Thank you for reading this. First of all, I want you to know that I understand your confusion, your fear and your reservations about the vaccines. This is complicated stuff and unfortunately, there are people who are intentionally trying to mislead people and others who are not intending to pass along false information, but doing so because they themselves have been mislead or lied to.
Unfortunately, some have promoted a false narrative for political gain, while having access to testing that the general public does not have, while having access to medical care and medications that many in the general public do not have access to and while getting vaccinated, often before much of the general public had access to vaccines, and then being unwilling to admit that they have been vaccinated or unwilling to answer the question as to whether they have been vaccinated. It was easy for them to promote doing away with public health protections or downplaying the pandemic, when they themselves knew they had far more protection than most of their constituents.
So, let me provide full transparency about me:
- I am a life-time Republican. I am a fiscal conservative. When it comes to managing a public health emergency, I do not support Republican or Democratic leaders; I support my country, my state, science, truth and leading by example. If leaders do the same, I will praise them. If leaders don’t, I will criticize them regardless of their party affiliation.
- I am retired. I am not financially impacted by whether anyone gets a test or does not, whether they are hospitalized or not, or whether they are vaccinated or not.
- I receive no payments from any pharmaceutical company and never have, even while I was in medical practice.
- To my knowledge, I do not have any stock in any pharmaceutical companies. The reason I qualify this is that I do have mutual funds that are managed by others. If they do invest in a pharmaceutical company, I am not aware of it and I couldn’t tell you which one.
- I currently serve on the Governor’s Coronavirus Work Group, but I receive no compensation for that role.
- I have advised the West Ada School District in the past, but despite their offer to compensate me for my time, I declined it.
- I have received two doses of the Moderna vaccine. Some of my family members have received Moderna and others have received Pfizer.
- I have no intention of running for any elected office. I have had people ask me to serve on the Central District Health Board, school boards and to run for governor. I have declined each.
My motivations for spending so much time in so many different ways to try to help our state through this pandemic and provide people that are interested with good information is (1) I am a Christian and I believe that the Bible teaches us that we should care for one another and put others ahead of ourselves; (2) I am a physician and it pains me to my core to see needless illness, suffering and death; and (3) I am an American and an Idahoan and I want to see our country and state prosper.
Now, I know a lot of people have made their minds up, are not open to discussion and get upset when people discuss vaccination. This article is not intended for that audience. On the other hand, I have spoken with dozens of people who are somewhat skeptical and some that are very skeptical. I have listened to their concerns and answered their questions the best that I could. The vast majority of these folks have followed up with me and indicated that they did go ahead and get vaccinated after our discussions. So, I am going to share some of those questions and my answers below, because it is likely that if they had these questions or concerns, there are others with the same questions or concerns.
- Concern: The vaccines are experimental.
Response: The Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines are not experimental. Vaccine opponents have carefully selected words that are calculated to provoke an emotional and negative response from those they hope to influence. Labelling the vaccines “experimental” is intended to scare people. The clinical trials for these vaccines were conducted last year. At that time, they were experimental. These vaccines are no longer considered experimental by physicians, scientists, the FDA and the courts, where plaintiffs unsuccessfully asserted that the vaccines were experimental.
In the United States alone, about 340 million doses of vaccine have been administered. The Pfizer vaccine is being used by 111 countries. The Moderna vaccine is being administered by 61 countries. The J&J vaccine is being administered in 33 countries. If these vaccines were experimental, these would be the largest clinical trials ever conducted, a reason to trust them even more.
So, if you decide not to be vaccinated, at least do not use the false narrative that the U.S. vaccines are “experimental” as your reason.
2. Concern: We don’t have long-term studies on the safety of vaccines.
Response: Minor vaccine reactions (sore arm, redness at the injection site, fever, aches and rashes) generally occur within hours to a few days, but almost always occur within 12 days of vaccination. Serious vaccine reactions usually manifest themselves within hours to days, and almost always within 35 days of the vaccination. Thus, the FDA required a minimum of two months of safety data prior to issuing Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccines.
Because of the size of the trials, the studies were designed to identify adverse effects of the vaccines that occur at the rate of at least 1 in 30,000 or 1 in 40,000 people vaccinated. However, the FDA has continued to monitor the safety of vaccines following the grant of Emergency Use Authorization, such that now we are identifying adverse effects that occur at a rate of 1 in a million or 1 in 10 million vaccinees.
