5 reasons you should get the COVID-19 vaccine
By most accounts, the efforts to vaccinate people in the United States against COVID got off to a successful start. As of May 24, a New York Times interactive table showed that 49 percent of Americans have had one shot and 39 percent are fully vaccinated. The numbers are even better in Massachusetts. So far, 65 percent of the state’s residents have had one shot and 50 percent are fully vaccinated.
Despite the good start, vaccination rates are slowing, and vaccine hesitancy remains, especially with younger Americans. An April poll done by Quinnipiac University indicated that about 36 percent of those under the age of 35 don’t plan to get vaccinated. The same month, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey indicated that only 49 percent of those under age 30 planned on getting the vaccine as soon as possible.
This is a problematic for many reasons, said Cape Cod Healthcare infectious disease expert Ana Paula Oppenheimer, MD, MPH. First, younger people can spread the disease to others, especially since they are less apt to social distance.
“Certain viruses like the COVID, measles, poliomyelitis, etc., will start with one group within a population and affect everyone within the group and move on to the other group and affect everyone and move to the next group, and so on, until the whole population gets exposed,” she said. “As we know from experience over the last year and half, some people will get sicker than others and many will die. Vaccines break that pattern of transmission; it's like the virus knocking on doors that do not open.”
She pointed out this is why no one gets infected with smallpox and we rarely hear about polio in recent years. Those doors are firmly shut and we only hear about measles in unvaccinated people. The only way to make COVID history is to vaccinate everyone so there is no fertile ground for the virus to spread.
“There are so many myths around vaccines and around COVID vaccines that deserve debunking,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “Most people who do not believe in vaccines today are here because their ancestors were vaccinated and saved. These people have the responsibility to save their future generations.”
Why to Get Vaccinated
She pointed out five important reasons why young people should get vaccinated:
- It protects themselves and their parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and our community.
- Experience has shown that vaccines are safe.
- Vaccinations are effective. Infections are dropping in states with higher rates of vaccinations like Massachusetts, and increasing in states with lower rates of vaccination like Michigan and Minnesota.
- No one is safe until we are all safe. Almost everyone has family members or loved ones with medical conditions that make them at increased risk for severe COVID or death. Do you want the guilt of knowing you might have caused harm to loved ones?
- Children and young adults are perfectly capable of understanding their responsibility to protect themselves and others, if they are taught right.
One of the excuses many young people give for not getting vaccinated is that they don’t think COVID will be serious even if they do get infected. While older people are more apt to die, young people still have a great risk of long-term consequences like long-haul syndrome. COVID long-haulers are people who are still experiencing a wide range of symptoms for many weeks and months after being infected with COVID, Dr. Oppenheimer said.
COVID long-haul is a post-viral syndrome with symptoms that profoundly affect quality of life. Symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue.
- Body aches.
- Inability to carry on with activities like going up the stairs or walking the dog.
- Brain fog and an inability to focus on work.
- Heart palpitations.
- Shortness of breath.
Since most people with long-haul COVID had mild cases of actual COVID that didn’t require hospitalization, this lingering illness is unexpected, Dr. Oppenheimer said. Doctors don’t know why this syndrome is happening, but it may be connected to the way the spike protein interacts with the immune system.
“It is easy to foresee its long-term consequences,” she said. “It will rob people of living full and productive lives, and it may lead to another public health crisis, with economic impact for the states and the country. Natural COVID infection confers some immunity, but it seems to come accompanied with this maiming syndrome. This does not happen with immunity caused by the vaccine.”
For that reason, if someone is deciding between natural immunity with the possibility of long-haul syndrome or vaccine-derived immunity, the choice is very clear, she said. That also goes for parents who are debating these two options for their children 12 and older who have been approved for vaccines and for younger children in the future. It’s also important to remember that long-haul COVID isn’t the only danger.
Even though it is not common, children and young adults have a risk of cytokine storms called Miscellaneous Inflammatory Syndrome where their immune system backfires and the inflammation spreads to many organs all at once, overwhelming the body. This becomes even more important as variants spread because they infect more easily and quickly and that changes the risk profile for kids.
Although doctors don’t have the full picture yet, the current theory is that children were not affected as much by COVID in the first wave because their nasal sinuses and tissues are still developing, and they have fewer receptors in their respiratory system. It was almost like the virus was a key that did not fit the door lock of the child’s nose, Dr. Oppenheimer said. Unfortunately, the virus has evolved to make it a better key for the children’s door lock. That means we can expect more infections and deaths in those who are unvaccinated.
“We also do not know what the future long-term effects will be in people infected as children,” she warned. “Will the inflammation persist? For how long? Will it affect the developing brain? heart? lungs? muscles? When there are too many unanswered questions, do as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!’”
Be Cautious Around Unvaccinated People
Dr. Oppenheimer doesn’t support cash incentives like the five-million-dollar lottery in Ohio to get more people vaccinated. She believes that money would be much better spent on educating more people and addressing their fears and uncertainty. She also doesn’t think that parents or grandparents should cut unvaccinated young adult children from their lives.
But she does recommend being cautious around them and even around the general population, now that mask mandates are ending. Soon we won’t have any way of knowing who is safe and who isn’t. Keep in mind that even if you are vaccinated, you can still get COVID.
“Social distancing, mask use, and hand washing are still appropriate measures in many settings,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “Everyone who is not vaccinated is a potential carrier of disease, even if they do not get sick themselves. If you know the people around you are not vaccinated, or if you do not know their status continue using the other tools. Use the mask to prevent yourself from acquiring the virus and carrying it to someone else. Mask your smaller children if you are taking them somewhere. Don't accept pressure. No one pressures you for wearing a hat, or baseball cap, or flipflops. Nobody should pressure you if you still choose to wear a mask. I do!”