“This is just some big experiment that’s being done on us,” said one of my patients the other day, when I asked him about the COVID-19 vaccine. We’d had this conversation some months back and he was pretty clear then he was not interested. It didn’t sound like he was particularly interested now.
But is that really true? Are we just experimenting on people? In the sense we don’t have long-term data on safety and effectiveness, I suppose you could say it’s true. But what does that mean? Will we grow extra limbs? Will our hair fall out? Mine has already started to fall out, but I don’t think it was the COVID-19 vaccine that made that happen. And, as of today, no fifth limb. Not yet.
When the smallpox vaccine was introduced in the late 18th century, there were similar concerns. The vaccine was derived from cowpox, a disease of cows – the root word in vaccination is vacca, which is Latin for cow. This led some to believe they would start sprouting horns or grow hooves if they were vaccinated. We have no record of anything like that happening. There was quite a bit of resistance to the smallpox vaccine from the very start. Even though we had an effective vaccine against this virus, it took almost 200 years for us to eradicate it. Today, what was arguably the greatest killer in all human history is now relegated to a few test tubes in a couple of high-security labs, one in Koltsovo, Russia, and one in Atlanta at the CDC.
I suppose the smallpox vaccine was an experiment of sorts, as well. We had a choice between trying to attain natural herd immunity to smallpox or trying to eradicate it with a vaccine. We have pretty good evidence smallpox was with us in Ancient Egypt, so, over the course of a few thousand years, we were unable to achieve natural herd immunity. But, with the smallpox vaccine, even with all the resistance to it, we were able to eradicate smallpox in less than 200 years.
Now let’s get back to COVID-19. I do not want to wait 200 years to eradicate this disease. Simply put, I don’t have the time and I am running out of hair. For me, it is a simple choice. The risks of getting vaccinated are minuscule – these vaccines are the safest I’ve ever seen. Are they 100% protective? No. Do we have long-term safety data and long-term data on effectiveness? No, although we are learning more and more each day, and they are the safest I’ve ever seen. On the flip side, we have quite a bit of data on COVID-19 infections, and that data doesn’t look so great. We are approaching 800,000 deaths in the United States and our death rate is about 1,000 people per day, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated.
And my patient? A few weeks after our conversation, he was in the Intensive Care Unit with COVID-19. Fortunately, he survived. And now he is willing to get the vaccine. So, do your part and get yours. And bear in mind that it’s not just about you. It’s about all of us. We need to do this together in order to protect one another.