Vaccines: A follow up discussion

Approximately half a year since my first post on medium, the world is still aggressively debating, arguing and fighting over vaccines and now the so called “vaccine passports” are also in the mix. Almost 10,000 people are still dying daily from COVID-19 around the world while close to 1000 (and on most days more than 1000) die from COVID daily just in North America (and of course mainly the “greatest” country) as these countries are grappling with the fourth (nth) wave. While many countries still have not been able to procure enough vaccines to inoculate their populations or even their front line workers, North America in fact has been hoarding vaccines that can be put to good use all around the world. Thus, despite having a big surplus of vaccines, the percentage of eligible population who have gotten both the shots remain lower than anticipated, making majority of the daily new deaths at this point preventable and unnecessary. Everyday there are many new headlines and articles detailing stories of anti-vaxxers, vaccine skeptics and people who simply considered themselves strong enough and naturally immune that have since succumbed to this illness, leaving loved ones grieving and in pain and perhaps despair. So, here we are again, talking about some of the concerns and arguments that are being wildly used and are stopping people from rolling up their sleeves.

Vaccines aren’t Safe and have severe side effects.

Ans: The way some act on the matters of side effects is as if one were to get the vaccines, they’d end up getting all the potential side effects listed or observed so far. The rate for severe side effects to vaccines still remains low at ~20 per million while the COVID death rate still remains much higher at ~>500 per million. So the question is which battle do you want to fight? One that may end up putting you on a ventilator or struggling for every single breath or the one in which you may have to put up with cold and flu like symptoms for 1–4 days (in most cases). Thus, unless one has a known history of severe side effects from previous vaccinations (such as flu shots or polio or any other vaccines taken in the past), they don’t really have much to be afraid of. Either way, everyone can go and talk with their family doctor and discuss the matter with them and perhaps they’d be able to help put some of the fears to rest.

All that being said, it’d be dishonest of me to not even mention the extremely rare cases of severe side effects, yes they have been observed; more from certain vaccines and yet the numbers for such severe and life threatening side effects remain very very low compared to the numbers of severe illness from COVID. Most people who developed life threating side effects were able to recover thanks to timely interventions by doctors. But unfortunately, few have lost their life in the even extremely rare situations and yet the numbers pale in comparison to deaths and serious illness from COVID.

There isn’t enough data on long term safety and the effects from the vaccines and I do not wish to be a Guinea Pig for them.

Ans: Clinical trials involved on average 40,000 people. Vaccines have constantly been under observation since the phase 1 trials began more than a year ago. But okay, maybe 40,000 people in trial isn’t sufficient to convince some, but then how about over 5 billion? Yes, since the emergency use authorization of the first COVID vaccine back in December 2020, more than 5 (and closing in on 6) billion doses of various vaccines have been administered globally. This includes 100’s of million doses for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each and perhaps nearly a billion doses of the AstraZeneca/CoviShield vaccine. Administration of these vaccines around the world started as early as December 2020 or January 2021, meaning we’re almost reaching one year since the very first people got their shots (and that period is at least a year or more for the trial volunteers), and basically all of these people are living a good normal life.

Now some may say that one year is not long enough and what about 5 years or 10 years from taking the vaccine? Okay, the main and the only purpose of the vaccines is to induce response from your immune system to develop antibodies that can help fight future exposures to the virus that the vaccine is made for. In majority of cases, these antibodies last only a few months and most certainly less than one year. COVID vaccines are no exception to that, antibodies from COVID vaccine last about 3 months while studies are still underway on exactly how long the protection lasts as one is still protected for some time after the antibodies disappear. The same is true for Polio vaccines (or any other vaccine for that matter), which children have had to take repeatedly (at least once or twice a year after the initial doses) in order to maintain the protection against exposures and infections. USA is already going ahead with booster shots for COVID for people with compromised immunity despite WHO asking to wait for now. All these points to one simple conclusion, no one will experience any sudden adverse side effect or health crisis after one year (or two years or 10 years down the road) because of the vaccines. Thus, borrowing the lingo of some of the skeptics, over couple of billion people around the world has volunteered to be the “Guinea Pig” for the new vaccines and numbers couldn’t be clearer; but then again who cares about the numbers, right? And if 20 years from now, someone wants to blame the vaccines for their hair-loss or weight gain, who’s to stop them from doing so?

Another thing some of these people continue to ignore and not acknowledge is the long term effects of catching COVID. Studies show that considerable number of people who survived this virus (odds are higher for those who had severe case and were admitted to hospital and ended up in the ICU) have a very long road to complete recovery and continue to suffer from lingering effects even months after “recovering” from COVID (in some cases these symptoms linger for more than 6 months). These include, loss of taste and smell, weakness, reduced lung capacity and abnormalities in lungs resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath. Hence, it’s very clear that catching COVID is much much much worse than the minor side effects from the Vaccines (and even the highly unlikely more serious side effects by comparison). These COVID vaccines are some of the safest vaccines ever and benefits far outweigh all the potential side effects. On that note, let’s move to the next point.

