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I, along with millions of others, whooped for joy to see the first people in the world receive their first COVID-19 vaccinations. This monumental event is on a par with the other most amazing events in history, such as the discovery of penicillin, or the first steps on the moon. Why on earth, after all the heartache this despicable virus has caused, would anyone not want to have this stupendous vaccine? I'm incredulous. So, as a doctor, I'm writing this to try and set the record straight on the COVID vaccine. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Vaccines Save Millions of Lives
According to a recent poll, only around half of Americans want to be vaccinated, about a quarter remain unsure, and the final quarter plan to refuse. How can anyone say 'No' to this vaccine—our golden ticket? Across the globe, immunizations are currently in use which protect against 19 different viruses. Every year these vaccinations save 2-3 million lives. Vaccinations are a phenomenal public health success. The new COVID-19 vaccine now becomes number 20 on the list.
Vaccines Can Eradicate Viruses Completely
If enough of the population take up an immunization, it is possible to eradicate an infection completely. However, even if total eradication is never achieved, a virus can still be eliminated to such an extent that cases of viral infection become rare. For eradication, or elimination to occur, large numbers of the population need to be vaccinated.
Vaccines Protect You From Becoming Infected
For you as an individual, the aim of having the vaccine is to stop you from becoming infected. If, however, you do become infected, there is every likelihood that the infection will be less severe and less prolonged. Vaccines stop you from becoming severely ill and can save your life.
Vaccines Create Large Healthcare Savings
Vaccinations have wider overall health benefits for the nation. Worldwide, vaccinations result in thousands of millions of dollars of health-care savings. They also lead to lower antibiotic prescribing, which in turn reduces antibiotic resistance.
Vaccinations Improve Life Expectancy From Other Diseases
For example, in one US study of older people, those who had had a flu vaccine, had a 20% reduction in cardiovascular risk (strokes and heart attacks), and a 50% reduced chance of dying from these events, than those who did not have the vaccine. The following are true statements about vaccines:
Allow us to undertake safe international travel
Protect babies and young children from common childhood infections
Protect and support primary care health services
Empower women to plan their families, continue their education and maintain their options in the workplace
Reduce the threat of bioterrorism
Redress disparities in health between different communities
Help maintain peace and prosperity
…according to WHO. Who could fail to be impressed with the numerous benefits of vaccination?
The Basics of Vaccine Safety
A 2015 publication in the journal Vaccine reviewed the medical evidence on vaccine safety. The authors described the meticulous testing and safety procedures used in vaccine development and declared that vaccines are amongst the safest medicines in clinical use.
Vaccines have a very sophisticated adverse reporting system. Very often when an adverse outcome is reported about a vaccine, it is not actually something caused by the vaccine. For example, the flu vaccine contains dead flu virus and cannot give you the flu. If you go down with the flu within a few days of being vaccinated, the chances are you had probably become infected with flu a few days before you had the vaccine.
Can Vaccines Cause Anaphylaxis?
Anyone can be allergic to anything, and this is serious because if you are unlucky enough to experience acute anaphylaxis, this is life-threatening. However, the risk of anaphylaxis with vaccines in general, is low and rarely fatal, because anaphylaxis is treatable.
There were two cases of anaphylactoid reaction on the first day of the COVID-19 UK vaccination program, both of whom were treated and have completely recovered.
The UK regulatory agency, the MHRA, has said that anyone who suffers from immediate anaphylaxis – usually requiring them to carry an EpiPen – should not have the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine until further information has been established.
The vaccine is not grown in hen's eggs and is latex-free. It may be that the risk of an anaphylactoid reaction is due to the small quantity of polyethylene glycol (PEG) in the vaccine. PEG is a common ingredient of cosmetic products and is not been associated with significant safety concerns to date.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trials did not include people with severe anaphylaxis, as is normal practice, in their clinical trials. From the trial data, possible allergic reactions were reported in 0.63% of those who were vaccinated, and 0.51% of those given a placebo. Experts have commented this is a very low risk of vaccine-related allergy. New medicines are always closely monitored, and the monitoring system is working well.
