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Health Matters: Vaccine hesitancy a troubling issue

Conway McLean, DPM, Journal columnist

The last year has been troubling for most of the world’s citizens. These past 14 months have seen an abundance of closures, cancellations, postponements and excessive Zoom time. Everyone is eager to return to work, to school, and social activities. The development of the vaccines which have been so successful in preventing the COVID infection is a triumph of immunology. Unfortunately, the arrival of the vaccines inevitably led to a deluge of misinformation and lies. As expected, a lot of the confusion about the vaccine comes from sources outside of the medical community. On this topic, the physicians, the scientists, the researchers all agree.

This vaccine works with your immune system, priming it to fight off the coronavirus if exposed. But none of the vaccines currently being administered contain live coronavirus, making it impossible to get COVID-19 from getting vaccinated. Their effectiveness has been exemplary, the complications rare and temporary. Roughly a tenth will have a sore arm or aching for a day, hardly comparable to the potential for years of complications, even disability, from becoming infected with the coronavirus. These transient and mild effects signal a natural response as your immune system learns to recognize and fight the coronavirus.

A new phrase has become part of the lexicon of our times: vaccine hesitancy. This refers to those who are doubtful about vaccinations or who have chosen to delay or refuse immunizations even when they are readily available. The thinking varies as to why this is the case. A common thread is that many give weight to hearsay, rumors, innuendo, hardly sources for verifiable, reputable, researched information.

One particularly troubling rumor that’s been spread is that the vaccines can cause infertility, although there is no evidence of this anywhere. It is the result of a German scientist who offered up a theory. He proposed that the vaccine might make a woman’s body reject a specific protein, one that aids in attachment of the placenta to the fetus. With this thought in hand, some have subsequently voiced the concern that the vaccine tells your body to attack the placenta. Fortunately, this is a completely unfounded concept with zero evidence. As is so often the case with unsubstantiated conjecture, there is no scientific basis for it.

A good analogy is that for the vaccine to confuse your immune system and attack this placental protein would be like mistaking an elephant for a cat because they’re both gray. There is one small similarity in the protein, but the overall construction is so completely different. The human immune system is much smarter than that.

No evidence exists these vaccines interact with a woman’s reproductive organs in any way or have any interaction with an egg that’s been released or fertilized. And no mechanism can be found for such an effect. Actually, during the trials performed on the Pfizer vaccine, numerous women conceived, either during the study or after. And birth rates have been normal.

On the contrary, there is abundant data to show that getting the virus can reduce one’s chances of conceiving. People who want to become pregnant absolutely should get the COVID-19 vaccine as there are many concerns about the potential effect of COVID-19 disease on male and female fertility. Additionally, there is evidence of the danger of the infection to pregnant women. Just another reason those hoping to conceive and those who already have should embrace rather than avoid vaccination.

The long term complications resulting from the COVID19 virus continue to accumulate, with numerous organ systems potentially affected. And there are concerns these effects may persist for a long time. The respiratory complications are extensive, but apparently it can also cause neurologic, kidney, cardiac problems, and others.

Vaccinations are like a seat belt; you might get a bruise from the belt in an accident, but you won’t die. Seat belts have saved many lives, as have the corona vaccines. The data is conclusive; modern vaccines are reliable and effective, and have allowed modern man to nearly eliminate many crippling diseases. The science of vaccines has been proven time and again.

Personal freedoms are important, but what if your right to choose endangers your neighbor, your relatives, your spouse? Numerous businesses are now requiring their employees be vaccinated. What about those working in health care, providing treatment to the ill? Should vaccination be a requirement? Should patients risk acquiring a debilitating disease when getting care for some problem? The UK doesn’t think so: a law is being considered allowing only vaccinated individuals to work in health care.

Many of our young people think they are immune from any serious effects from Covid, but the science tells us this is not the case. Fewer have severe symptoms but they can. Even in the young, the problems resulting from COVID-19 can be devastating and prolonged. This virus is so contagious that experts estimate about 70% of people in a community will need to be immune to make the spread of the disease unlikely.

This is the meaning of the term herd immunity: when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. Too many people are immune to it. This number will vary for different diseases, with estimates for COVID-19 running between 70 and 85%. In contrast is measles, a highly contagious disease,which is 94%.

Many states have loosened restrictions on mask use and gatherings, despite scientist’s concern this will give a false impression. The pandemic is not “under control”. The longer it runs, the more likely some variant will allow it to spread faster or become more virulent. The longer it runs, the more people that will get very sick or die. Yet the number of inoculations given per day has declined.

As a society, we are struggling with vaccine hesitancy. Too many of those refusing the vaccine look around them and see infections are down. Nearly 50% of Americans are vaccinated, why should they get the vaccine? We need to recognize that getting vaccinated will allow us to return to normalcy, to our pre-pandemic life. This is a matter of the public welfare, the greater good, the continued lives and well-being of humanity.

This is an illness with uncertain long-term implications. It seems those who refuse are more likely to require prolonged medical care, costing the American taxpayer billions. And the vaccines have been tremendously successful, according to numerous studies, in minimizing the damage of this virus. We need more Americans to look beyond their backyard, their little neighborhood, to see the bigger picture. To refuse the vaccination is a troubling decision, with personal and global implications. Do not make it lightly: do the research, read credible information sources. The decision is an easy one because it is the right thing to do.

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