CATES: The COVID vaccination

I have been asked quite a bit in the last week or so about the COVID-19 vaccination and “should I take it.” That is not really a question I can answer because taking a vaccination, or any other interaction with health care is really a decision that an individual person has to make for themselves based on three things: Risks, benefits, and alternatives.

I thought it would be a good time this week to talk about what those terms mean, and what that means in terms of the COVID vaccine. I hope that will help you make the best decision for you when the vaccine is available.

Say you get in a horrible car accident and get brought to the ER by ambulance. The ER doctor looks at you does a bunch of x-rays, lab tests, and other diagnostic exams and finds you have a badly broken leg that may needs an expert too look at more closely.

He is going to call an orthopedic surgeon who is then going to look at you and your x-rays and all the other results and decides he feels surgery is the best option for your situation. However, he cannot make that decision alone. You as the patient has to have input in this decision because it’s your body and your life.

Because you need to have the information to make a good decision, the surgeon will discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives to having the surgery. While this is not a complete list by any means, I wanted to give you an idea of some of the things that surgeon might say.

As far as risks — you could get an infection, you could have scarring, and there is a very, very small chance something could go wrong with the surgery or anesthesia, and you could die. Benefits — your leg heals faster with less risk of permanent damage or pain.

Alternatives — if you don’t have surgery, could be things like your leg will heal, but it will take a very long time, it might not be straight, or you might not be able to walk on it afterwards. You will have chronic pain.

Every person is going to make a different decision based on what is best for them. Say the person has had bad reactions to anesthesia in the past. The risk of having surgery may not outweigh the benefits of faster healing and the things that go with it. For most people, the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks and the alternatives, but again that is a decision that person has to make for themselves.

Just like a broken leg from a car accident, you will need at some point to decide for yourself, based on the risks, benefits, and alternatives, if you should take the COVID-19 vaccination.

First and foremost, please talk to your health care provider to help you make the decision about whether the vaccine is right for you, but some things I do know from looking at the Centers for Disease Control and other vaccine experts.

The risks of this vaccine are actually pretty low. The COVID vaccine is a mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccine, which is newer technology, but it’s not unprecedented. We’ve been using mRNA technology for more than a decade.

Some of the new targeted cancer treatment drugs you see advertised on TV use mRNA. That means we do know a great deal about how these vaccines will affect us in the long-term even though the COVID-19 vaccines are new.

The biggest risk is the side effects which are very similar to those seen with any vaccine, so possible fever, aches, tiredness, and/or swelling and redness at the injection site. Those things happen because your body is reacting to the vaccine and making antibodies, which is actually a good thing.

For most people those side effects are mild and only last about a day. The other risk is allergic reactions. These vaccines do not have eggs, so egg allergies is not an issue like with some other vaccines, but if you have a history of allergies with vaccines, make sure you let your health care provider know prior to getting this vaccination so they can help you determine the extent of your risk in that regard.

The benefits are big. Immunity from COVID-19, which when enough of us have it, means we get to go back to normal.

The alternative is to keep doing what we have been doing. Just to give you some perspective on that front. Four weeks ago, I wrote about the current state of COVID cases in Ector County and listed our number of deaths to date. In the four weeks since that article, we have had an additional 33 people die of COVID in this county.

That means every day in the last four weeks we have lost at least one person, and on five of those days, we lost two people to COVID in Ector County alone.

I don’t know how else to help people understand this is way worse than any flu. In the 28 years, I have been a nurse, I have never seen flu take a life every single day for four weeks in a row. What’s worse, COVID has been going on at this pace for far longer than four weeks, and it is continuing to do so.

One-hundred-fifty-eight (158) people have died in Ector County as of today since March from COVID, the vast majority of those since July. There is no other way to put it: In the case of COVID, the alternative to a vaccine is not just unacceptable, it is scary.

I cannot tell you what the risk, benefit, and alternatives are for you with the COVID vaccine. What I can tell you is for me and the people in my family who I can help them lay out their individual risks, benefits, and alternatives, I have been encouraging them to get vaccinated as soon as they can. I will be getting the vaccinated when I can because for me the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks and the alternative is not acceptable. Please seriously consider getting vaccinated when it is available for you, too.