Vaccine Hesitancy? The Devil is In the Details, Part 2

While over half of all Americans have made the decision to protect themselves, their families, and the people around them through vaccination, some folks are still holding out and quite frankly are opposed to COVID vaccination. This concerns us as healthcare providers and makes our job actually more difficult since those who aren’t vaccinated can certainly still get sick and introduce variants of the virus that make the illness prolonged and more severe. This is Part 2 of a two-part series on vaccine hesitancy and our attempt at addressing concerns on becoming vaccinated. Part 1 covered issues regarding the speed and development of the newer mRNA vaccines and how they would work differently from traditional vaccinations. Part 2 will focus on the efficacy and safety of current vaccines for COVID.

For our own patients who have held out, we’ve found ourselves spending time with them countering with medical facts and sharing the science, but ultimately have learned that this decision is more deeply rooted in fear and lack of trust rather than knowledge alone. This is unfortunate because believing that vaccination is a conspiracy or even harmful to our American public is almost as tragic as the pandemic itself. This shouldn’t be a political decision either. Leaders and members from all parties, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have all come out and recommended getting the vaccine. It was the former President himself who started Operation Warp Speed and ensured that it would produce a safe and effective vaccine against the COVID virus faster than any other time in history. The current Administration has continued to supply vaccines to every American at no charge and you can even have your manufacturer of choice if you’re willing to shop around.

Does the COVID Vaccine Work?

If you’re questioning whether the COVID vaccines will work, the results are in. As vaccination rates have increased across the country, we’ve seen the number of cases decrease dramatically as a result. People who get vaccinated are overwhelmingly less likely to get seriously sick from COVID, rarely ever have to go to the hospital because of COVID, and almost never die from COVID. That’s a lot better than taking your chances with the natural infection: 1 in 6 people will develop serious breathing or other organ problems, and just under 2% will die. And even a mild case of COVID can make you feel pretty sick. If it doesn’t, you can walk around spreading it to your families and your coworkers here without even knowing you have it, and then they’re going to get sick! Why risk it?

Since the vaccines were made available, the Shelby County Health Department has reported no deaths in Shelby County from COVID in those who were fully vaccinated. Less than 100 breakthrough cases (meaning those who’ve been vaccinated yet still became infected with COVID-19) have been reported, and of those, there have been “minimal health consequences.” For example, in our own community, a heavily vaccinated nursing home just tested around 12 residents as positive, but they only had light symptoms or no symptoms at all. This is a far cry from just 6 months ago when we were guaranteed that a nursing home outbreak meant death for someone.

Safety, for some, has been their reason to “wait and see”. Every day that goes by confirms that the vaccines from all three manufacturers are safe. Just like any other vaccination, the risk and the benefit from the inoculation must be examined, and for almost all, the benefit outweighs the risk with COVID. The most common risks with COVID vaccination are arm soreness, fatigue, and fever which typically last no more than a day or two. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken to alleviate many of these mild symptoms. Some people have absolutely no reaction to the vaccine, although side effects after the second shot may be more likely.

Real-time safety monitoring has allowed us to observe vaccine side-effects at a pace like never before. This monitoring triggered the pause of delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until more information was sorted through about a very rare clotting disorder that appeared in 8 out of 7,000,000 patients who had received the J&J vaccine. This statistic is much less than the 1 in 6 patients with COVID who will develop some type of clotting disorder during their illness. Only 1 death occurred from the J&J vaccine because the rare clotting disorder was not recognized and therefore not treated properly. Compare that number to 609,544 which represents souls lost to COVID in the United States to date.

When Should I Get the COVID Vaccine?

The CDC recommends vaccination for most as soon as possible. Still, not all Americans are eligible for COVID vaccination. The current recommendations now include all adults and children older than 12. Pfizer is the only vaccination receiving EUA in those under 18 but it’s only a matter of time before the others follow suit. Studies are currently underway for individuals 6 months old and up. People with weakened immune systems may have a reduced immune response to the vaccine, but these folks are at the highest risk for complications from COVID, so vaccination is still recommended for them. Data is growing in pregnancy and in those women who are breastfeeding. Many pregnant and lactating women have chosen to go ahead and get vaccinated and no triggers for harm have been identified. The CDC currently recommends avoiding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if you have a history of an immune-mediated platelet disorder. Finally, anyone who’s had a serious reaction to another vaccine should be monitored by a health care provider for 30 minutes, instead of 15, after COVID vaccination.

The only way that we’re ever going to beat this disease is to develop immunity against it. Getting COVID-19 is too risky; all of us have likely known or have been close to someone who has died or has had a serious bout with the infection. Gambling that you won’t get seriously ill is selfish. You may win the bet, but you can still spread COVID to others, and they may not be so lucky. The World Health Organization has recognized vaccine hesitancy as a top threat to global health. The decision to wait affects all. If we can help answer your vaccine-related questions, please call and speak to one of our providers. At ZüpMed in East Memphis, we have open appointments for either the Moderna or J&J vaccine. Please give us a call 901-701-7010 to schedule an an appointment.