There’s a lot of misinformation to unpack here. As has been well reported, younger individuals and those across many occupations are among the more than 320,000 Americans who have succumbed to covid-19. Even setting aside those facts, Buck’s statement reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how vaccines work. Vaccines protect more than the individual who is inoculated; the goal is to have enough of the population vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity,” which is also, accurately, called “community immunity.” The more people who are immune means fewer people the virus can infect — lowering the infection rate and the risk for us all.
Another reason that everyone eligible should get the vaccine is to protect those who cannot get it. With studies on children and the virus just getting started, it’s likely that young kids and babies won’t be able to receive the vaccine until fall 2021. Immunosuppressed people may need to rely on the immunity of others to help them stay healthy. In this sense, not getting a vaccine is like not wearing a mask: Your decision affects not just you but everyone around you, too.
There’s no point in getting the vaccine if we still have to wear masks. Vaccinated people should keep wearing masks and follow social distancing guidelines. In fact, we will all need to wear masks for some time. Although the vaccine is more than 94 percent effective at reducing symptomatic illness, it isn’t yet known whether it reduces the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus and being an asymptomatic carrier — a person who can unknowingly infect others.
As vaccination brings us all closer to herd immunity, there will be a point when enough of the population is protected that we can do away with masks. That could happen by the end of 2021. In the meantime, vaccination is a crucial tool. It doesn’t replace other tools but is a powerful measure that can help save lives and help the economy recover.
We don’t know how long the vaccine will protect us. Virus mutations could mean the vaccine won’t work. A study of the Moderna vaccine found a robust antibody response for at least 119 days. We don’t yet have data beyond this, though some experts believe immunity should last at least a year. As for mutations, all viruses mutate. Vaccines are designed to consider possible mutations, though it’s possible that enough mutations could eventually reduce the potency of the existing vaccines.
It may turn out that people have to receive regular booster shots, as we already do for tetanus or an annual shot that adjusts for variants, as we do for influenza. The theoretical necessity of future vaccinations doesn’t override the urgency of getting one now.
The vaccine is not safe. People have cited different safety concerns. For those worried about the messenger RNA technology, this is how it works: The mRNA is a portion of the genetic code that teaches cells how to make a protein that then triggers an immune response. Importantly, the mRNA of the vaccine never enters the nucleus of people’s cells and does not interact with an individual’s DNA. None of the coronavirus vaccines being tested in the United States contain a live virus, so no one will get covid-19 from the vaccine. Although it’s often heralded as a new method, this technology has been in development for decades.
For those worried about political interference in expediting approval, it’s critical to emphasize that no shortcuts were taken in research or the approval process. Vaccine safety was tested in phase 3 trials involving tens of thousands of participants. External committees of scientists vetted the data and produced independent recommendations to support vaccine authorization.
Allergic reactions suggest that the vaccine is dangerous for at least some people. Allergic reactions can easily be treated without lasting consequences. The same cannot be said about covid-19. Allergic reactions also happen right away — within minutes. It isn’t yet known what component of the vaccine triggers allergic reactions, but there is no reason for people with food or medication allergies to avoid the vaccine as long as they are monitored in a health-care setting.
Over the next several months, we may all hear family, friends and colleagues express vaccine hesitancy. Let’s approach them with empathy, understand the cause of their concern and aim to address those issues with accurate information. Ending the pandemic will require all of us talking to those we know to debunk myths and help everyone understand that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving.