Officials recently confirmed the alarming news that the virulent UK strain of COVID-19 has been found in various counties in Ohio. New strains of the virus also are spreading in New York and California and will no doubt make their way to our state before long. The emergence of these variants underscore how crucial it is that Americans get vaccinated when they become eligible, now that more vaccines finally are becoming available.
My wife Kristin and I are physicians at a large hospital in Columbus; she’s in pediatric emergency medicine, and I’m a pediatric immunologist. Over the past year, the two of us have seen heartbreaking cases of babies and teens with severe covid.
After an arduous and heartrending year, we may finally get relief. Late last month, Johnson and Johnson’s single dose vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, adding millions of much-needed doses to the national supply.
America now has a national vaccination plan and pharmaceutical companies are ramping up production. Our leaders are building the infrastructure we need to get the doses into our arms, which science tells us is the key to finally moving past the pandemic and back to normal life.
Although many Americans are eager to be next in line to be protected against covid, we still live in a country with a powerful anti-vaccination movement.
Over the past year, some 3,500 health care workers in the United States have died from COVID-19. Despite this, about a third of America’s health care workers remain hesitant about getting the vaccine. Here in the Buckeye state, some 60% of nursing-home staff have elected not to take the vaccine so far.
I recognize that Black Americans, even Black health care workers, sometimes are skeptical of the vaccine because of a long history of medical abuse towards Black people. Black physicians and prominent public figures are emphasizing the safety of the vaccine to help build back that trust.
As physicians, we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our patients. What’s more, we have an obligation to combat the vaccine hesitancy that’s undermining efforts to defeat the pandemic. Our patients are looking to us for direction, and doctors need to lead by example.
Here are the facts: Out of 70,000 participants in the vaccine trials, no deaths were attributed to the vaccines. More importantly, a robust and transparent reporting system monitoring adverse events as vaccines are administered continues to show they are safe. As an expert in the health field, I felt responsible to review the data in their entirety. After doing so, I am certain we can trust the science, and I hope my fellow medical workers will recognize that, too.
Treating COVID-19 patients exacts a huge emotional toll on medical staff who have lost colleagues, in some cases causing long-lasting psychological trauma. For others, overwork leads to burnout, and many are choosing to leave medicine. It will take years to replace the medical staff we’ve lost.
As an allergist and immunologist, I shared my physical response to the vaccine with my patients and followers on social media. Like many of the over 68 million Americans vaccinated, I had a normal immune response. The injection site was sore for about a day and I slept more than usual the night following my vaccination. Kristin had an almost identical response. We both were completely fine less than 48 hours later. This response is true for more than 99% of people who receive the vaccine. It’s not only effective; it’s been shown to be completely safe.
Kristin and I have an 8-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son and our aging parents fall into high-risk categories. Getting the vaccine meant protecting our family. Every day that we worked unvaccinated in the hospital setting, we risked bringing the virus home and exposing our children. Vaccination gave us some peace as we fought a surge of COVID patients after the holidays.
Doctors should commit to providing evidence-based information that the public can trust. The development of these vaccines was one of the most transparent processes in the history of medicine. Each company has published their protocols, inclusion and exclusion criteria, results, and safety data and that information is all available on the FDA website.
We have a long way to go still, but help is on the way. That only matters, however, if Americans trust vaccinations and get them as soon as possible. If we lead by example, medical workers have the power to make that happen.