GUEST OPINION: Why I got a COVID-19 vaccine

Guest Opinion Vaccine

Guest Opinion Vaccine

I am one of the 75.5 million Americans who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of March 18, 2021. I am grateful to be one of them. In four weeks I will get the second dose and I will be protected against COVID-19 and I will also protect others from COVID-19. 

I received my first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273 SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine). I would have gladly taken any of the three COVID-19 vaccines with the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the United States, the other two being Pfizer-BioNTech’s 2-dose mRNA vaccine and Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose viral vector vaccine. I have family members who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech and others who may get Johnson & Johnson vaccines. I have recommended they take the next available vaccine as soon as they are eligible.

I got vaccinated because I had full confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines that have received EUA in the United States.

I got vaccinated because I wanted to protect myself from COVID-19 and I want to protect others with whom I have contact from the disease. 

I got vaccinated because I want the pandemic to end and to get back to a “normal” life. I know the best way for the pandemic to end and for all of us to get back to a “normal” life is through vaccination.

Even without vaccination, we will get back to a “normal” life, eventually. We have done it after every pandemic throughout human history including the 1918 influenza pandemic. However, that historical return to a “normal” life has come at a great cost of suffering and loss of life.

We are at a different place in our abilities to control and mitigate a pandemic now than a hundred years ago during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The science of disease control and prevention has significantly evolved in the last century. Building on the ongoing vaccine research of the past two decades, we were able to develop, test and bring to use at least three highly effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. 

At this stage of the pandemic and the vaccination program, any further loss of life due to COVID-19 is needless and tragic. We now have the means to avert further disease and deaths. Not doing our best to do so is morally and ethically reprehensible and I like to think that we are better than that. 

I got vaccinated because I trust the independent groups of scientists who recommended the EUA to our national drug regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They would not have made the recommendation if the vaccines were not safe and effective.

I got vaccinated because I know the vaccines that have received EUA in the United States are safe and effective. I know that because I have reviewed the research myself. I have evaluated and fully understand the safety and efficacy profile of the three vaccines with EUA.

I read the report Moderna had submitted to the FDA for EUA and the peer-reviewed scientific journal article with the results of the clinical trial. I trust my scientific colleagues who reviewed the study results reached the same conclusion as I did about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

I knew based on the scientific evidence presented that the vaccine is safe. The reported vaccine side effects were mild and moderate local reactions like pain, redness and swelling at the site of the injection and systemic effects like headache, fatigue and muscle aches that would resolve in a day or two. I have not experienced any systemic side effects — I was lucid enough to write this piece — but have a little tenderness at the injection site — I have had worse wasp stings than this.

One person’s experience is an anecdote, not scientific evidence. However, my anecdotal experience is consistent with the clinical trial report that made me secure about the safety of the vaccine. The evidence from the real world is also bearing the truth — of over 75.5 million vaccines given in the United States to date there have only been 21 reported cases of anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. Those cases were managed without any further severe effects, including death. 

The vaccine is highly effective, i.e. will do what is intended to do — prevent symptomatic and severe COVID-19 and deaths. The clinical trial reported that the vaccine was 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19. That is, for every 100 people who were not vaccinated and got symptomatic COVID-19, only six people who were vaccinated had symptomatic COVID-19. In the clinical trial, no one in the vaccinated group had severe COVID-19, while 30 people in the non-vaccinated group had the severe disease, indicating a really high efficacy (100 percent) during the 120-day follow-up period (the two groups had about an equal number of people in them). 

Another way to put the efficacy of these vaccines in perspective is if the vaccines were available and everyone in the United States had been vaccinated when the pandemic started a year ago — and the disease spread the same way it did — instead of almost 30 million confirmed cases (assume all are symptomatic), we would have less than 2 million cases. If the ratio of confirmed cases-to-deaths was the same as we have observed in the United States in this pandemic (about 1.8 percent), we would have about 30,000 deaths instead of 540,000. We know the vaccine prevents severe COVID-19, so the number of deaths would have likely been even lower than 30,000.

The assertations I am making are not fantasies and wishful thinking. The results from places like Israel where a large proportion of their population has been vaccinated are indicating the impact vaccination is having in reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. As we vaccinate more and more people in the United States — we have vaccinated more people than any other country but we still have a long way to go — the impact of the vaccine in controlling the pandemic, reducing hospitalizations and deaths will be apparent.  

I know vaccines save lives, and that is why I got vaccinated.

I know vaccination is the way back to a “normal” life — without unnecessary additional deaths and suffering. Until an additional 165 million Americans are vaccinated (which will bring the proportion of vaccinated people to about 70 percent), I will continue to take the non-pharmaceutical mitigation measures — masking, social distancing, limiting gatherings and hand hygiene — because not everyone is protected yet and losing another life while waiting for vaccination is immoral and unethical. 

I know we are better than that.

Madhav Bhatta is a professor in public health with a focus on epidemiology. Contact him at [email protected]