also lead to fewer prescriptions of antibiotics, which will reduce antibiotic resistance.
Vaccinations improve life expectancy from other diseases. In one US study of older people, those who received a flu vaccine had a 20% lower risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks, and a 50% lower chance of dying from them than people who hadn’t been vaccinated against the flu.
Here are more simple facts about vaccines:
Allow us to undertake safe international travel
Protect babies and young children from common childhood infections
Protect and support primary care health services
Empower women to plan their families, continue their education and maintain their options in the workplace
Reduce the threat of bioterrorism
Redress disparities in health between different communities
Help maintain peace and prosperity (WHO 2008)
A 2015 study published in the journal Vaccine reviewed the medical evidence on vaccine safety. The authors described the meticulous testing and safety procedures used in vaccine development and declared that vaccines were among the safest medicines in clinical use.
Vaccine development and administration involves a very sophisticated reporting system. Very often, when an adverse outcome is reported about a vaccine, it is not actually caused by the vaccine. For example, the flu vaccine contains dead flu virus and can’t give you the flu. If you develop the flu within a few days of being vaccinated, chances are you’ve probably been infected a few days before you got the vaccine.
In the journal Vaccine, the authors considered the ways in which vaccines can potentially be harmful.
Anyone can be allergic to anything. That’s serious, because if you’re unlucky enough to experience acute anaphylaxis, it can be life-threatening. However, the risk of anaphylaxis from vaccines is low and rarely fatal, because anaphylaxis is treatable.
In one 2003 study, 7,644,049 doses of vaccine given to children and adolescents resulted in five possible cases of vaccine-associated anaphylaxis, and there were no deaths. That’s a tiny risk for a huge benefit.
The risk of anaphylaxis from the flu vaccine is estimated to be 1.31 per 1 million vaccine doses.
What about the new COVID vaccine?
On the first day of the COVID-19 UK vaccination program, there were two cases of anaphylactoid reaction. Both people affected were treated and have completely recovered.
The UK regulatory agency MHRA has said that anyone who has experienced immediate anaphylaxis—usually requiring them to carry an EpiPen—should not have the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine until more information is known.
In terms of common allergens, the vaccine is not grown in hen’s eggs and is latex-free. It’s possible that the risk of an anaphylactoid reaction is due to the small quantity of polyethylene glycol (PEG) in the vaccine. PEG is a common ingredient of cosmetic products and has not been associated with significant safety concerns.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trials did not include people with severe anaphylaxis, as is normal practice. According to the trial data, possible allergic reactions were reported in 0.63% of those who were vaccinated and 0.51% of those given a placebo. Experts have said this is a very low risk. New medicines are always closely monitored, and the monitoring system is working well.
What about giving vaccines to people who are immunocompromised?
“Live attenuated” vaccines are vaccines that contain living organisms modified so they don’t cause an infection if you have a healthy immune system. However, people with a severely weakened immune system should not use them.
The COVID-19 vaccines are not live attenuated vaccines, so they could potentially be used in people who are immunocompromised. What is not known is how effective the antibody response is in these patients. Further advice is awaited.
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
GBS is an auto-immune condition triggered by a bacterial or a viral infection, leading to nerve damage.
It is not clear from medical studies whether vaccination might increase the risk of GBS. In one 2009 study, those who had received the H1N1 vaccination had a lower rate of GBS than those who did not. In other studies, deaths in people with GBS were not considered to be related to the use of any specific vaccinations.
Around 3% of the population has a fear of needles. Some people may faint when they have a blood test or a shot. Associated head injuries have been reported. When you’re vaccinated, a healthcare professional will ensure you’re as safe as possible. A 15-minute observation period is recommended after any injection.
A host of incorrect facts are circulating about the COVID vaccine. Please rest assured that the following statements are all true:
The COVID vaccine will not change your DNA.
The COVID vaccine does not contain material from a dead fetus.
The COVID vaccine does not contain heavy metals.
The COVID vaccine does not contain a microchip.
Vaccines are not a cause of autism.
Just because the vaccine was produced in record time does not mean it’s not safe.
For more details about these points, read this extremely eloquent post by Chris York on HuffPost.
You might be thinking, “If everyone else gets vaccinated, I don’t need to bother.” This is not correct. For starters, some people can’t have the vaccine for medical reasons (for example, those who have severe allergies or are immunocompromised).
Second, by not getting the vaccine, you’ll inevitably encourage others to follow that example. To protect the full population, we need to create herd immunity, meaning that large numbers of people need to be vaccinated.
Herd immunity means that so many people have antibodies to a virus that it has nowhere to go. This high level of immunity stops the virus from spreading. To develop herd immunity to COVID, 80% to 90% of us need to get the vaccine.
Remember that COVID is much more deadly than the flu
COVID-10 is not an infection to be trifled with.
“Since December 2019, COVID-19 has killed more people in the USA than influenza has in the past five years,” writes virologist Andrew Stanley Pekosz, Ph.D. One reason, he explains, is that none of us are immune to COVID-19, whereas we’re likely to have encountered the flu virus before. COVID causes much more severe disease than influenza, and it has a higher mortality in all age groups except children younger than 12.
COVID infection is particularly risky for older adults, those who are immunocompromised, and people with other comorbidities such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
COVID affects the body differently than influenza. For example, it stimulates blood-clotting mechanisms and increases the risk of thrombosis (blood clots). The death rate from COVID is at least three times higher than that of the flu. Those who survive severe COVID can have long-lasting symptoms, including chronic lung, heart and kidney disease—a.k.a. Long COVID.
The best way to deal with COVID-19 is to prevent it. How? Get the COVID vaccine.
We are all human, and humans make mistakes. But not getting the COVID vaccine is a mistake you can avoid.
If you’ve read through this post, you should be convinced that COVID-19 is a deadly infection and that the new COVID vaccine is safe and effective. Many of the rumors you’ve heard about the vaccination are completely untrue.
Get vaccinated to protect yourself and to help protect everyone you love. This is not someone else’s responsibility. It’s yours.
If you want life to return to normal by spring or summer 2021, it’s time to roll up your sleeve.
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.