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  • Writer's pictureLauren Kageler

To vaccine or not to vaccine?! A short overview of what we know

The question on many people's minds across the globe!

There appears to be three general groups: the first who are eagerly awaiting their turn to get vaccinated, signing up for their first shot as soon as possible; then there are the group of people who are hesitant, who want to get vaccinated but would rather see other people go first; and then there’s the group of people who are adamant that they will not get vaccinated. To cover the topic of COVID-19 vaccines is a huge undertaking and I have been grappling with the best way to approach this as we are constantly learning more, seeing new data on vaccine trials, on different COVID variants and on different side effects. So first off I thought I'd share a general overview that hopefully lays out the basic concepts that will appeal to all groups.

Before diving into the facts, I do want to set the context for this conversation. I think it's easy to forget that we are still in the middle of a horrific pandemic with over 141 million cases globally. With the number of new cases STILL rising at a concerning rate in many countries.

Increase in new cases recorded in India, Turkey, Iran, Argentina, Colombia. Noticeable is the spike in new cases in India.

This pandemic has taken the lives of more than 3 million people. That’s 3 million families, friend groups and societies that have experienced loss in the last year. Not to mention the emotional and physical turmoil that lockdowns, social withdrawal and added pandemic stress has had on the rest of the population. Needless to say we all want this pandemic to end. And the fact is that history has shown us time and time again that the only way to end a global pandemic of this scale is mass vaccination. So as someone who has a vested interest in seeing the end of this pandemic as soon as possible I would love to blankly say that everyone should get vaccinated. However, I understand there are many nuances to this. One of these being the emotional battle that a vaccine presents: we are asking healthy people to do something that may give them some temporary side effects and in very (very) rare cases may cause some more serious side effects. There is an emotional difference between taking action to do something (getting vaccinated) that can harm me versus doing nothing and hoping I am not harmed. Instinctively this is not an easy decision to make. However, it is essential that we all allow our rational mind to come to the foreground. At this point the alternative to getting vaccinated is getting infected with COVID-19 and that is how I urge you to weigh the benefits versus risks for yourself.

A brief data table of the six most common/widely available vaccines.

Understanding efficacy

95% efficacy rate does not mean that if you get the vaccine you have a 5% chance of getting infected with COVID-19. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials showed that roughly 95% of the people who got sick with COVID-19 during their trials had not received vaccines, while 5% had. One common misunderstanding is that 5% of the vaccinated people in the Moderna and Pfizer clinical trials got COVID-19. But that's not true; in fact the actual percentage of vaccinated people in these trials that got COVID-19 was about one hundred times less than that: 0.04%. What the 95% actually means is that vaccinated people had a 95% lower risk of getting COVID-19 compared with those who did not receive the vaccine. They were 20 times LESS likely to get COVID-19

Other important information

There are possible side effects that may occur after the first or second dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines. These include: pain at the site of injection, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, nausea, swollen lymph nodes. These side effects usually arise within a few hours - 24 hours after injection and may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days in some cases. J&J had noticeably milder side effects than Pfizer and Moderna. However, the CDC and FDA have just recently issued a joint recommendation for states in the US to halt the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “out of abundance of caution” due to reports of six rare, but serious blood clotting problems. It is important to note that this is 6 incidences out of more than 6.8 million J&J doses. There is still further investigation occurring into these cases and we should know more in the near future. But, if anything, this halt in the US has given me a greater confidence in the institutions handling the pandemic. The decision to halt vaccine rollout is a delicate one: balancing between the need to be vigilant and aware of serious side effects and the danger of scaring the public away from vaccination by the move to halt rollout. These blood clots were severe, but now individuals are more aware and able to look out for the symptoms of a serious blood clot (severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of dose) and consequently seek medical attention sooner rather than later.

From my perspective we are at a critical point in this pandemic and the choices that individuals make about getting vaccinated are at the center of this. This decision is a personal one indeed but it is important to remember that we are also pieces of a bigger puzzle and our actions do have an impact on our community and the greater global community, though it may not always be apparent. I think we all would love to know more information and be constantly reassured about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. But I'm afraid that is not the reality. The reality is that we have some of the most efficacious vaccines ever produced available at our disposable but as with any therapeutic there are potential side effects and there are also unknown factors at play. As a scientist I am amazed by the progress that has been made in the production of these vaccines and I am hopeful about the future as we are seeing the positive impact of vaccinations at work!

In the words of Eric Topol (A physician-scientist who I highly recommend following for COVID-19 updates):

"you know vaccines are working when your country is opening, no lockdown, mobility is increasing and (today): —67.9 million people, 22 deaths, lowest number of hospitalized patients in 8 months, and falling (UK)

P.S. Everyone in the US aged above 16 years old is eligible.

P.P.S. Today there were almost 60 million unused doses in the US. Sign up now if you want the vaccine.

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