Now that at least three COVID-19 vaccines will soon be available, the question arises: Will you get vaccinated? The short answer is, of course you should. That’s the only way we can potentially be protected from the virus.
Getting vaccinated is also a patriotic duty. No matter how well the vaccine works in preventing the coronavirus, it won’t end the pandemic if not enough people take it. We need to get herd immunity that will protect all of us from the virus.
Until dengvaxia, there was more or less general agreement on the necessity of being vaccinated against such common diseases as measles, tuberculosis, mumps, polio, etc. Then dengvaxia came along, got politicized and now our vaccination rate has declined, resulting in an uptick of diseases we had been able to control long ago.
Politicians ruin everything. Any hesitancy for some people to be vaccinated is also because politicians have politicized the issue. Trump, for instance, wanted a vaccine before the election.
People are wondering if the rush to produce a vaccine (Operation Warp Speed) compromised the quality and safety of the vaccines. The scientists reassure us it just isn’t so because they skipped no steps.
But the rush is making even knowledgeable people hesitant to get vaccinated first. Better to continue to wear your mask and social distance, and wait to see how the vaccine works on the first ones who get it.
Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, a leading pharmaceutical company working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, talked to Professor Tsedal Neeley of the Harvard Business School. This is what he said:
“Let me just give you one data point. In the last quarter century, there have only been seven, truly new vaccines introduced globally at the clinical practice… Merck has four, the rest of the world has three…
“First of all, it takes a lot of time. I think the record for the fastest vaccine ever brought to market was Merck with the mumps vaccine. It took about four years. Our most recent vaccine for Ebola took five and a half years.
“And why does it take so long? First of all, it requires a rigorous scientific assessment. And here we didn’t even understand the virus itself or how the virus affects the immune system…
“What worries me the most is that… they are pushing us to move things faster and faster. But ultimately, if you’re going to use a vaccine in billions of people, you better know what that vaccine does.
“There are a lot of examples of vaccines in the past that have stimulated the immune system, but ultimately didn’t confer protection. And unfortunately, there are some cases where it stimulated the immune system and not only it didn’t confer protection, but actually helped the virus invade the cell because it was incomplete in terms of its immunogenic properties. We have to be very careful.
“I think at the end of the day, we don’t want to rush the vaccine before we’ve done rigorous science. We’ve seen in the past, for example, with the swine flu, that that vaccine did more harm than good. We don’t have a great history of introducing vaccines quickly in the middle of a pandemic. We want to keep that in mind.”
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, assured that these vaccines work and are safe. “When it gets approved by the FDA, I would take the vaccine and would recommend my family take the vaccine,” Dr. Fauci said.
Dr. Fauci is confident about the vetting process the vaccines went through. In the end, “data will be published for all scientists around to look at. It’s transparent and independent,” Dr. Fauci assured.
Once you are convinced it is worth the risk, you want to know what are the side effects of the coronavirus vaccine. Essentially, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints for a day or two. But if that’s all, that’s way better than being in the ICU for COVID.
Experts recommend that even people who have been infected by COVID should still get vaccinated. That’s because it’s still unknown how long the antibodies will be present in the body after infection. Vaccination will provide the best protection.
But experts still don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccines and won’t know for years after millions of people have been vaccinated.
One other point: While the vaccines have proven protective against the virus, there’s no data that shows how long that protection can last. That protection may wane over time, and you may be susceptible again.
What’s the bottom line? Epidemiologists are worried about many unknowns, including how long immunity lasts; how the virus may mutate; the challenges of vaccine distribution; and the possible reluctance to accept the vaccine among some groups.
In an informal survey of 700 epidemiologists by The New York Times, half said they would not change their personal behavior until at least 70 percent of the population was vaccinated. Thirty percent said they would make some changes once they were vaccinated themselves.
The next big question is: How many of the public will take the vaccine? It is good to know that in the US, three former presidents offered to be vaccinated in full view of television cameras. They hope this will give confidence to ordinary citizens to be vaccinated.
Here in the Philippines, the House Speaker said he wants members of Congress and their staff to be first in line for the vaccine. That’s not a bad idea. Add Duterte, his Cabinet – specially Duque and Galvez, senators, police and military officers in the list, specially if the first vaccine is from China or Russia.
That’s called setting the example. Then again as one observer puts it, putting our politicians first in line for a new vaccine is a win-win situation. If they survive, the vaccine is safe. If they don’t, the country is safe.