To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: that is the question.
As a critical care paramedic and medical educator, I have heard many opinions over the past few months since a COVID-19 vaccine has been introduced.
The majority of medical professionals in the United States and the world are in support of receiving the COVID-19 vaccines. Many of us have seen the true toll that COVID-19 has taken on the people of the world--not only deaths but also hospitalization, isolation or quarantine, mental health challenges and treatable medical conditions not being managed appropriately due to lack of services or patients not wanting to risk being infected. The actual cost of COVID in lives, quality of life and expenses can never truly be calculated.
As of January 13, 2021, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, there have been:
- 22,740,142 positive COVID-19 tests;
- 379,255 people have died who tested positive for COVID-19;
- 10,278,462 people have received their first COVID-19 vaccination;
- 0 people who have died from the COVID-19 vaccination.
As of January 13, 2021, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reports that in Wisconsin there have been:
- 513,270 positive COVID-19 tests;
- 5,248 people who have died who tested positive for COVID-19;
- 176,165 COVID-19 vaccinations administered;
- 0 people who have died from the COVID-19 vaccination.
I administered COVID-19 vaccinations on January 12, 2021 to 30 people. Six of the people reported to me that they had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past. All of them had some symptoms from COVID-19. Four of them told me that they had such significant symptoms that they never questioned getting a vaccine. One of them was hospitalized and said that he almost ended up on a ventilator.
My experience exposed some myths and questions. The truth and answers to these and many more questions can be found on the CDC website. Here are some of the important points:
- You cannot get COVID from the vaccine. If someone does contract COVID-19 after being vaccinated, it was from being exposed to a person with COVID-19. The vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) duplication of COVID-19 but does not contain actual virus.
- There are potentially serious consequences from contracting COVID-19. These consequences are reduced or eliminated with the vaccine. Note the statistics above--number of deaths from COVID-19 vs the vaccine.
- As the vaccine is new (as is COVID-19), we do not know everything about either. The side effects of the vaccine are being reported, as people experience them. The side effects are similar to those of an influenza vaccine. Most people report tolerable side effects. Some people have none. There is no validated evidence of any vaccine causing a medical problem or future fertility issues. There are many validated studies that prove preventable diseases can cause significant long-term medical problems or miscarriages.
In 2021, we have almost all information available at our fingertips via the Internet. Before making a decision, it is important to visit reputable sources, including the CDC, for information. Be cautious of stories posted on social media that are not validated by medical institutions. The misinformation about COVID-19 can literally be deadly if it prevents a person who is able to from getting a vaccination.
As medical professionals, we have an obligation to do what is in our patients’ best interests. There is more than one interpretation of this.
- Our first responsibility is to care for our patient and do no harm. If we are ill or test positive, we must stay at home, meaning that we cannot care for patients. As there is a critical need for medical professionals when there is not a pandemic, that need is greater now with sick leave and burnout.
- To maximize the safety of our patients and each other, a vaccine not only reduces your risk of contracting the virus--it also decreases your chance of passing the virus to another person. If I see a patient today who has COVID (whether I know it or not) and I become infected, my symptoms will likely not show for several days. How many others (who are likely higher risk) will have been exposed to COVID from me?
- Another of our responsibilities is to protect the community. The decisions that we make while providing medical care are one small piece of that responsibility. What I do when I am not working also has consequences. Once vaccinated, I am less likely to contract or pass the virus to my family or friends.
- Finally, as a medical professional, I likely have a better understanding of how the human body works and how vaccines and medications affect it than most other people. Non-medical people look to me for guidance on what to do, especially if something is new or unknown to them. As a medical professional, it is irresponsible to talk negatively about something that thousands of scientists and other medical professionals worldwide have studied vigorously and found to be safe and effective.
- After receiving the vaccine, it is also inappropriate to scare others about side effects. Many people are having side effects. Do not lie but rather speak intelligently about the vaccine and side effects--any disclosure of what you experience should also include a disclosure of why you received the vaccine and how much worse things could be if you actually contracted COVID.
We have a responsibility to educate ourselves and make an informed decision about COVID vaccines. Your decision can have repercussions for you personally but also affect your family and friends, create or reduce the burden on our healthcare system and even affect the length of this pandemic.