Commentary: Inoculate Yourself Against Bad Information Regarding Vaccines

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe. They are effective. They have been tested on diverse cohorts of people. And no one manufacturer’s vaccine is better than another’s.

Unfortunately, due to a constant drumbeat of misinformation, nearly a third of all Americans still say they don’t want to get vaccinated, or that they only want to get vaccinated by a specific maker’s vaccine.

As someone who helped successfully care for the first known COVID-19 patient in California, let me be as clear as I possibly can be: You want the vaccine, because you don’t want this disease.

Every year, I watch people die of the flu, a vaccine-preventable disease. COVID-19 is 10 times as deadly as influenza and is two to three times more contagious. Now is not the time to second-guess a safe and effective vaccine.

All currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death.

It is human nature to “wait and see” how something new or novel affects other people before trying it ourselves. I understand that.

However, these vaccines didn’t appear overnight. Years of research went into developing the mechanism by which the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work, the use of messenger RNA.

All that work paid off when it came time to develop an effective way to immunize the pubic against the SARS CoV-2. Once the virus’s genes were sequenced, the drug makers were able to use their mechanism to create vaccines.

And while the drugs’ development was fast, it wasn’t hasty. No steps were omitted, instead many of the steps required to develop and test a vaccine occurred concurrently. This allowed drug makers to get these vaccines ready in less than 12 months.

Because mRNA hadn’t made headlines in the past, there has been a lot of confusion about what it means and how it works.

First, it’s important to note that vaccines that rely on mRNA do not alter a person’s DNA. Messenger RNA teaches your immune system how to recognize and kill COVID-19. It doesn’t become integrated into the nucleus of your cells. And if you’re pregnant, it is safe for your baby as well.

Second, a misconception that persists is that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are in some way superior or inferior (depending on which Facebook group you belong to) to each other and to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. There is no “best” vaccine. The best vaccine is the one you can get.

Another important point to note is that the vaccines have been widely tested. Adults from all over the world, of all ages, ethnicities, races and backgrounds have been involved in testing the safety and efficacy of these vaccines.

And what the trials have found — and what we have seen as the vaccine rollout continues worldwide — is that the dangers of a COVID-19 infection far outweigh the risk of vaccine side effects. This is terrific news. This means that the vaccines are safe and effective and could bring the world back to normalcy.

Now, it’s up to all of us. If vaccine hesitancy can be overcome, the greatest healthcare crisis of the last 100 years would be over. After a year of tragic, painful deaths, the hope of a fully vaccinated public is within reach. And that gives me the shot in the arm I need.

Dr. Philip Robinson is the director of infection prevention at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach.

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