A term taking center focus right now is vaccine hesitancy. As the general public is being strongly encouraged to take their place in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, some people are resisting; experiencing vaccine hesitancy. The resulting countermeasure is tagged vaccine confidence, meaning to establish trust in what is the only current way of eradicating COVID-19.

Just about a year ago, we were getting together with friends, hugging loved ones, going out to eat, seeing movies, going shopping, traveling, and engaging in the many other activities and pursuits that we enjoyed and often took for granted. Remember those times? Much of that came to a screeching halt when the country started experiencing the horrifying impact of COVID-19.  The worst health crisis in a generation has sickened and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, closed businesses, stores, and restaurants, wreaked havoc on our economy…the list goes on and on.

Operation Warp Speed (OWS)
Largely through an initiative called Operation Warp Speed (OWS), there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. To date, two vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna have been developed and tested and are being distributed to prevent people from becoming sick with COVID.  More are likely on the way.  The spread of information, misinformation, and confusing information is almost as quick as that of the virus. However, one thing is painfully clear. Without the vaccine, there is no end of COVID -19 in sight.

So let’s take a look at some of the credible information made available by leading experts in health, medical science, and infectious disease in order to help understand more about the impact of COVID-19 and the hopeful eventual eradication of the disease through the use of the vaccine.

Some Background About Vaccines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease.”

There’s a long and interesting history about vaccines. What’s important to know in terms of vaccine confidence right now, is that vaccines are not new. The first official vaccine dates back to 1796 in England, when one was developed to combat smallpox. This was a devastating disease that, over many hundreds of years, killed countless people.  Over many years it was refined and eventually used worldwide. The 33rd World Health Assembly cited that “eradication of smallpox is considered the biggest achievement in international public health.”

Eradication of a deadly disease through vaccination. That sounds exactly like what we’re hoping for now.

Other diseases successfully eliminated or significantly limited through vaccines are polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, and rubella. So vaccines have a long, proven, and invaluable track record.

By the Numbers
COVID-19 has played a devastating role in the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans. This number is climbing every day.

There’s a lot of skepticism about the reported number, as some people suspect it’s inflated; that COVID is being blamed for deaths because it is present in the body of the deceased but not necessarily the actual direct cause. The thought is that the number is being greatly exaggerated as a scare tactic or even as a hoax. For the purposes of defending the importance of the vaccine, however, consider this sobering fact.  While complete data isn’t in yet, preliminary numbers show that more than 3.2 million Americans died in 2020. This is at least 400,000 more Americans that died in 2020, than in 2019. This 15% increase, which could go higher when final numbers are in, marks the largest single-year percentage increase in American deaths since 1918. That was a year when tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in WWI, and hundreds of thousands of Americans died because of the flu pandemic.  These numbers make it reasonably easy to connect the dots on the direct or indirect mortality rate of COVID-19. There’s a lot of COVID out there and a lot of people dying from it, whether or not it’s the direct cause.

Add to that the fact that thousands of more people who are surviving the disease are dealing with prolonged debilitating conditions.

Furthermore, the number of people seriously impacted by COVID have put a serious strain on our hospitals and especially our ICUs.

Look at the numbers however you choose. COVID-19 is devastating.

Is Warp Speed Too Fast?

The good news is also the frightening news?

The term ‘warp speed’ became sci-fi talk in the mid-1900s, made popular by Dr. Spock, Captain Kirk, and Scottie as they talked about the phenomenal pace of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek. What is fun and exciting for the speed of a fictional space vessel becomes more intimidating when talking about the rate of developing a major health initiative. People worry, and rightly so, that something we’re being encouraged to inject into our bodies came about fast, awfully fast. While people are glad that there’s a weapon against COVID so soon (even though it’s felt like forever), it’s fair and reasonable also to be frightened about the speed.  Were there corners cut?

Here are some facts about how this modern-day miracle was able to happen so quickly.

