As a naturopathic doctor who prizes a holistic, natural approach to health, it may seem surprising to some of you that I’ve chosen to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is understandable, to be sure, but after giving the vaccine a tremendous amount of thought—and conducting an enormous amount of research—I felt it was the best decision I could make for my family, friends, patients and community.
We are all well aware that COVID-19 can be not only a life-threatening disease but also one with grave, long term consequences. Several parts of the body, such as the neurological and vascular systems, can suffer greatly from the virus. At the time of this writing, the risks of the vaccine are significantly less than the potential dangers of the disease. More than 17.2 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the U.S. This includes nearly 72,000 shots given in Hawaii, the state in which I run my practice. Given the huge number of people vaccinated, there have been relatively few unusual side effects. Indeed, the majority of those vaccinated—millions of people—have experienced only mild to moderate side effects, such as a slight fever, soreness at the injection site, or fatigue. While these side effects may be unpleasant, they are both normal and welcome indicators that one’s immune system has been activated by the vaccine, and is mounting a healthy immune response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as reported in US News, after the first nearly 1.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered, there were 175 cases identified for further review as possible severe allergic reactions. Of these, 21 were reported as of January 6 to be cases of anaphylaxis—severe allergic reactions to some ingredients in the vaccine. Although anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening, there have been no deaths reported among these 21 cases. The 21 cases translate to a rate of about 11.1 cases per 1 million doses. This is about 10 times the rate of anaphylaxis for the flu vaccine (which is around 1.3 cases per 1 million doses), but still exceedingly rare. As the CDC reports, severe allergic reactions to the vaccine usually occur only in those who have a history of significant allergic reactions. People in this category are advised not to take the vaccine.
There have been other reports of people becoming seriously ill after receiving the vaccine, including some fatalities, but we don’t yet know if these instances are related to the vaccine itself. (These cases are presently under investigation.)
It’s important to know that although the COVID-19 vaccine is a new type of vaccine—what’s known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine—it has been extensively studied on other viruses. (For a terrific read on mRNA vaccines, see this article published by Harvard University.) The scientific evidence shows that the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19. No live or dead virus is in the vaccine. It does not contain DNA of the virus, nor does it affect your DNA.
These mRNA vaccines work differently—and, in fact, brilliantly—because the mRNA vaccine triggers the machinery inside your cells to induce your immune system to make immune cells (T and B cells) to the spike protein in COVID-19. (The spike protein is the “novel” part of the virus. By novel, we mean that this is a new virus that has never infected humans before. While human beings have faced other coronavirus strains, we’ve never had to make immune cells to the spike protein present in COVID-19, which is what makes the virus so potentially dangerous to some people.) These immune cells can neutralize and fight the virus spike protein, should you ever become exposed to the virus, and prevent a COVID-19 infection. (For more on how the vaccine works, go here.)
The COVID-19 vaccine is a two-step vaccine, with the two doses taken a few weeks apart. The different versions of the vaccine developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are both highly effective in preventing the novel virus. It has been reported that after the second dose (typically administered three to four weeks after the first) people are approximately 94 to 95 percent protected from a serious COVID-19 infection.
The vaccine arrives at a critical time: as of this writing, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, and over 23,000,000 have been infected. To save lives—and to thwart further spread of the virus—we undeniably need a vaccine. It appears there is no other way out of this pandemic than to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. According to many experts, including those at the CDC, the sooner we can get the majority of our population vaccinated, the sooner we can save many lives that might otherwise be lost. Some people won’t be able to be vaccinated, due to either their personal sensitivities or their delicate immune systems. Others may simply choose to not get vaccinated. However, if the bulk of the public gets vaccinated, we will achieve herd immunity—and help protect those most vulnerable to the disease.
Ultimately, by getting vaccinated, we can help shield our friends, families, colleagues and communities from this potentially perilous virus. Eventually, we can also return to living without fear of contracting the virus and spreading it to others. True, we don’t know how long the immunity provided by vaccination will last. We also don’t know if a person can still be an asymptomatic carrier after being vaccinated. What we do know, though, is that a significant portion of the population having some immune defense against COVID-19’s spike protein could save countless lives.
I chose to be vaccinated not only to safeguard myself and others, but also because my medical background predisposes me to trust the scientific community that developed the vaccine, and I know that not all health issues can be treated entirely by natural means.
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