To some of us in health care, COVID vaccines couldn’t have come any sooner, and we count the days for ourselves and patients to get them.

Unfortunately, some health care workers are still feeling uncertain about taking the vaccine. These same individuals are presently risking their lives fighting COVID without any hesitation, yet they hesitate to take the COVID vaccine.

In trying to allay the concerns of health care workers, we would also be addressing the concerns of the population at large. COVID control ultimately depends on a successful vaccination campaign, which would be incomplete without health care workers. We should remind ourselves that if humanity hadn’t conquered infectious diseases with antibiotics and vaccines, the average life expectancy in the United States would still be under 49 years, as it was in 1900.

We remind our health care workers that among the 326,000 U.S. COVID deaths are an estimated 1,700-plus health care workers. That is 5 health care workers for every 1,000 COVID deaths. By contrast, there have been no deaths from COVID vaccines, so the risk comparison is not even close to being proportional.

While severe illness and death from COVID may be lower in the younger groups compared to the older population, our young staff can still get infected and transmit COVID to others, even if they are asymptomatic. The sacrifice involved in getting vaccinated is minuscule compared to the daily sacrifices our health care workers are making in the COVID fight.

With regards to ingredients, nothing is controversial about the salt and lipids used to stabilize the mRNA, which itself is a simple organic structure that naturally breaks down in the body. In fact, the rapid breakdown of mRNA is the reason these vaccines were difficult to make until now. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are even certified kosher and halal, as they are pork-free.

Doctors and other health care providers should recognize that some of the misunderstandings about vaccines’ side effects are of our own doing. We tend to only mention the injection-site soreness as the main side effect, and we ignore the more concerning side effects that mimic the disease the vaccine is designed to protect against. It is no wonder that many still think they get the flu from flu shots.

In simulating disease, vaccines trick the immune system into reacting, and in doing so, one may feel some of the same disease symptoms, but they are expected to be limited and last hours to days. More importantly, these side effects will definitely not kill you, like COVID might.

The Food and Drug Administration lists the common side effects of one coronavirus vaccine as “pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever.” These disease-mimicking side effects should be at the center of the discussion since they cause the most concern for our staff and patients.

The overlap of mild COVID symptoms and vaccine side effects is real and is prompting us to plan more testing around the vaccination clinic dates to make sure that staff who develop some symptoms are also screened for the real thing. Staff and residents who had COVID in the past three months will be exempt from this testing.

For our residents who have a history of allergies, we preventively treat with non-sedating antihistamines, and we also give Tylenol on the day of vaccination to counter the mild fever and the muscle ache. This proactive side effect management helps to prevent a second-dose vaccine refusal by residents on the grounds that they “felt sick after the vaccine.” Last but not least, we have an emergency kit on hand that includes EpiPens, and we ask every staff member receiving the vaccine to stay on the premises for 30 minutes after vaccination for anaphylaxis observation.

At the end of the day, we hope all our colleagues will agree that based on over a century of scientific data, we can easily conclude that infectious diseases like COVID are bad, and vaccines are, without a doubt, life-saving and good. If not for ourselves and our families, we should vaccinate for the sake of our patients.


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