Keep in mind, that we have administered about ten times more COVID vaccines than the number of all other vaccines that we administer in an average year in the U.S. Thus, we don’t need longer term data to identify adverse effects in adults and any adverse effects that we do identify as we have additional time to vaccinate more people will be events that occur at extraordinarily rare levels. Keep in mind, while there have been rare serious adverse events reported with the COVID vaccines, these have largely been events that occur at much higher frequency in those who become ill with COVID.
As we are seeing a surge in new cases across the country due to delta, if you choose not to be vaccinated, at least do not be misled by claims that we need more data or longer-term studies to assess the safety of these vaccines. We have all the data that we need to make a safety assessment of these vaccines, and in every case, the FDA, the CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and public health and infectious disease experts have concluded that the benefits outweigh the risks.
3. Fear: I don’t want to get the vaccine because I am scared of the side effects.
Response: I can certainly understand this. Most people, like my wife, have very mild side effects. Some, like me, have 1 – 3 days of feeling ill or like they have the flu. Obviously, no one wants to go through these side effects, but again, one should compare the potential side effects to the potential illness with COVID. While many people with COVID have mild symptoms, there are others who experience extreme distress and require hospitalization and some will require a ventilator to breathe for them.
4. Confusion: I am young and healthy, so I don’t need to be worried about getting COVID.
Response: I can certainly understand this sentiment. The fact that you are young and healthy does mean that you are very unlikely to die from COVID. On the other hand, there are many bad things that can happen to you even if you survive. The adverse effects that many fear with the vaccines occur far more often in people who are ill with COVID. With the alpha and now the delta variants, hospitals across the country and world have reported having younger people hospitalized, as well as in the ICU, including young adults in their twenties, thirties and forties. We also see up to a third of young people developing long-COVID following infection, even when that infection was mild. These are often young adults who were active and fit, who are experiencing severe limitations to their activity and exercise tolerance months following the infection.
So, even if you remain unconvinced that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of COVID, please get vaccinated to lessen the possibility that you will infect someone you know and care about who might be at much higher risk for a severe outcome if they get infected.
5. Confusion: I had COVID, so I don’t need the vaccine.
Response: While having COVID does provide some degree of immune protection against re-infection for most, but certainly not all, persons, there is growing evidence that the degree of immune protection is inferior to that provided by vaccines. As we see more and more variants of concern, we have less and less confidence that natural infection will provide people the same degree of immune protection that the vaccine will. Therefore, we recommend that everyone who has previously had COVID get vaccinated once they recover from their illness.
6. Confusion: I can wait and then if I get sick, I can get vaccinated.
Response: This is incorrect. First of all, we do not vaccinate people against COVID who are sick from any infection. Secondly, if you are sick with COVID, it is too late for the vaccine to prevent you from becoming severely ill. The vaccine takes at least a week to produce the kind of immune response that we are looking for. While with previous variants and strains of the virus, even a single dose of vaccine would produce a significant amount of protection, with delta, we are finding that a single dose provides very little protection. Because both doses are required to achieve a robust immune response, we are generally looking at a period of 4 – 6 weeks from the first dose of the series until someone will be maximally protected against the delta variant.
So, if I am persuading you to get vaccinated, please do so ASAP and be sure to go back for your second dose as soon as it is time for it.
If one of the things holding you back from getting vaccinated is the thought that you have time and can get it once you get sick, please know that it is likely it will be too late by then. Please get protected now.
7. Concern: Some are concerned that vaccine “breakthroughs” mean that the vaccines don’t work.
Response: Vaccine breakthroughs are expected. We have known since the clinical trials that the vaccines would not be 100% effective, even though they are not far from it. The key is whether the vaccines can prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. So, look at the deaths in the US from COVID and May and June. More than 99% of them occurred in the unvaccinated. It you look at the fully vaccinated rate in the U.S. of around 50%, you would expect the deaths to be about 50% in vaccinated persons and 50% in unvaccinated persons if the vaccine was not effective. The fact that deaths from COVID among the vaccinated are less than 1% confirms that these vaccines are highly protective, even if some persons get breakthrough infections.
I hope that if I have addressed your concern, you will get your first dose of vaccine this week. If you still have a concern, an unanswered question or a fear that I have not addressed, write a comment and tell me what that concern or question is and I will do my best to get you an answer.
I care about you. I do not want you to get infected or to inadvertently infect someone else. I want life to get back to normal, but we can’t get there if we allow this virus to continue to spread unabated, continuing to develop new and more threatening variants.