Why I chose to be vaccinated against COVID-19
When the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in New Hampshire on December 14, and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services released the NH Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination Plan, healthcare workers were identified as being among the first to be offered the vaccine. The decision to be vaccinated has remained a personal one. Despite a ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating that employers could require vaccinations for employees under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), most healthcare institutions have been reluctant to do so. Instead, healthcare workers have been encouraged to be vaccinated in a staged approach.
In the days between the approval of the EUA and the arrival of the vaccine at individual institutions, many of us used the time to approach the decision to become vaccinated in the same way we approach recommending for or against a new treatment for our patients – through a close look at the available data for the treatment and alternatives to help arrive at a data-driven, informed conclusion.
That conclusion certainly can be different from one individual to the next, as it involves personal co-morbidities, beliefs, priorities and risk tolerance. However, the scientific data that is applied in each situation should be similar and, in light of that data, I would expect that the vast majority of healthcare working arrive at a similar conclusion and become vaccinated.
What follows is a summary of the factors that were most influential in my personal decision to receive the vaccine.
Vaccine Safety: Educating myself on the safety of the vaccine was the factor that took me the longest to evaluate. My two greatest concerns were related to the novelty of the mRNA technology for vaccine development and the pace at which the vaccine was created.
What ultimately earned my confidence in the safety of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was the degree of oversight and evaluation of these trials by the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee report. This fully independent body made the recommendation to the FDA to approve the vaccine after their thorough evaluation. The VRBPAC is comprised of medical and industry experts and their report and endorsement was convincing to me.
The phase 3 trials themselves were both published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Pfizer, Moderna). For the combined, approximate 74,000 trial participants, mild symptoms were relatively common but significant side effects were rare. The question of long-term, delayed side effects remains unanswered, but historically vaccination deleterious effects occur early in the course following vaccination. The FDA and CDC have continued to monitor for adverse effects associated with both vaccines and have yet to report significant, serious adverse effects outside of what had been described in the clinical trials.
Protecting our most vulnerable: In this latest phase of the COVID-19 surge the two greatest challenges have been maintaining a workforce of healthcare providers and ensuring there are enough physical hospital beds where patients can be cared for. As both a care provider and a potential patient, receiving a vaccine to keep myself healthy will help ensure that I can continue to care for patients as they come into our hospital system and will reduce the risk that I have to occupy a hospital bed myself during the time of crisis. In choosing to receive the vaccine, it has felt like a small, personal contribution towards relieving some of the stress on the medical field caused by the pandemic.
Returning to “normalcy”: Personally, having had to quarantine from members of my extended family that are considered high risk has been among the most challenging aspects of the pandemic. For a variety of other reasons, most of us share the desire to return to how our pre-COVID society functioned. In order to achieve herd immunity and stop the spread of the disease it is estimated that between 70-90% of the population will need to become immune. My vaccination is a drop in a very large bucket, but a drop nonetheless.
Personal protection: As an anesthesiologist, I perform intubations and extubations on patients who are known to have COVID, as well as others who may be positive but whose status we do not know. Any way to protect myself while still providing optimal patient care is appealing. The data of the efficacy of the currently-approved vaccines, as shown via the links above, has been widely touted and almost universally considered impressively effective.
An opportunity to lead by example: As a healthcare provider, our opinions of whether to receive a treatment are valued by our friends, family members and patients. In the past several weeks, I am sure that you, like me, have been asked innumerable times whether you are choosing to be vaccinated. In my opinion, there is no greater way to show conviction and belief in these vaccines than by being among the first to receive it.
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