Michael Abrahams | A vaccination plea
Our country is facing a monumental crisis. Hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 have significantly increased over the past few weeks. In all this, there is a reality we all must face, and it is the value of being vaccinated. Vaccination has become a contentious issue. A combination of misinformation, fear and rational concerns has fuelled vaccine hesitancy. At this point, the vaccines have been available for six to eight months. This is not a long time, so the concern that we do not know a lot about possible long-term effects is a valid one.
On the other hand, COVID-19 has been around for almost two years and the long-term effects (long COVID) are well documented, and include chronic respiratory, renal (kidney) and neurological impairment and fatigue, and other distressing symptoms. I know people who had COVID four to six months ago, who are still dealing with deleterious sequelae, including the need for oxygen and for dialysis. Therefore, interventions to prevent infection and to lessen the severity of disease are necessary.
Many are concerned because the vaccines can cause side effects, and there have even been deaths associated with them. To be honest, there is no pharmaceutical product that has been taken by over a billion people that has not had unfavourable outcomes in some of those taking them. It is an unfortunate fact. Over five billion doses of the vaccines have been dispensed, so it is unavoidable that adverse effects will occur. Aspirin is a safe drug for most. So safe, that it is sold over the counter. However, over 3,000 deaths have been attributed to aspirin every year.
BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS
Whether you are for or against vaccination, the fact is that the data strongly suggestthat its benefits outweigh its risks for most people. Getting vaccinated has the potential to benefit you as well as the entire society.
On a personal level, if you are vaccinated, it is not impossible for you to get COVID-19, become ill from it, and even die from it. However, the data is showing that unvaccinated people are more likely to become seriously ill, require oxygen or hospitalisation, or die. People may refer to Israel and say it is a highly vaccinated country but is reporting a lot of COVID-19 cases now. It is true. But even though there is a significant surge in cases in that country, it is the unvaccinated who are having poorer outcomes and dying at a higher rate. A recent analysis of the data from the United States has found that unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalised and 11 times more likely to die than those who are not.
Some people delight in speaking of the apparent shortcomings of the vaccines, such as the fact that infected vaccinated persons may have the same viral load (amount of virus in their body) as infected unvaccinated ones. However, this is only the case for the first three or so days, as the unvaccinated take a longer time to clear the virus than those who are and thus remain infectious for a longer period of time. The reality is that the unvaccinated are more likely to have poorer outcomes if SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters their bodies.
On a societal level, being a poorly vaccinated country places us in a precarious position. Because of the increased risk of serious morbidity from being unvaccinated, the larger the percentage of unvaccinated people we have, the more our health sector will be overwhelmed. People who are ill from COVID-19 will turn up at hospitals to find there is no bed for them, and people with other illnesses and emergencies will face the same issue. The oxygen shortage will continue. Seriously ill COVID-19 patients may require oxygen to be delivered at rates of up to 60 litres per minute for days or even weeks. (Those large cola bottles contain two litres.) Elective operations will be put off, inconveniencing people and, in some cases, causing their conditions to worsen while they await surgery. For example, someone with an early stage of cancer may have their surgery postponed, and when it is finally done it may have progressed to a later stage.
Sometimes the truth goes against our own narratives and may be hard to accept. I am vaccinated, and I would like to believe that I am fully protected. I am not. If you are unvaccinated, you may believe the vaccines have no value. That is also not true. If lockdowns, curfews, and other restrictions are stressing you out, and you are unvaccinated, your reluctance may actually be working against you and the rest of us.
Although I am fully vaccinated and believe most of us should be, I empathise with those who are hesitant. At the same time, I realise that this hesitancy has the potential to hurt us. If you are unvaccinated and have concerns, please discuss these with a doctor. There may be a reason why vaccination may not be a good idea for you at this time. On the other hand, you may find that your fears may be unfounded. For most of us, especially older adults, the data suggest that the benefits outweigh the risks.
We are all in this together. This is not just about you. It is about all of us.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @mikeyabrahams.