AND WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT, TOO
There is so much confusion and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. As you know, at Amy Brenner, MD and Associates we are not infectious disease doctors, virologists or anything of that sort. And we certainly are not on the front lines taking care of COVID-19 patients.
However, this past year it saddened me that the only message given to most Americans – in mainstream media and from many traditional physicians – about protecting themselves from COVID-19 was 1) masking and 2) social distancing. Although I do believe those are important strategies to mitigate risk, there are other things that can be done to optimize immune health… and this IS part of our wheelhouse.
Fortunately, many people understand that diabetes, obesity and poor health lead to poor outcomes with COVID-19 and have come to our practice in droves this past year seeking to achieve better health…and that makes me happy! Some of the success stories we have heard are so exciting.
But just like the prevention strategies of COVID-19 have greatly varied between traditional and holistic medicine, so has the approach to the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who have been patients in our practice know that we are not a traditional medical practice, where you tell us a problem and we write a prescription medication. We typically are not a fan of most prescription medications, and our practitioners believe in optimizing health and reducing exposure to toxic substances.
In fact, I’ll admit I haven’t had a flu shot in many years. I’ve looked at the risk/benefit ratio for myself and my family and have declined. I prefer to focus on supporting my immune system and have used peptide therapy, Vitamin D and other supplements for immune health. But this novel coronavirus is a different monster.
To be honest, a few months ago I declared that I would not get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available, as I didn’t feel like I was at high risk for dying. I’m REALLY healthy. But then I saw what this highly contagious, unpredictable virus has been doing across the world (and not just on the news, but from my colleagues who ARE on the front lines taking care of COVID-19 patients), and it made me second-guess that initial decision. I am concerned about the potential long-term problems. So, I did what I do best…research. I want to share with you what I’ve discovered and help dispel some of the misinformation that is circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine.
So let’s dig into some of the science, shall we?
IT’S NOT A REAL VACCINE?
When I see some of my holistic colleagues make posts against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I can’t help but notice many errors in their explanation. For example, some have stated that the COVID-19 vaccine is not even a real vaccine because it doesn’t have any of the COVID-19 viral particles.
According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, this is the definition of the word vaccine:
“a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease.”
So yes, the currently approved (albeit under an Emergency Use Authorization) vaccines are real vaccines.
COVID-19 IS NO WORSE THAN THE FLU?
Some people still believe that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. For many patients, that statement may be accurate…some are even asymptomatic. Aren’t they lucky? There must be some kind of genetic component, that hasn’t been identified yet, that leads to this unpredictable outcome. Perhaps it’s related to IL-6 levels and other genetics that predispose to overwhelming inflammation. Hopefully, one day soon we will know.
For many people, however, COVID-19 wreaks havoc on several body systems…causing massive inflammation in all of them. It is not just a respiratory disease! By now, we have all been touched by someone we know or love dying from this awful virus. COVID-19 is NOT the same as the flu…it is more contagious and in most populations, more deadly. While the current survival rate is around 98% in the U.S. (not 99.9%, as often mis-stated), it is estimated that at least 10% of survivors experience prolonged symptoms, now called LONG COVID. Those with co-morbidities (those health issues that potentially make COVID-19 infection more severe) and the elderly have the worst outcome with this virus, but a decent amount of perfectly healthy people are having significant, long-term problems.
As of this writing, COVID-19 has become the #1 cause of death in the U.S., surpassing heart disease. Approximately 3,000-4,000 Americans are losing their lives to COVID-19 every day. This virus has taken over 2 million lives worldwide.
THE VACCINE IS NEW AND RUSHED?
