To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

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I just had a phone conversation with a dear friend of mine, who asked me my thoughts on vaccinating her 86-year-old dad against COVID-19. She assured me that her dad had good health, a great relationship with all of his daughters who lived close by, and just wanted to resume his life as he had known it.

I want to share our conversation with you in hopes that it may help you be better informed as you decide whether you want to vaccinate yourself or someone you care for.

Long story short, I told her if my dad were still alive, he would have been just a few years older than my friend’s dad, and I would have gotten both my parents vaccinated for sure. And this is why…

Anytime you decide to get a vaccine, you weigh the risks of the disease you are trying to prevent against the benefits offered by the vaccine. Usually when a vaccine is licensed by the U.S. FDA, experts have conducted analyses of the safety and efficacy data gathered over several years, before approving it for public use.

Since we are in the midst of a public health emergency, we have two vaccines which have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. FDA, both in under less than a year. In the usual run up to a vaccine approval, the FDA reviews data on at least 30,000 participants who receive the experimental vaccine, reaching this high number of participants in several years. In the current scenario, in about 10 months, Pfizer and Moderna submitted data on over 43,000 and 30,420 participants, respectively. Pfizer’s 2-dose vaccine regimen shows 95% immunity, whereas Moderna’s 2-dose regimen shows 94.1% immunity. The numbers are strong and so are the data.

Both vaccines also have a favorable safety record, which means that the benefits considerably outweigh any risks associated with the vaccine. Most side effects went away shortly after vaccination, and included fatigue, headache, joint pain, and muscle aches. The one big concern with any vaccine is a potential anaphylaxis – which is a severe, life threatening allergy to a component of the vaccine.

There are everyday things that can also cause anaphylaxis, but that doesn’t stop us from living our lives. Another close friend of mine had a recent scare when she was playing outdoors with her children, got stung by a bee, and went into anaphylactic shock – an urgent condition that needs medical intervention. In her case, she got rushed to the hospital and given epinephrine to counter the allergic response. That saved her life. The CDC recommends that people with a history of anaphylaxis should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, while all others should be monitored for at least 15 minutes. A perfect example of once we know the worst that could happen, we look for it and intervene if we find it.

I told my friend with the 86-year-old dad that if she or one of her sisters is taking their dad to get his vaccine shot, one of them should hang out with him for the rest of the day just to make sure he is okay.

What are the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine? We know there is a 94.1 to 95% chance of preventing severe disease due to COVID-19, depending on the vaccine. We are not so concerned about our annual common cold causing coronaviruses because that is usually the extent of the illness they can cause – just a cold and then you recover. However, COVID-19 can cause severe disease, which in some cases, causes death. When you get vaccinated, it is this you are being protected against – the risk of severe disease and consequently, of death.

Age is a risk factor for severe COVID-19, and so are chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and a whole slew of conditions detailed on the CDC website, along with pregnancy.

Lastly, I want us all to remember that we have not yet analyzed vaccine-related data to determine if the vaccine also prevents infection altogether. Why is this an important point? There are individuals who get infected and regardless of the severity of symptoms, are now left with chronic symptoms such as extreme fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, tightness in their chest, or even neurological issues. None of us would choose to have any of these lingering symptoms. The solution then is ongoing prevention – until we no longer see this virus in our communities, not just in the U.S., but also across the world. For more information on prevention, please click HERE.

A question I get asked often is whether I will get vaccinated, and my answer is Yes, and so will my family members who range from their 20s to 80 something.