What About Giving Vaccines to Those Who are Immunocompromised?
Live attenuated vaccines are vaccines which contain living organisms that have been modified, so they do not cause an infection if you have a healthy immune system. However, people with a severely weakened immune system should not use them as they can cause illness.
The COVID-19 vaccines are not live attenuated vaccines — so they could potentially be used in people who are immunocompromised. What is not known, is how good the antibody response will be in these patients. Further advice is awaited.
What About Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?
GBS is an auto-immune condition triggered by a bacterial or a viral infection, leading to nerve damage.
It is uncertain from medical studies if vaccination might increase the risk of GBS. In one 2009 study, those who had received the H1N1 vaccination had a lower rate of BGBS than those who did not. In other studies, deaths in people with GBS were not considered to be related to the use of any specific vaccinations.
What About Collapsing?
Around 3% of the population have a fear of needles, and may collapse due to fainting, when they have a blood test or an injection. Associated head injuries have been reported. The healthcare professional will ensure you are a safe as possible when you have your vaccination. A period of 15 minutes observation is recommended after an injection.
Debunking Vaccine Myths
There are a whole host of incorrect facts being bandied about regarding the COVID vaccine. Please take a look at the following statements and rest assured these are all telling the truth:
The COVID vaccine will not change your DNA
The COVID vaccine does not contain material from a dead foetus
The COVID vaccine does not contain heavy metals
The COVID vaccine does not contain a microchip
Vaccines are not a cause of autism
Just because the vaccine was produced in record time does not mean its not safe
If you want more details about all these points see this extremely eloquent post by Chris York at The Huffington Post.
We Need Herd Immunity Before We Can Return to "Normal"
You might be thinking, if everyone else has a vaccination, I don't need to bother. But hang on—this is not correct. For starters, some of the population can't have the vaccine for medical reasons, for example, people who have severe allergies or who are immunocompromised. By not having the vaccine you will also inevitably encourage others to follow this example. To protect the population, we need to create herd immunity, meaning large numbers of people need to be vaccinated.
Herd immunity means that so many people in the population have antibodies to the virus, it has nowhere to go. Having this high level of immunity in the population, stops the virus from spreading person to person. This will only happen when enough people are immune. For herd immunity to COVID, 80-90% of people need to take up the vaccine.
Remember That COVID is Much More Deadly Than the Flu
COVID-19 is not an infection to be trifled with.
"Since December 2019," writes virologist Andrew Stanley Pekosz, Ph.D., "COVID-19 has killed more people in the USA than influenza has in the past 5 years." One of the reasons, he goes on to explain, is that none of us has any pre-existing immunity to COVID-19, whereas we are likely to have met the influenza virus before. COVID causes much more severe disease than influenza, and has a higher mortality in all age groups, except in children under the age or 12.
COVID infection is particularly risky for older adults and those who are immunocompromised, or have other comorbidities such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
COVID has specific effects on the body which differ from infection with influenza, for example, it stimulates blood-clotting mechanisms, and increases the risk of thrombosis (blood clots). The death rate from COVID is at least three times higher than the death rate from influenza. Those who survive severe COVID can be left with long-lasting symptoms including chronic lung disease and heart and kidney disease – so-called ‘long COVID.’
The best way to deal with COVID-19 – which has wreaked havoc with our entire civilization – is to prevent it. How can we prevent it? – By have the COVID vaccination.
Final Thoughts From the Doctor
We are all human and humans make mistakes. But not having the COVID vaccine is a mistake you can stop from happening.
If you have read through this post, you should be convinced that COVID-19 is a deadly infection and that the new COVID vaccine is safe and effective. Many of the rumours you have heard about the vaccination are completely untrue.
You need to have this vaccination to protect yourself, but also to help protect everyone you love. This is not someone else's responsibility—It's yours.
If you want life to return to normal by the Spring – or even the Summer – it's time to roll up your sleeve. The COVID vaccination is really your golden ticket.
So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer for Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.