My body, my choice. Vaccine mandates and vaccine passports are an attack on our constitutional rights and freedom. We live in a free country and governments cannot tell us what to do.

Ans: Let’s for the moment put aside the fact that majority of the people using this argument are also against women’s right to choose and have co-opted the slogan of abortion rights groups on purpose and let’s even ignore the hypocrisy in this situation. Alright, agreed, one has autonomy over their body. That’s why no one can stop someone from smoking but that doesn’t stop the governments from mandating that 50% or 75% of cigarette packages be covered with warning signs and/or graphics pictures. Similarly, for public health, majority of the countries have adopted bans on indoor smoking in public places. Mandatory seatbelts and/or helmets, traffic rules and speed limits etc. are just some of the most common examples of laws adopted out of public health and safety concerns. Even for vaccines, such laws and mandates have been around not just for decades but for over a century. Be it the 1904 ruling of the United States Supreme Court which established state’s right to invoke vaccine mandates for smallpox or all the mandatory vaccinations that have followed since. (Special shoutout to NYC for vaccinating approximately 6.35 million people in 3 weeks for smallpox in 1947 as soon as outbreak was detected.)

Every kid has a right to education and yet a kid cannot even go to preschool unless they’re vaccinated against measles, poxes, polio etc. Forget the serious diseases that can impact the rest of one’s life, something as small and trivial as head lice outbreak can and have caused daycares and nursery closures for few days. Another example is war drafts; it’s a criminal offence to dodge or evade a draft in most countries. Unless one can prove a medical condition rendering them ineligible for service or have a religious reason and exemption, they must serve if drafted even if they are against the war in question and the motives behind it or face the consequences which include prison. So, this implies that one can be compelled to kill fellow humans in the name of serving their country and national interest and/or protecting their fellow countrymen and their freedoms and ideals, but the same people cannot be compelled to take a life saving medicine to keep themselves, their families and fellow countrymen safe; is that the kind of world we live in? If it makes some of the people feel better, they can think of vaccine mandates as their war drafts and serve their country or face the consequence known as vaccine passport and lose certain privileges for a small amount of time, i.e. until the pandemic is truly over and behind us. But then again, it is so much easier to get people to rally behind something and do the right thing when enemy has a face that they can see compared to the invisible enemy that is CORONAVIRUS.

Another argument I’ve seen against the vaccine passports is that “if the vaccines work then they are not needed and if the vaccines don’t work then they’re useless”. The very important point this leaves out is that the vaccines only work for those who actually got them and even then they’re somewhere between 66-95% effective from stopping serious illness and hospitalizations and one can still get breakthrough infections but even if they do, they are more likely to recover quickly and have significantly lower chance of passing the disease on. Now let me be honest, I don’t know how effective vaccine passports will be from stopping the spread of the virus, specially within the unvaccinated (despite eradication of smallpox and polio presenting very very strong case for them), but I do know that not having them will certainly lead to disasters. Actually it already has in so many places, just look at Florida, Texas, Alberta or any other place with low vaccination numbers and the number of daily new cases and deaths they’re seeing after lifting all restrictions earlier in the summer.

You know, in November and December 2019, whenever the virus first emerged, it had no political affiliation, but someone in power politicized it to cover for their failures to contain it and stopping it from spreading like the plague that they secretly knew it was going to be. But that doesn’t matter, because if not them then some other person or group of people would have politicized it and thus we still end up exactly where we are today, no matter what! And because of that, now the virus does seem to have a certain political affiliation. Not because, the virus is all of a sudden smart enough to understand such matters but because in politicizing the plague, they inevitably turned a large proportion of people into the ally the virus needed to continue circulating and finding more and more host and keep mutating. And now more than 80–85% of daily new cases are in the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and that number is even higher for new deaths. All this outrage and politicization, for what? Just so that one can get people to vote for their candidates? Just goes to show how little regard they have for the lives of the very people they’re trying to keep angry just to secure vote bank.

I really hope no other child ends up paying the price for the misguided beliefs of the adults in their life, be it parents or any other relative they spend time with. If any unvaccinated person is reading this and has actually managed to read till the end, please please please, I beg you to talk with a doctor if you still have some concerns that haven’t been addressed in this post, and go get your shots, if not for yourself then for the kids around you, the kids I’m sure you love with all your heart, the kids who can’t get these vaccines for themselves yet and are counting on you to make the responsible decision.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped me make this article better with their suggestions and for taking the time to read it. You know who you are.

—Last update: September 17th, 2021 at 04:00 PM

Theoretical Particle Physicist at the moment, who knows about the future!?