HERE'S TO YOUR HEALTH: Myth Busters, Part 2 — Vaccinations
As promised, I will dedicate this column to the myths surrounding the Covid vaccinations. Many of my patients have told me they don't know what to believe. That is understandable, since in addition to the information about the vaccination, there is also misinformation and disinformation out in the community (the difference is that misinformation is false information that people repeat not realizing it is false, while disinformation is information that is known by the originator to be untrue).
I'm hoping to help you wade through what is out there with this column. I'll start with an important tidbit of information for you to consider. There is one group in the US that leads all others in getting vaccinated — 96%! That group is ... doctors. Yes, 96% of doctors are vaccinated! Not because it was mandated — they were vaccinated before mandates. They did it because they knew it was safe, it worked, and they wanted to protect their patients. Now, doctors are privy to the science behind the vaccine. So, the group that knows the most about Covid vaccines is the group that is most likely to be vaccinated! That can hopefully be of some comfort to you.
Myth #1: Vaccines can kill you
Some people will die after receiving the vaccine, but what you really want to know is how many deaths were caused by the vaccine. If a high-risk elderly person with heart disease receives the vaccine and then dies of a heart attack — most likely that was not the fault of the vaccine.
There is actually a site that collects information about all vaccines. It encourages doctors, patients, families of patients — anyone who had a reaction to a vaccine (any vaccine) to report it. It is called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System). Particularly, doctors were told that any deaths after Covid vaccine must be reported—they really wanted to track this closely.
If you go on the VAERS site, you will see that 7,218 deaths have been reported after Covid vaccine. This, of course, includes people who died of pneumonia, heart attacks, auto accidents, and a number of other reasons that could kill people even if they didn't get a vaccine. These deaths have been carefully evaluated for vaccine causality (that is, did the vaccine do it?). The verdict is that the Covid vaccine causing deaths is incredibly rare (more about that in a minute).
Let's look at the big picture. Even if every one of the 7,218 reported deaths were caused by the vaccine (and they were not)—you would need to compare these deaths against the 675,000 deaths caused by Covid itself. That would mean Covid is 93 times more lethal than the vaccine. Also remember that so far, 369,000,000 injections have been given. That's one safe vaccine.
When they looked in depth at the deaths caused by the vaccine, they found that there were a cluster of women, aged 20-50, who developed thrombosis (blood clots) after receiving the J&J vaccine. It occurred in 44 people, out of 8,000,000 shots administered. Three of them died, possibly due to the vaccine (people can develop this problem without having received the vaccine).
Other serious issues include a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which occurs within minutes of receiving the vaccine. This is the reason you are asked to stay and wait after you get the vaccine, as it is treatable on-site. It occurs in 2 – 5 people out of 1,000,000 shots. There are also some people who have developed inflammation around the heart (798 cases).
None of these side effects come anywhere close to the danger of Covid.
Myth #2: Shouldn't the vaccine be a personal choice?
As I stated in my last column, a personal choice is when you do something that doesn't affect anyone else. Not getting a vaccine certainly affects you, but it also affects your family, other children, your co-workers, etc. The problem with Covid is that you can be spreading it before you know you are infected. In addition, without a vaccine, you are more likely to get infected with the Delta variant of Covid (29 times more likely!). What we can learn from other States (Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and others) who have already had the latest wave of Delta Covid — is that we could run out of hospital beds (and sometimes oxygen!), and we could see young people (including children), and other unvaccinated people getting sick and being hospitalized. When people with other serious medical conditions (appendicitis, pneumonia, heart attacks) arrive at an overloaded hospital, they may have to be sent further away to be treated. That delay could be deadly, in some cases. One person's “personal choice” could cause another person's “life threatening emergency”.
Myth #3: We can't possibly get to herd immunity.
This may be true. But shouldn't we try? Herd immunity is not a magic number, where below it we get no benefit and once we reach it everyone is instantly safe. The closer we get to a 75-85% vaccination rate, the more likely we are to protect everyone, especially our children.
Myth #4: Can't we just take some ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine instead?
The short answer is that this could be quite dangerous. The Covid vaccine has been thoroughly studied and found to be safe and effective. The same can NOT be said for either ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine. It is important to understand that there are basically 4 four kinds of infective agents: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Medications that treat one agent don't tend to work on other kinds of infection. Ivermectin treats parasites, as does hydroxychloroquine. Covid is a virus. There is no reason to believe an anti-parasitic will kill a virus. There is also no proof. Even if they are found to be effective, wouldn't it be better to prevent getting the disease in the first place by getting the vaccine?
There is a study looking at ivermectin nasal spray and Covid. It is a small study (60 people) being done in Egypt. It hasn't been published anywhere yet and the study design is weak. Hydroxychloroquine has been looked at in several Covid trials which found no benefit. At the very least, wait until you hear the result of a trial showing it works, and is safe. To get tissue levels of ivermectin high enough to kill Covid would require an incredibly high oral dose. Perhaps it would kill Covid — if it doesn't kill you first. In the case of these two drugs, I again follow the science. If the studies show they work, I'll start prescribing it right away. So far, we don't have that kind of data.
Myth #5: We don't know what the vaccine might do in the long term.
This is a legitimate concern. But we always have this concern in medicine.
When the polio vaccine arrived in the 1950's and 1960's, when the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines came out (now known as MMR) -- we didn't know what long-term issues might arise. We did know that the diseases the vaccines prevented were terrible diseases. Covid, likewise, is a terrible disease. We've lost more people in 2020 to Covid than we ever did from polio, measles, mumps, and rubella COMBINED. We just can't wait 10 years “to see what will happen.” Too many people will die. We've just passed 675,000 deaths from Covid. This means Covid is now the worst EVER pandemic. More people have died from Covid than from the 1918 Spanish Flu. We have got to do better. They didn't have vaccines in 1918. We do.
As for long-term problems with vaccinations, we have 60-plus years of providing widespread vaccinations. What we have learned is that vaccines, when they cause problems, usually cause them right away (anaphylaxis), or within a few weeks to months of receiving the shot. Long term we may find out that a vaccine needs a booster, but other problems are really rare. You just don't hear about vaccines being pulled from the market for safety reasons.
At this point, just in the US there are over 180,000,000 Americans who have been vaccinated. No one is a “guinea pig.” (If anything, the doctors who were among the first to receive the vaccine were the guinea pigs!) This is a safe and well traveled road.
So, we can close the barn door after the cows have run off, or we can be proactive, and close the barn door while the cows are still in the barn. Be safe and get the vaccine. 96% of doctors have rolled up their sleeves and gotten the vaccine. They clearly think it's a safe bet. Now it's your turn to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
Here's To Your Health!
Dr. Wayne Strouse is a Family Practitioner in Penn Yan.