Pay Attention to Vaccine Facts, Not Misinformation, When Making Vaccination Decision

By Dr. Terri Richardson, MD, Internist and Vice Chair, Colorado Black Health Collaborative

With so much information out there about the COVID-19 vaccine, it can be overwhelming and sometimes difficult to know what to believe. Trust me, I understand, so I want to share a few truths about the COVID-19 vaccine. I am on a mission to help the community get the information they need to make a good decision about getting this life-saving vaccine. I am going to share some facts, but the decision is entirely yours.

COVID-19 was wreaking havoc worldwide and communities of color were suffering disproportionately.  Given this crisis, lots of money, manpower and motivation was used to develop vaccines in record time. The vaccines offered a promise to rescue us from isolation, financial ruin, grief, and death.  

The COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S. are safe and scientific solutions. The science backing them is clear. Scientists utilized technologies and platforms based on years of research. There were Black scientists, like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, leading the way in developing the Moderna vaccine. More Black people than ever participated in the clinical studies. This was very intentional as trusted Black physicians, scientists and community advocates encouraged Blacks to participate to show that the vaccine is safe for us!

COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective in both the clinical studies and in real-life vaccination. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are about 95% effective. Johnson and Johnson in the U.S. trials was about 72% effective. All these vaccines are great at preventing the most severe outcomes from coronavirus disease 2019, hospitalization and death.

 Although most people that receive the shot are at least guaranteed to get a sore arm, some people get more significant side effects like fatigue, body aches and headaches, to name a few. While some people report feeling like they have contracted the virus, it is important to note that the vaccine does not cause COVID-19 infection.

How a person responds to the vaccine is very personal.  You cannot compare notes with your friends, families or foes to find out what side effects you will experience. If a person does get side effects, these usually last only a few days. More severe reactions are not common, akin to the one in a million chance of winning a lottery.

In some circles, people are talking about the futility of getting the vaccine because the virus is changing. All viruses mutate or change, leading to variants. The same can be said about the COVID-19. The U.K. (alpha), India (delta) and South African (beta) are variants of concern that I am sure you have heard about. The current vaccines are expected to be effective to some extent against these variants. The more people who are vaccinated, the less chance that a community gets overpopulated with variants of concern. That is why I tell people not to wait until ‘Juvember’ to get the vaccine!

This vicious virus is relentless as long as big pockets of people are unvaccinated. I want the community to be safe. Getting vaccinated is about protecting our family and our broader community. The final word is not out, but due to the variants and the possible declining immunity that may occur, experts believe that there will need to be a booster. This is an area where we will just have to stay informed and be ready to do what is needed to stay protected.

A gigantic hug, hanging out with friends, grabbing a meal at a restaurant, going to church, and conversating at the shops, these are the things that we can freely do once more of us are vaccinated. We are a social people, and this virus has impeded our natural ways of connecting and communicating safely.  It is time for us to get back to the things that make us happy and mentally healthy, and refresh our soul. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated | CDC), as well as the  Colorado state government have made it clear that you can drop your mask if you have been fully vaccinated. The guidelines are not intended for healthcare settings, public transportation, or other locations as required.

“Fully vaccinated people can go without masks in public indoor spaces unless the setting requires otherwise. Unvaccinated people are encouraged to continue wearing masks in all public indoor spaces.” Guidance for wearing masks | Colorado COVID-19 Updates

This pandemic has highlighted the benefits of other public health precautions like covering your mouth when coughing, frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and staying at home when sick! These measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections like the flu and the common cold. Continue to exercise precautions.

Choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice. However, I do encourage people to get the facts from trusted sources to help with the decision. Dr. Corbett calls vaccination a community service. I agree. In order for us all to be free, we need people to get the vaccine, sooner than later. Do you agree?