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On Monday, I drove to the Walmart in Skowhegan to receive my second shot of the Moderna vaccine, making me — in two weeks, at least — fully vaccinated.
I think it is important to explain why I got the vaccine, because I’m in a classically skeptical demographic of people: I’m young, healthy, not at all afraid of getting COVID-19 and politically conservative.
I didn’t get it because I’m terrified of the virus. I am 40 years old, in excellent shape and my chances of having a serious health consequence or dying from COVID-19 are extremely low.
Ultimately I chose to get it because it helps get us closer to herd immunity, and because research has clearly shown that the vaccines are also blocking most transmission of COVID-19. Thus I am helping to protect others who either can’t (or won’t) get the vaccine. Simple as that.
Still, there are many people hesitant to do what I did, and there are several supposed rationales that I keep hearing.
The first one I hear a lot is that the vaccine was “rushed.” This statement, however, is simply untrue. The Moderna vaccine that I received, for example, had been created and produced by January 13 of last year, which was eight days prior to the first case even appearing in the United States.
This gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration roughly a year to review the science, observe clinical trials, and study efficacy and safety. The data they collected was unprecedented, and the process was quite robust, as is the ongoing monitoring that is still taking place.
Related to the fear of it being rushed is the argument that the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are “brand new” and have never been used before. While it is true that these are the first successful mRNA vaccines, this is not a new science we stumbled into without understanding it. Scientists have been working on it for decades, and we understand how they work, what they do and how they do it.
But what about the “long-term effects,” since these vaccines are so new? We have no idea what the impact will be on you years from now, right?
Again, while technically true, this is not terribly scientifically literate. Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that “side effects generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is why the FDA’s emergency use authorization focused on observations up to two months after the shot during the trials, so they could study that impact.
In actuality the main worry over potential long-term complications is more about whether or not short-term complications end up hurting you in a way that will affect you in the long term, such as damage to your lungs or other critical organs.
Given the observations we have made about the safety of the vaccines, those fears have not turned into anything valid. Hundreds of millions of people have now taken these vaccines, so we have observational data that is far and away more substantial than any prior experimental vaccine in history.
Finally, we do need to deal with the concern about death from COVID-19 vaccines, which ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), and what the data reported in it actually means.
VAERS is an “early warning system” meant to identify potential problems and reactions with vaccines that warrant additional study. The problem is that VAERS contains self-reported incidents, which have not in any way been verified, and are later — especially in cases of death — reviewed.
As of May 11, VAERS had 4,434 reports of deaths after coronavirus vaccinations, and yet according to the CDC, “a review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.”
I’ve never been one to trust the CDC, but even if they were lying to us and every one of those deaths was genuine, the mortality rate of the vaccines would be roughly 0.0017 percent, while the mortality rate for COVID-19 in all age groups currently sits at 1.8 percent.
Which brings me back to risk.
I’m not afraid of COVID, but I’m even less fearful of the vaccines. I have never supported, and will never support, any citizen of this country being mandated to take a vaccine, or any other kind of medicine against their will. Yet just because I don’t think you should be made to get one of the vaccines doesn’t mean that I don’t think you should get it.