The holidays are typically a time of gift-giving and gathering with loved ones. As daunting as 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic have been, science has stepped up prior to the New Year to provide humanity with a pair of what I personally consider to be truly hopeful gifts: the first two Covid-19 vaccines.
Just a few weeks ago, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine, followed by a week later an additional order approving the emergency use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. While this is undoubtedly a major step forward in our war against Covid-19, it does not come without huge controversy and many unanswered questions. Though some have sworn not to trust the vaccine and the science behind them, others are earnestly seeking their turn to receive the jab in their arm.
There has been a great deal of discussion about whether or not to get vaccinated for Covid-19. As an essential worker and a professional health care provider practicing dentistry in the state of New York, I was offered the opportunity to acquire the Covid-19 vaccine by the NY State Department of Health since I fell in their 1A tier of eligibility. This meant I had first dibs on the vaccine over the vast majority of the entire population if I chose to get it, and to be honest, I was hesitant. Prior to this announcement, I had debated with many friends and family members (some of which were practicing medical professionals) over the merits of receiving this vaccine. Quite honestly, some of the most fascinating viewpoints and opinions I encountered were with many of you, my patients, over (mostly) casual discussions in the treatment room as I put forth my best effort to distract several of you from the impending work we were about to embark on your teeth. Is it safe? What are the long term side effects, if any? I sought to grasp the science behind the technology. On occasion, I even took a bit of a dive into the conspiracy theories surrounding them. After much nail-biting, the internet did something it hasn’t done for a while: it reassured me.
So I decided to register my appointment with the NYDOH and I am happy to report that I received my first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday, January 9th at a Northwell Health facility in Syosset. When I arrived, staff members completed the anticipated screening and safety questionnaire process. Once registration was completed and my eligibility confirmed, I was assigned a practitioner to administer the vaccine. He went over what the vaccine was and what to expect throughout the next few days. After receiving the shot, I was told to wait in the observation area for 15 minutes to watch for any possible adverse reactions and was then instructed on how to schedule my next dose in four weeks’ time. The whole process was seamless and took less than 30 minutes.
For me, the injection felt painless, no different than receiving any other vaccine or the Flu shot (although this particular inoculation felt more momentous). I left the facility feeling optimistic, privileged to receive the vaccine so early in the process, and proud to work as a healthcare professional. If having a sore arm to deal with for the next few days (which I did) was the price to pay, it seemed like a pretty good deal. Since then I’ve fielded countless phone calls and questions regarding my experience including whether or not I became deathly sick, how debilitating did my arm feel and on occasion, whether I noticed any signs that I may be growing any extra appendages including a tail. But above all else, everyone wanted to know my thoughts on why I chose to pursue receiving the vaccine now, so early in the roll-out, instead of waiting till later.
For starters, I took great consideration whether the infection from Covid-19 causes an illness that is significant. The current death toll in the United States is over 370k, and it is estimated that another possibly quarter-million more may die before widespread vaccination and herd immunity is reached. While science and data have shown the virus to significantly affect adults over the age of 50 with certain underlying health conditions, people of all ages throughout all demographics of life have become extremely sick. In some cases, many younger and overall healthy individuals with no pre-existing conditions have succumbed to the virus without scientific reason or rationale explaining their deaths. Many people who survive are left with long term effects known as “Long Covid.” These symptoms include but are not limited to difficulty thinking clearly, chronic fatigue, or long term breathing issues. Conversely, more than 60,000 individuals have received one of the new mRNA vaccines during their summer trials, and there have been no serious side effects from these vaccines to date with the exception of a very small handful of people who were allergic to the vaccines themselves, a rare event with any vaccine. Furthermore, the notion that the mRNA vaccine technology is brand new is not completely accurate. While an mRNA vaccine has never been on the market anywhere in the world, mRNA vaccines have been tested in humans over the course of the past several years for at least four infectious diseases: rabies, influenza, cytomegalovirus and Zika. The world was able to develop COVID-19 vaccines so quickly because of years of previous research on related viruses and faster ways to manufacture vaccines, unprecedented enormous funding that allowed firms to run multiple trials in parallel, and regulators moving more quickly than normal under the same stringent guidelines required to pass authorization. The results are more than 90% protection from getting sick and even those who get sick don’t get seriously ill. Based on everything I came across in my research, I concluded that it is literally impossible to predict who will be severely affected, or even die, from Covid-19. Taking a chance of getting this infection thus seemed riskier than taking a chance on the vaccine.
Ultimately, in considering all the factors above, realizing the potential seriousness of the disease and the opportunity to protect me, my family, my patients, and the entire team of workers who are an extension of my family, the risk seems small in comparison to all the people I can protect. Therefore, I rolled up my sleeve when I was able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.