Guest Editorial: Vaccines Effective at Preventing Hospitalization and Death

As a physician during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m frequently asked, “Should I take the vaccine?” My answer is yes. For the vast majority of people, the benefits of COVID vaccination greatly outweigh the risks.

Almost all doctors I know wanted the vaccine for themselves and their families as soon as it became available. This is especially true for physicians on the front lines. In fact, the AMA reported that 96 percent of surveyed physicians have been fully vaccinated. Simply put, vaccines are safe and effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Almost nothing we do in medicine is 100 percent safe. There are always potential risks, which must be balanced against benefits. Minor reactions to vaccines such as fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes are common — and actually reassuring — signs your body is mounting an immune response. Serious reactions from vaccines are real, but fortunately they are extremely rare.

One concern brought up frequently is myocarditis (heart inflammation) associated with mRNA vaccines. Scientists realized this after examining data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is an early warning system managed by the CDC and FDA that intentionally casts a wide net to detect potential vaccine problems.

Unfortunately, the unvetted data is often cited as proof the vaccine caused a bad event, but this isn’t accurate. If I’m struck by a car leaving my vaccine appointment, it could be entered as a death after vaccination. Does this mean the vaccine caused my death? Out of over 500 million doses delivered in the U.S. thus far, there are bound to be subsequent heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses that occur unrelated to the vaccine. If X happens, then Y happens, it doesn’t always mean X caused Y. It could, but that requires more study. VAERS is a useful database, but only when interpreted correctly.

It turns out the mRNA vaccine-associated myocarditis occurs in younger males after the second dose and is rare (1/50,000). The vast majority of these cases resolve without lasting problems.

In contrast, COVID-19 infection itself causes myocarditis at much greater rates. As is often the case, medical reality is more nuanced than media outlets would have us believe.

In contrast to rare vaccine problems, COVID-19 infection causes pneumonia, respiratory failure, blood clots, sepsis, neurological problems, multi-organ failure, and “long COVID.” Children can develop multi-system inflammatory syndrome. All occur at greater rates than vaccine reactions.

What about effectiveness? Clinical studies and subsequent monitoring have consistently shown COVID vaccines protect against hospitalization and death. As antibody levels wane over time (like in all viruses), vaccinated individuals can still get infected and even pass COVID-19 to others. However, those infections are generally shorter and less severe because other parts of the immune system protect from severe infection. Less severe (or no) infection means less disease spread. By getting vaccinated, I can help protect myself and others.

Another frequent objection is the connection to abortion. While it’s true cell lines used in production of some vaccines were originally obtained from abortions (as far back as the 1960s), it’s important to note current cells are many generations descended from originals, and there are no new abortions occurring to obtain them. While the origin of these cells is morally problematic, I agree with many Christian organizations and ethicists that it is morally acceptable to use these vaccines even as we lobby companies to develop other lines.

The Kaiser Foundation recently reported that white evangelicals were the most resistant to COVID vaccination. This is sad and frustrating to healthcare workers battling under the crushing weight of another patient wave filling hospitals and overcrowding emergency rooms. More concerning, I think it harms Christian witness to a world that desperately needs the hope of the gospel.

While we need to acknowledge the existence of natural immunity for those who have recovered, counting on this has proven unwise for far too many. Part of being pro-life means admitting that over 900,000 U.S. and 5.7 million worldwide deaths is tragic, especially when many are preventable. Talk to a trusted provider who knows your medical history and if there’s no contraindication, get vaccinated. There is no risk-free option. We all likely have a date with COVID-19, but we are much better off meeting it with immunity already on board.

Vaccines are a testament to God-given ingenuity and creativity that alleviates suffering. Let’s use COVID vaccines as an opportunity to keep our bodies healthy for kingdom use as we love our neighbors as ourselves.

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— Michael Dorrity is an emergency physician in Charleston and an elder at East Cooper River Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant.