For much of 2020, the prospect of a vaccine gave us hope that 2021 would be a year far closer to normal. Now we are well into 2021, the vaccine(s) is being rolled out, and yet many questions remain. One question almost all of us have faced or will face: should I get the COVID-19 vaccine? I chose to get it. Here is why…
2020 was, by many metrics, a terrible year. There were certainly some silver linings (more simplified routines, more time with immediate family members, etc), but on the whole, 2020 was a year many of us will gladly leave in the rear view mirror. When the first vaccine was FDA approved and available in the US, there was a sense of hope that had been smothered for too long beneath the influence of the pandemic. Soon, people started getting the vaccine. Then another company (Moderna) received approval. More people received the vaccine. Now yet another company has been approved (Johnson & Johnson). By now, almost all of us know people who have received the vaccine.
December 8, 2020 a 90 year old British woman received the first approved Pfizer vaccine. December 14th, an ICU nurse in New York received the first dose on American soil. Unless I missed it, neither have turned into zombies. Ditto for the approximately 60 million Americans who have received some form of the vaccine. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are an mRNA vaccine, and some people have questioned whether that viral mRNA can insert itself into our DNA – it can’t, don’t worry.)
As a physician working with COVID-positive patients, I was eligible to receive the first wave of vaccinations. I had reservations. I did not doubt the science or clinical trials demonstrating the safety behind the vaccine – I did not doubt the efficacy of the vaccine – nor do I quibble about the vaccinations in general – but in this case, I recognized that I am low risk for serious COVID-19 infection. So I wondered, “why not give my dose to someone at higher risk?” Many wondered the same. Yet, as I contemplated the logistics of that, of somehow risk stratifying an entire population on anything other than a simple metric like age, I realized the drawbacks of such a system (massive government tracking system, incentives to be dishonest about risk factors, etc). I also recognized the wisdom in the airline industry instructions to “first secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others…”. So with a sense of civic pride and responsibility, I willingly received my vaccine.
My shoulder was sore after the first dose and I had very mild muscle aches after the second dose (Pfizer). Anecdotally, I have heard that the Moderna vaccine seems to prompt a more robust inflammatory response (hence the fevers, chills, muscle aches, and other unpleasant symptoms some experience with the vaccine). Despite any temporary unpleasantness with the vaccine, I now know that I am at virtually zero risk of serious infection with COVID-19 and am likely less able to transmit it to others in the community.
A note on the “efficacy” of the vaccine. You will hear people mention 90% or 95% effectiveness when discussing the various vaccines – but what we should note is that all the vaccines have thus far been shown to be 100% effective at preventing serious COVID symptoms. Certainly, there are unknowns and when dealing with large-scale population health, there will be sensational accounts (anaphylactic reactions, bizarre side-effects, etc), but what we should note is that the COVID-19 cases are plummeting nationwide. Our hospitals are seeing fewer and fewer admissions. In short – we have turned the corner and with the continued rollout of the vaccine, will soon be closer to “normal” again.
At the time of this writing, in Washoe County “frontline/essential workers” (a loaded term, I freely admit) and 65 year olds and older are eligible for the vaccine. The state is receiving doses from the manufacturers and will continue distributing those vaccines. Yes, it is being handled by the government, so there will be inefficiencies and problems and we can debate the best way to handle each item, but the vaccine is here. Eventually, we will all have the opportunity to decide if we want to receive it or not. I would advise you to get it. A sore shoulder and other temporary symptoms are worth the peace of mind and collective step towards resuming normal lives.
Below is a list of resources with additional information: https://www.covid19washoevaccine.com/
What to expect after your COVID-19 vaccine (PDF)
When it is your turn, per the state priority list, there are multiple ways to schedule a vaccine (this list is constantly being updated, so check the Washoe County site above for more updated info):
- Smith’s – Sign up online or call 1-800-576-4377
- Walgreens – Sign up online or call 1–800–925–4733
- Walmart – Sign up online
- Sam’s Club – Sign up online
- Washoe County Health District – Sign up for the senior wait list or call 775-328-2427
- Renown Health – Sign up for MyChart or call 775-982-2781
- Saint Mary’s – Call 775-770-3000
- Community Health Alliance – Sign up online or call 775-336-3035
- VA Hospital – Sign up online or call 775-786-7200
- Sparks Fire Department – Sign up online