I got the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine on Christmas Eve.
Here is my Story.
For those of you who don't know me, my wife and I are the dentists in Minonk and Toluca. We've been practicing in the area for 8 years now. I've come to care about this community and feel grateful for the opportunity to practice here. You all have given me a great deal, and I want to return the favor. We have given veterans free dentistry on Veteran's Day for the last several years, and I also started an entrepreneur class at the high school to try and give back. This article is an extension of that.
This year has been an especially tough year for the truth. A lot of my patients have had trouble trying to figure out what to believe. My hope is that this article is a breath of fresh air in a year of craziness. I have patients from all walks of life and different political beliefs, and I care for and respect all of them. This article has absolutely no political agenda. Our office is focused on helping you as a person and your oral health. This article is focused on the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and what we can do to get our lives back to normal.
Make no mistake: This is complicated. I will simplify things as much as humanly possible but some complexity is necessary. Just as Einstein said: "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler."
Our hearts were racing Christmas Eve morning: We got the call from the health department, "We are giving vaccines at the fire station in Lacon." 95% Excitement, 5% trepidation. Luckly, I had just had a patient the day before that was making me feel at ease. She, a respiratory therapist, got the vaccine a week before. She had a sore arm for a few days, but was feeling great. She said all of her friends at the hospital were feeling fine. The vaccine rollout was going smoothly at her hospital.
It also helped that I'm on the Marshall County Board of Health and know the people giving the shots. I know they are competent and caring individuals and I knew the 70 vaccinations at St. Mary's in Bureau county had gone well. I know they've been sitting through webinars and doing training to properly handle these vaccines. They've been learning how to keep them cold and how to keep track of who gets what vaccine.
I had pored over the Pfizer vaccine safety data and the Moderna vaccine safety data, but it's one thing to see in a data table and it's another thing to see it practically implemented. I wasn't worried about the safety of the vaccine. Also, I knew how the vaccine worked, so I wasn't worried about that. But I was a little worried that there would be unforeseen problems during the rollout. Would the vaccines be kept at the right temperatures? Could something unknown go wrong? Having a local network of great people helped to assuage my fears.
When we saw the email, we hurried to Lacon (Marshall County since the Toluca office is in Marshall). I let my clinical team know they could get vaccinated. In the end, only one of our hygienists was able to make it on such short notice. Our two children, aged three and six, waited in the van while we went in one at a time. Stephanie went in first. She needed to wait a half hour after getting her vaccine because she had a previous anaphylactic reaction to a medication. She came out excited, she said it was easy. Next, my turn. I go in, fill out my card, show my license. I get my shot, chat up a few of my friends from the health department. Bing, bang, boom. I wait only 15 minutes since I have no history of allergic reactions.
We're back in the van on our way home. After the requisite high fiving, I have a request: "Can we listen to - Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison. It was the perfect song for the moment. It had been a long year and the sun was finally rising.
While I feel safe at the office and we have the proper protective gear on, we are literally a thin protective layer away from saliva, so the virus is always on the mind. And while we screen as best we can, we need to treat everyone like they are potentially infected, because people can spread this virus and no one knows they are infected, including them.
I've known many patients who have become infected as well as friends and family. Luckily, no one I know personally has died. That brings me to my next point. The death rate of this virus is likely around 1 in 200 (0.5%). That means you'd have to know 200 people, on average, who have become infected before you'd know someone who dies. It's about the most confusing rate of death that this virus could have possibly had. On the one hand, it's enough to overwhelm healthcare systems (California just ran out of ICU capacity on December 27th). Luckily, we are not there yet. We still have 20% capacity left.
On the other hand, most people you know who get it, will be just fine. It can give people a false sense of security. They look around and the people they know are recovering and doing well. I don't blame them. It's hard to find trusted sources, so they are using their own eyes. They are trying to figure this thing out, like the rest of us, but it's leading to a mistake. Talk to the nurses and doctors. Everyone is not recovering. 1 in 200 is about right.
We don't have to go far to see the devastating effect that this has on nursing homes. 8 % of all nursing home residents in America have passed away from COVID, which accounts for about 40% of all the deaths. Here are the local statistics as of today:
I'll close with my rationale for getting the vaccine and my rationale for recommending that everyone in our community get the vaccine. This gets a bit morbid, but there is no other way. There are all kinds of nuances to this, but this basic framework holds up on its own. First the basic facts. It surprised me that in the 2-3 months of study data, there were several deaths, evidently (and morbidly) that's just the chances that someone will die in any given 2-3 month period.
Now it's time to compare these numbers with numbers from things that we are used to for some perspective. Although the time periods are not the same, I think you can still make sense of the numbers.
The odds of dying with COVID-19 is 1 in 200. The odds of dying with the vaccine 1 in 1852. Now, there are plenty of things that complicate the analysis like how your odds change with different age groups but none of that changes the fact that 1 in 1000 Americans have now died from COVID-19. True that we do not know the long term effects from this vaccine. We also do not know the long term effects from COVID-19 infection. But, it comforts me to know that vaccine reactions and side effects historically happen within the first few weeks of administration. And it has now been more than 6 months since some people have had the vaccine.
Fundamentally, the vaccine being less risky makes sense. The vaccine gives your body instructions to make one protein, the spike protein. However, the virus gives your body instructions to make 29 proteins. The jury is still out on which of the 29 proteins is causing all of the problems, but I'll take my chances with just the one protein.
In summary, we aren't choosing between (1) getting the vaccine and (2) some Garden of Eden where there is no risk. We are choosing between (1) a vaccine with a very very small risk (2) and a once in a 100 year pandemic virus with 1 in 200 odds of dying. You would be lying if you said any medication carries no risk, but this vaccine carries much less risk than the alternative. I understand that people may have hesitations about this vaccine. However, a look at the odds makes the decision clear. We can save lives by getting this vaccine ASAP and get our lives back to normal. Make no mistake about it, these vaccines are our ticket out.
Fortune favors the bold!
Dr. Pat Hamper
P.S. Don't believe conspiracy theories:
1) In the Moderna trial - 13 women got pregnant during the trial through December 2, 2020 (6 vaccine, 7 placebo). And in the Pfizer trial - 8 women got pregnant (4 vaccine, 4 placebo.) There is no evidence that this vaccine causes sterilization.
2) This vaccine cannot alter your DNA. Without getting too into cellular biology, the DNA is inside the nucleus of the cell. The mRNA does not enter the nucleus and only makes this one protein.