Taking the Doubts of the Unvaccinated Seriously

Actually, they could.

The most important reason they could is that years before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, the critical work of creating a vaccine against it had been done. COVID-19 is similar in important ways to Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS-CoV, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

A few years later, government and university scientists made a breakthrough in creating a vaccine against MERS — a breakthrough they realized was transferable to other coronaviruses. (https://www.newyorker.com/…)

From 2017 to 2019, the biotech company Moderna worked with the National Institutes of Health to see how fast a vaccine could be developed, using this breakthrough, if a new pandemic struck. When it did, in late 2019 and early 2020, Moderna and other companies were ready.

Three other accelerating factors then kicked in. First, the Chinese, who regrettably have suppressed much too much information about COVID-19, made one big, important disclosure. On Jan. 10, 2020, they publicized the genome of the virus, letting scientists get to work.

Second, the companies didn’t have to accumulate large quantities of the virus, a time-eating process that’s necessary in developing most vaccines. The breakthrough against MERS-CoV was something called messenger RNA, which can be concocted quickly in a laboratory. When a body’s cells are exposed to mRNA, they create antibodies that can then fight off the virus.

Third, Uncle Sam backed the development work with billions, enabling the companies to proceed quickly without financial risk. (https://www.houstonmethodist.org/…)

Thus, within a very few months, vaccines were coming off the development line and entering the lengthy testing process, starting with mice and moving to men. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines went through all the normal testing phases, trials that involved 70,000 people. Those who’ve been vaccinated, therefore, are not guinea pigs.

Another question the unvaccinated raise is the likelihood of unanticipated side effects. They’re undeniably possible but need to be put in perspective.

There haven’t been any life-threatening side effects yet, though they could still show up in the years ahead.

The side effects that have shown up are myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). Their occurrence has been rare, however, and few cases have lasted more than a few days or required hospitalization. No one has died of them.

Contrast that with more than 600,000 American fatalities from COVID-19. More than 2,700 of these have been young people (ages 12 to 29), the group that seems particularly susceptible to myocarditis and pericarditis.

Those who’ve survived COVID-19, even some of those who had mild or asymptomatic cases, are starting to report troubling longer-term health problems, including hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…)

Bottom line: The risk of side effects from vaccinations is uncertain but so far minimal. The risk of death from COVID-19 is real and significant, as are the side effects experienced by COVID survivors.

Too many have died of this terrible disease. With the Delta variant, many more could die — and it’s the unvaccinated who are at risk. Let’s hope that some of them will take heed of the answers and find them convincing.

Urban Lehner can be reached at urbanize@gmail.com

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