While I have enjoyed my 14-month vacation, I’m ready to start socializing again. And while I grieve for the businesses that have failed and the people who lost their jobs, as well as my son and all the other athletes/thespians/etc. who lost their senior year, I have loved getting to stay home instead of having to always be on the go. It’s been peaceful and relaxing, and I haven’t had to dream up excuses to get out of invitations. Since February 2020, aside from taking my youngest to college, the only places I have been are to doctor appointments and the grocery store. I did not have my family over for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and my mom’s 80th birthday party was virtual. I have not been to church in over a year. My weekly knitting group has continued to meet, but I have not attended. I don’t even have to drive to every doctor’s appointment, which saves me about two hours per visit thanks to virtual medicine! I love getting to stay home, but I don’t want to have to stay home. IF the vaccine is safe and effective (that’s a big if), people could start meeting together again. I might like to do that once in a while.
But do the benefits of this vaccine outweigh the risks? Never have any vaccines (even MMR) seemed so controversial as the COVID vaccines. We see people thrilled that a vaccine is finally available and who signed up as soon as they possibly could. We see others who vow they will never get the vaccine, no matter what. And there are people in the middle, who support the idea of a vaccine, but have questions and concerns about what’s currently available.
Full disclosure, I am in favor of vaccines (see Vaccines, Vaccine Safety, Is the Polio Vaccine Safe?, and Why I Got the H1N1 Vaccine). I have friends who are anti-vaxers and friends who are not. I have family members who believe they had C19 in the first wave, January 2020. I have family members who are in medical and nursing school so who have been able to provide different perspectives and better information than the media. I have friends and family members who have been vaccinated already, and I have friends and family members who say they will never be vaccinated. I’ve heard a lot of arguments on various sides of this issue.
Yesterday my family physician’s office phoned to recommend that I make an appointment for the vaccine. And I just don’t know. I support the idea of a vaccine. I’m just not convinced that the COVID vaccines are appropriate at this point.
- Vaccines might not work for people who are immunocompromised. A study recently published in JAMA looked at a subset of immunocompromised patients – specifically, 436 transplant recipients – and tested for antibodies to see if the vaccine actually worked. Only 17% of patients developed antibodies, which doesn’t give me much hope that the vaccine is effective. It’s significant to note that of the 76 people who did develop antibodies, 69% had the Moderna vaccine and 31% had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – we’re not told whether the full group of 436 had equal numbers of people receive the two different vaccines (and this was done before J&J’s vaccine was available so there is no data at all on that one). This was transplant recipients, not people with RA, so we don’t know if the same thing would apply to others. My doctor was not aware of this study and was going to do some research and then get back to me. They said that they’d call today, but I still haven’t heard anything.
- At Washington University in St. Louis, they are doing a study that would be more applicable to people with RA, but those results are not available yet. Since results were estimated to be available in late February or early March, I’m curious why those results have not been released. Either the results support vaccination or they don’t. If they do, you’d think results would be published in an effort to persuade people.
- There is no safety data yet. When they come out with a new flu vaccine every year, they use the same technology and just swap out the specific strain – so even though it’s a “new” vaccine, we have safety data from prior years and can trust that the vaccine is relatively safe. At least, that’s what we’re told. That’s not what they did with this vaccine. The companies that developed a COVID vaccine used entirely new technology. While manipulating RNA might be an exciting concept in the laboratory, we don’t generally use the world-wide public as a series of petri dishes; we have small-scale clinical trials first to establish efficacy and safety, then expand to get more data. That wasn’t done, and while I understand the definition of emergency, it hasn’t been demonstrated that an unproven vaccine is the most appropriate response to said emergency. In the past, some drugs and vaccines which went through a rigorous approval process were later pulled from the market due to safety concerns (for instance, in 1976, the swine flu vaccine caused an increased chance of GBS; in 1998, the rotavirus vaccine caused bowel obstructions in some infants). COVID vaccines haven’t even been through that rigorous process; they got emergency approval. We have no way of knowing twenty years down the road if it will turn out the vaccine was really safe. We don’t even have two-year data. I have no problem with people who are willing to be guinea pigs; my problem is with making the vaccine mandatory (which apparently some employers are talking of doing). Nobody should be compelled to get any vaccine until the safety data is conclusive.
- We have no recourse if things go wrong. With some vaccines in the United States, people who can prove they were harmed by a vaccine can file a claim with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. First, VICP keeps changing the rules to that program to disqualify the most common injuries, which means that people who are injured are often SOL. More pertinent to this discussion is the fact that the COVID vaccine doesn’t qualify for VICP. Instead, COVID would theoretically fall under the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program. It appears that the goal of this program is to avoid paying claims, not to help people. To date, zero COVID claims have been pain. None. Nearly 2,000 of the people who received the COVID vaccine suddenly dropped dead within three days, yet all were ruled completely unrelated to the vaccine. And while I understand that there are those who will always try to take advantage and will file a claim in hopes of getting a windfall, I also have trouble believing that people who were already at death’s door bothered to go get vaccinated. The government has created a situation where people don’t trust that we’re being told the truth. Think about the GSWs that were counted as COVID deaths – just as they lied to make the numbers look worse, they can just as easily lie to get out of paying claims. And I understand that things can go wrong when we get sick, but that is very different than being harmed by something that is supposed to help you.
Rheumatologists are told to talk with patients about getting vaccinated. ACR even published guidelines for that discussion. And I find it interesting that they acknowledge that lack of long-term safety data is a concern, they acknowledge that other conditions could be a factor, then rush right on to discuss how to coerce patients into getting vaccinated without ANY mention of how to address those concerns. Really? As a person who has had a bad reaction to a vaccine and who has numerous allergies including anaphylactic reaction to shrimp, I believe those concerns should be addressed instead of brushed aside. My mother had a long career in the medical field and ultimately had to retire early after developing a latex allergy; she’s understandably hesitant to be vaccinated. If someone has managed to make it over a year without getting sick, couldn’t the same precautions continue until we have a little more safety data on this brand new technology?
That’s just my thoughts. Part of me is tempted set aside all my misgivings and just make sure my will is updated so I can go get the shot. I’d prefer to see another year or two of safety data, but it would be nice to get back to seeing friends every once in a while.
International Foundation for Autoimmune & Inflammatory Arthritis has added a page to their website for answering questions that people might have about the vaccine. The slant there is pro-vaccine, not my I’m-just-not-sure. Go check it out.
Regardless of which way you choose, stay safe!