The advent of the COVID vaccines is one of the marvels of our time. Yet the message that vaccine-hesitant Americans are getting from the media and public-health officials is that vaccines are highly risky, and even if you take that risk, you can’t go back to your pre-pandemic lives.
This is perverse. The COVID-19 vaccines available to Americans — which, as of this writing, are just the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — are safe. People have reactions to them, of course. People have reactions to all kinds of vaccines, from flu shots to tetanus shots. Those who are vaccinated may experience muscle aches and sore arms, fatigue, chills, slight fever, headaches, and dizziness. These reactions usually pass in a day or two, without any treatment. It’s a small and brief inconvenience for the benefit of no longer being at risk to being seriously ill with COVID-19.
As for a possible connection between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a handful of cases of serious blood clots, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the data. At this point, this appears to be an exceptionally rare reaction — eight known cases out more than 7 million doses administered — and may not be connected to the vaccine. So, based on what we know now, 7 million unvaccinated people are more likely to suffer from severe COVID-19 than they are to suffer severe blood clots.
When it comes to the other vaccines, multiple studies, both in clinical trials and of those vaccinated after approval for the general public, found Moderna and the Pfizer appeared to be 90 percent effective or more in preventing COVID-19 infection in a real-world setting. To be clear, that doesn’t mean 10 percent of those getting vaccinated will get COVID-19. It means that compared with a similar group of unvaccinated people, there are 90 percent fewer infections among those who are vaccinated. Nonetheless, 90 percent is not 100 percent. This means that some people who get vaccinated will get catch the virus. But the CDC’s latest data suggests 5,814 cases of “breakthrough infections,” out of more than 75 million fully vaccinated people.
Vaccination not only protects the vaccinated individual; a vaccinated person who does get infected sheds much fewer viruses than an unvaccinated person, making infection of others less likely. It doesn’t eliminate it completely, but a study of nearly 5,000 vaccinated Israelis concluded that “viral load was substantially reduced for infections occurring 12 to 37 days after the first dose of vaccine.”
But some media institutions seem to think every time a vaccinated person gets infected, it’s big and shocking news. The New York Post felt the need to tell us about a Brooklyn woman who was infected three weeks after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Then they wrote about an Alaskan woman who was infected with COVID-19, recovered, and then was infected again on April 12. The same day, the paper separately told us about a Brooklyn man who was infected two weeks after getting the J&J vaccine.
The Post has relentlessly covered people who have died after receiving the vaccine. One headline read, “Elderly man collapses, dies shortly after getting COVID-19 vaccine at Javits Center”! The septuagenarian fell as he left the building.
On the other hand, the Post editorial board sensibly observes, “You’re far likelier to die in a plane accident than get a blood clot from J&J’s jab, yet we still allow air travel. And getting as many people immunized ASAP is vital to beating COVID and saving far more lives.” It has also followed up with a cover editorial urging people to get vaccinated. That’s great, now could you guys go talk to your colleagues in the news section?
Beyond efforts by the media to emphasize the relatively small number of post-vaccine horror stories, public-health officials have implicitly downplayed the effectiveness of the vaccines by urging even vaccinated people to keep wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and steering clear of indoor spaces. This suggests that getting vaccinated does not change anything. As the U.S. transitions from a shortage of vaccines to the challenge of convincing skeptics to get vaccinated, this is a disastrous message to send.
Every vaccination represents one more person whose once potentially life-threatening infections will probably be nothing more than a case of the sniffles, and one step closer to our normal, pre-pandemic lives. This was the goal all along, an effective neutralization of the virus that turned all of our lives upside down more than a year ago and caused us so much suffering.
Now, finally, the solution is here. All anyone needs to do is make an appointment.