  1. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization for the two existing COVID-19 vaccines, which are available now, only after meeting rigorous criteria for safety and effectiveness. The EUA has determined that the known and potential benefits of the vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks for the vaccines.
  2. While the COVID-19 vaccines are new, much of the science started years ago for other vaccinations. We were not, in this case, starting from scratch. That helped things develop much more quickly.
  3. Collaboration overshadowed competition. The very best minds have been investigating and studying all components of the virus. Sure, pharmaceutical companies wanted to win the ‘first’ place finish, but there’s enough vaccine business to go around and more than enough pride to share.
  4. The massive infusion of money from the government helped in a number of ways, including but not limited to motivation. It also ensured that vaccine developers had the resources they needed to get started working right away.
  5. While finding volunteers to participate in medical trials is often a time-consuming challenge, such was not the case for the COVID-19 vaccines. There were many people eager to participate. This was aided through the use of social media, which helped to get the word about the need. The vaccines were tested on many thousands of people.
  6. The massive infusion of government money facilitated the opportunity for steps in the process to be done simultaneously rather than incrementally. For instance, the government invested at its own risk, in necessary manufacturing capacity in advance while development was still underway. This let developers hit the ground running with manufacturing.

Two Doses? Why Do I Need to Do This Twice?
It’s not unprecedented for a second or booster dose of a vaccination to be necessary. Such is the case with both of the existing COVID-19 vaccines. The double dose enables the immune system to provide longer-lasting protection. If someone receives just the first shot, there may be some protection, but it’s unclear how much and how long it will last. The full benefits are achieved by receiving both doses.

What About Side Effects
There are potential side effects of the COVID vaccine. However, many people experience none at all.  Some people’s side effects that are experienced include soreness at the injection site, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, and fever. These tend to go away after a day or two. There have also been some allergic reactions, especially by people who have had allergic reactions in the past. You’ll also, no doubt, hear about extreme reactions. While under careful investigation, most of these have not been tied to the vaccines.

There’s an important takeaway. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason why even young, healthy people are hit hard by COVID; sometimes extremely hard, and even fatally. You don’t know how COVID-19 will effect you. On the other hand, the most likely side effects of the vaccine pale in comparison to the potentially serious impact of the virus.

Is the Vaccine Going to Change my DNA?
The vaccine does not change one’s DNA. In a nutshell, the COVD-19 vaccines use messenger RNA (nRNA). This is a genetic material that contains instructions for making proteins. It enters human cells and instructs them to produce the ‘spike protein’ that stimulates the body’s immune system to attack the coronavirus. The cell then degrades the mRNA, and there is no evidence that it remains in the cell. Dr. David Skorton, the President and CEO of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), reported that mRNA vaccines were made possible for COVID-19 “by decades of biomedical research within the  academic medicine community.”

Will the Vaccine Protect Me? Will it Protect Those Around Me?
According to the FDA, most vaccines that protect from viral illnesses also reduce viral transmission; the process by which viruses are spread by those who have been vaccinated. While there’s optimism about this being the case for the COVID-19 vaccines, the information is inconclusive at present. So while receiving the vaccine will protect you from getting sick, it’s unclear whether or not you can still transmit the virus to others. Therefore, for the time being, it’s strongly recommended to keep wearing a mask to protect other people.

Herd Immunity
Also known as community immunity, herd immunity is a confusing concept. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health explains that herd immunity results when the majority of the population is immune from a disease, providing indirect protection to people who are not immune. To achieve herd immunity, a large percentage of the population needs to get infected and/or get the vaccine. If we waited for enough people to get infected, it’s estimated that millions would die during the process. Consequently, becoming vaccinated is crucial to developing herd immunity.

Become Informed by the Experts
The available information about vaccines is abundant; some is reassuring, some is frightening, some is made by informed experts, some is theorized, some is accurate, some is false.  As you decide whether or not you want to become vaccinated, do your own research and make sure you reference authorities who have informed insight. Make your decision based on fact, science, and expert knowledge. Don’t do yourself the disservice of depending on theorists or alarmists for determining your future.

In closing, a nurse was recently asked if she was going to get the vaccine. She responded with an emphatic ‘yes.’ When countered, “Aren’t you afraid?” She said, “I’ve seen COVID-19 and how it ravages people, and so that is what makes me afraid.”

Stay healthy!