Guest Column: Vaccines are key to ending the pandemic

Barbara Craig

Sometime last summer, I got thinking about the fact that the Influenza pandemic of 1918 eventually ended, but not because a vaccine against that deadly strain of flu had been developed. So why did it end?  My curiosity prompted me to read up on the 1918 flu, and I learned that as viruses mutate, they typically become less and less dangerous over time.  

In 1918-19, the entire world had been exposed to the flu virus, such that a certain level of herd immunity had been achieved, at least among those who survived the infection! And as time went on, the virus mutated to less and less deadly forms. To this day, thanks to gene sequencing, we know that the common flu viruses for which we now have vaccines are descendants from the flu virus of the deadly pandemic in 1918.  

To date, the coronavirus that gripped the world in 2020 has mutated several times, producing the "variants" that we hear have plagued Britain, South Africa, and now regions of the US. The bad news is that the variants have also been determined to be more contagious and make one sicker than the original coronavirus. The good news is that the Covid vaccines have shown adequate protection against the variants identified thus far.

I read last week on the "You know ur from Penn Yan If:" Facebook page that the vaccine rate in Yates County has recently fallen off. I know that some people question the need to vaccinate, the safety of the vaccine, side effects of the vaccine, and efficacy of the vaccine.  Even as reports are updated regularly showing 95% efficacy of the two major vaccines, and the safety profile that consistently shows the vaccine to be safe, people still don’t want to get vaccinated.  

As a lifelong nurse, I would encourage people who aren’t opting for vaccination to talk to informed professionals about their concerns. There is a great deal of misinformation and fear impacting people’s decisions, such that without widespread vaccination, our nation’s recovery from all of the manifestations of the pandemic is being significantly delayed.  

Vaccinated people are able to return to some normalcy having confidence of their own safety, and the desire to contribute once again to the smooth restoration of the economy. Vaccinated people do not need to fear infection because vaccinated people no longer die of Covid. Vaccinated people do not need to worry about passing COVID onto other vulnerable people.  

The quicker the population is protected through vaccination, the quicker we will all be able to enjoy our lives fully.  And even if one wants to consider the impact of getting a vaccination to one’s self only, please consider these two important points:  

1) If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, you are even MORE vulnerable to severe COVID infection than you were a year ago, because of the unfortunate variants that are arising as the virus continues to mutate.

2) The longer we go as a population without achieving immunity through vaccination, the more opportunity the virus will have to continue mutating in directions that are completely unpredictable and possibly even more dangerous.

Please also consider that most of the common medications available to us, those we take for granted and ingest without a single concern, do not boast a safety profile as good as the Covid vaccines. All medications carry side effects; you only have to watch the commercials on TV to realize this.  Neither do all medications carry a 95% efficacy rate ... but the vaccine does.

So my encouragement to non-vaccinated people is this: Please don’t listen to your Aunt Tillie or the horror stories on social media or the politician with an ax to grind. If your doctor tells you that you don’t need a Covid vaccine, get another doctor. And do your best to be informed by people who have absolutely no ulterior motive in encouraging you to rethink your position, i.e., people like me.  

Barbara Craig

Barbara Craig’s nursing career spanned 43 years, the bulk of it in oncology research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute as a Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator, Research Nurse, and a Clinical Research Coordinator in Hematology-Oncology performing clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of new drugs, including chemotherapies and immunotherapies for leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. She retired as a Clinical Scientist with Celgene Corp, a biopharmaceutical company investigating the use of a new oral agent to treat leukemia, which was quickly recognized by the FDA as a drug meeting an "unmet medical need" in the cancer community, and thus fast-tracked through the Phase I and Phase II portions of the trial under FDA guidance and scrutiny.