COMMENTARY: Why I’m Recommending COVID Vaccine to My Patients
by Dr. Brookshield Laurent
Brookshield Laurent, D.O., is the chair of the Department of Clinical medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University. She is also the executive director of the Delta Population Health Institute, NYITCOM’s community engagement arm.
As a physician, the most satisfying part of providing care to patients is preventive care. Prevention of illness saves time, money and lives. For example, immunization with childhood vaccines prevent two to three million deaths every year. The burden of illness can range from various forms of debilitation to catastrophic circumstances for children and adults.
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has brought about catastrophic outcomes that will have effects on each of our lives for years to come. Long-term impacts of COVID-19 over the course of a lifetime currently are unknown. But persistent symptoms and serious complications are being reported among COVID-19 survivors, including persons who initially experience a mild cases.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a breakthrough that will change the course of the disastrous effects of the SARS-CoV2 virus and can save lives.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed that they were both 94% effective at preventing COVID-19. That means that getting vaccinated will reduce the risk of disease, hospitalization, severe complications and even death if you were to get infected by the virus.
The development of these vaccines has been unprecedented as this public emergency demands it. In this process, questions about safety have arisen. As a physician who provides care, I inform my patients of the possibilities of side effects and adverse reactions of any medication or tool of prevention I offer them. Explaining the context of safety and risk is so key in these discussions.
Unfortunately, the current climate of fear, politicization and the fatigue of the pandemic has robbed people the space to be thoughtful about how the vaccine may affect their lives.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EAU) for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which have been shown to be safe and effective through clinical trials. Safety is measured in many fundamental ways. One way is that health officials weigh the risk for illness if you don’t take the vaccine versus the risk of side effects or adverse reactions.
The answer for these vaccines is clear: the risk of becoming very ill is much greater than the risk of side effects or likelihood of adverse reactions.
In the trials for COVID-19 vaccines, side effects that were reported were muscle aches at the site of the infection, headache, low grade fever or chills. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone experiences side effects, but of those who have complained of side effects, these were the common ones.
Severe adverse reactions, such as a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, has occurred but is very rare. As of December, only 21 cases of anaphylaxis were reported after nearly 1.9 million doses were administered. That’s 11.1 cases per million for the Pfizer vaccine. If the occurrence of allergic reactions was greater, the vaccine would not be considered safe.
Before a vaccine is approved for general public use, it must go through a careful process in which it is tested in tens of thousands of volunteers. This system is set up to catch side effects. Even after a vaccine is licensed, stringent safety assessments are required to detect problems that arise when it is given to millions of people.
In total, about 74,000 people participated in the three-phased clinical trials: 44,000 in the Pfizer trials and 30,000 in Moderna’s. They were conducted under rigorous standards set by the FDA. The age of participants ranged from 16 to 85 and reflected a diverse group of people with various demographics.
Anyone who experiences adverse effects is not a light matter. But the overwhelming benefits of vaccine to people and society outweighs the risks for adverse reactions. We must compare that to the virus itself, which has infected more than 70 million people globally and killed about 1.6 million, including more than 400,000 in the United States. In addition to death and illness, the virus has caused devastation to economies and health systems around the world.
The way to put a stop to the rampage and tragedy of the COVID-19 virus is a widespread vaccination campaign. Education, transparency and thoughtful conversations are needed.
As soon as I was offered the vaccine, I enthusiastically took it. I received the first dose in late December and the second in mid-January. I had slight muscle achiness at the site of the injection for a few hours, but overall, my side effects were mild.
I realize it can be difficult to wade through waves of information as you attempt to make the best decision for yourself and your family. I can tell you that I confidently advise my patients to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them. I trust the science and I’m confident in its effectiveness.
This is our opportunity to end this horrific pandemic and return to some semblance of normal. That’s an end result to which we can all enthusiastically look forward.
About NYITCOM at Arkansas State University:
New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, located on A-State’s Jonesboro campus, is dedicated to improving access to health care for the underserved and rural populations in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta Region. Arkansas ranks 48th in overall population health status due to low health indicators including obesity and number of adults who smoke. The state also ranks 46th in the number of active physicians per capita and 39th in the number of primary care physicians. NYITCOM at A-State was established in 2016 with the mission of meeting the need for more physicians in this medically underserved area.