Our practice has participated in FDA trials, and we understand the process of getting a drug or device to market. I read an article by Craig Ratermann, PharmD from Mercy Hospital, who explained the FDA approval process best. Here are his words:
“Am I concerned about it being new? And previously untested? No, I’m not. This type of technology is not entirely new. It has been studied and used in cancer research since 1990. They have been making mRNA vaccines and studying them to specifically target proteins on tumor cells and train your immune system to then destroy the tumor. In this case, it is not a vaccine in the preventive sense, as it is targeted to a tumor that you already have. It is not currently widespread because it has to be custom made for each tumor. But, it has been “around the block” for a while now. The technology was also being studied for other Coronaviruses. It never came to fruition, because the diseases never reached pandemic proportions, and then the funding dried up (SARS, MERS). The mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell, and it does not affect your DNA, and therefore has no lasting impact on your cell.Am I concerned about the speed with which it was developed? Weren’t significant corners cut in order to get this out so quickly? No and no. What was cut out of the equation was mostly red tape, and what was added was technology and funding. We were given the genetic code by scientists in China to start vaccine production in January; before Covid was even documented to have reached our shores. From there, the vaccine was developed from the technology we had from the prior Coronavirus and cancer research, and was completed in March. Normally, there would be months of waiting for the FDA to even look at the work done prior to approving Phase 1 trials. Because of the urgent nature of this, it was essentially put on the top of the wait pile, which cut out months of waiting, but did not cut any corners. Between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines (both mRNA, with a slightly different delivery system), they were tested in 37,000 people in Phase 3 (and an additional 37,000 received a placebo). That is on par with, if not better than the vaccines currently available. Additionally, recruitment for most vaccine trials takes severs years which also prolongs the process. Recruitment for these trials was completed in a few months because we are in the middle of a pandemic, so many people volunteered quickly, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the time it normally takes to complete these trials.
Aren’t I concerned that the FDA is about to approve it, and there may be side effects that haven’t been seen yet? Nope on this one too. We know from decades of vaccine research, since you typically just get 1, 2 or 3doses and then you are done with it, that nearly all side effects from vaccines occur in the first 6 weeks. Like other vaccines, minor side effects may occur(soreness at injection site, muscle aches, fever). Severe adverse reactions are extremely rare, and again, occur quickly if they are going to occur at all. As a healthy 35 year old man, my risk of dying from Covid is low/moderate, however the risk to others who are older or those who have high risk comorbidities is much higher. What does scare me is the risk of long term lung damage and other issues that affect my quality of life that we are seeing develop in covid survivors. Because vaccines are given to healthy people (unlike medications for treating a disease that is already present) they are held to a much higher standard for approval. My risk of having a significant adverse reaction from the Covid vaccine is minuscule in comparison to my risk with Covid.”
WHAT ARE THE CHOICES?
As with everything in medicine, there is a risk/benefit ratio. I feel there are three basic choices:
- You can play Russian Roulette with COVID-19, as it does have an overall high survivability rate. For many, it’s simply missing 2+ weeks of life and social interaction. For others, COVID-19 can be lethal or lead to complications lasting for months – perhaps permanently.
- Stay in isolation for 2+ years (and we honestly know this virus will be around forever).
- Take the vaccine and have less than 1% of serious adverse outcome from it. It is true that long-term effects are presently unknown, but data from other vaccines have shown that complications arise within the first two months.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m not in love with ANY of these options. But I choose option #3, because I believe that is the best long-term option if we want to eventually return to some semblance of normal life. At the end of the day, the vaccine will help protect my family, friends, neighbors and patients. I ultimately chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because I studied and believe in the science.
THE ULTIMATE DECISION
Ultimately, everyone gets to make their own decision. I encourage all of you to do your research, not on social media, but through credible sources. Contact your physician or schedule a consult with our office to discuss the study, your concerns, specific needs and health history. Making an informed decision is important. I am sharing some resources and podcasts below that I trust and hope you find helpful.
Amy Brenner, MD
I’ve spent a lot of time researching whether I should personally get the vaccine and recommend it to my family, friends and patients. Here are some of my favorite articles, videos and podcasts of in-depth explanations that have helped me reach my conclusion.