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Vaccines are the key to beating coronavirus

Friday mornings are the best. That’s when I get to work at The Pit.

The Pit opens up at 9 a.m., and there’s usually a line forming when I get there. I park in one of the spots off in the gravel, farther away from the building. But that’s OK. I like to walk.

In fact, walking is all I do at The Pit. Although I am the medical supervisor for the vaccine distribution, there isn’t a whole lot for me to do. I’m there for emergencies, and there haven’t been any on my time.

People have questions, though. Often, they mention a prior reaction to some other vaccine, or an allergy to a medication and ask, “Is it safe for me to get this vaccine?” We’re using the Pfizer vaccine, and the answer is always yes, because these vaccines are as safe as can be.

Reports of serious allergic reactions to the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines – what we call anaphylaxis – range from two to 10 reactions per million doses. Taking the higher of those two numbers, let’s think about what that means: for every 100,000 doses one person might have an anaphylactic reaction. Imagine putting a white dot on a spoon and mixing it up with 99,999 other identical spoons. Now try to find the one with the white dot. That’s what we’re talking about. And anaphylaxis is treatable – that’s what I’m there for.

There are other questions, the most common of which is, “Will I feel sick after I get this shot?” Well yes, you might feel a bit sore in your shoulder and a bit run down for a day or so, but that’s just your immune system reacting to the vaccine. That’s a good sign! And most people just get the sore arm, nothing more than that.

A little over 200 years ago, Edward Jenner, an English country doctor, observed that milkmaids frequently developed cowpox on their fingers, but they didn’t seem to get smallpox, ever. Could infection with cowpox, an annoying but fairly benign malady, protect against smallpox, a highly lethal one?

Jenner took some cowpox pus from a milkmaid’s finger and injected it into another person. When that other person was then exposed to smallpox, he didn’t develop the disease. Now the world had its first vaccine. The very word is rooted in this origin: vacca is the Latin word for cow.

Many were appalled. Injecting cow pus into a person? How ridiculous. A satirical drawing from the era shows people receiving the cowpox vaccine and then changing into cows. And yet – the last case of human-to-human smallpox transmission occurred in 1977. Smallpox, the age-old killer, has been completely eradicated, thanks to a vigorous worldwide vaccination effort.

So far, more than 134 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The key to beating this virus is to get as many shots into arms as we can, but everyone needs to do their part and get vaccinated. Which vaccine should you get? The one that is available to you now – they are all excellent! If you haven’t signed up for yours yet, now is the time!

We can beat COVID-19, if we all work together. Sign up now at https://cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.




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