As the first vaccines for COVID-19 are distributed to those at the front of the line, Americans are — rightly so — being given a choice about whether to receive the vaccine themselves.
I am not a doctor qualified to give medical advice, and I also can’t tell the future, so feel free to take the rest of this column with a grain of salt. But, in the interest of transparency, I am sharing why I personally plan to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to me.
First, I trust the safety and effectiveness of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines approved so far, as do people in the medical field I respect, and millions of other health care professionals the world over who have so far received their first dose.
Given the way some politicians have tried to inappropriately politicize government messaging on the pandemic, I get why Americans are hesitant in trusting what they are hearing now. But these vaccines were developed by private companies and have been scrutinized and approved many times over by regulatory agencies around the world, in countries across the spectrum of political leanings. Some states within the United States also set up their own panels of experts to judge the vaccine, and the data from trials has been made public.
The most common doubt I hear is, “How was this vaccine developed in such an unprecedented amount of time?” But the scale of this effort — from the funding to the number of people involved to the level of collaboration — is also completely unprecedented. If you have always put together jigsaw puzzles by yourself and one day you invite three friends to help, it would not be surprising if the puzzle came together faster than usual.
Even though this specific variety of coronavirus is new, scientists were already studying the idea of coronavirus vaccines after past outbreaks of COVID’s cousins, SARS and MERS. Researchers say that data was invaluable in providing a head start. Medical science has also advanced greatly since the advent of vaccines for diseases such as polio.
If I asked you what would happen if you dropped a bowling ball off the roof of your house, you might confidently tell me that the ball would quickly drop to the ground below. It wouldn’t matter if you had never specifically dropped a bowling ball off your roof before; you know how gravity works and you have seen how bowling balls behave in other circumstances. Similarly, despite having never encountered this specific virus before, scientists already had a wide body of knowledge about viruses and the immune system.
Others are concerned about possible complications. It is true that a small percentage of people so far have had significant allergic reactions to the vaccine. But they have recovered thanks to the EpiPens that in most cases they already carried because of severe allergies to other substances. The same thing would happen if you gave several million people peanuts, or eggs, or bread.
While there is no way to 100% guarantee that none of the COVID-19 vaccines have any long-term side effects, the science behind them is considered sound, and there is no indication so far that there will be problems. Remember, you try new foods that appear on grocery shelves all the time despite the fact that no one can guarantee this brand new flavor of potato chips won’t cause liver failure (in fact, many people drink alcohol despite knowing heavy use can damage their liver).
We do have plenty of documentation of long-term side effects for COVID-19. So far, 1.7% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States have died from it. In Oregon, 5.7% of people who have tested positive have been hospitalized during their illness. A growing number of other Americans have been disabled by flu-like symptoms going on nine months now, or have experienced permanent lung damage, heart damage, short term memory loss, loss of taste or smell, kidney failure or other lasting side effects.
Nothing in life is without risk, but the odds of living the rest of my life in good health seem far better with the vaccine than with COVID-19.
The past year has been miserable, and I want to get back to “normal” life. I’m tired of people who complain constantly about the pandemic and yet refuse to wear masks, social distance, get a vaccine or do literally anything to help things change. I’m willing to do my part to improve our circumstances, and I hope others in the greater Hermiston area will be too.