Caring for others takes many forms. In 2020, doctors and nurses found themselves filling unexpected roles, including facilitating final goodbyes via iPad. The pandemic has forced difficult choices, but getting vaccinated against COVID-19 should not be one of them. Being immunized is a way of taking care of yourself, but also caring for others, including the most vulnerable in our community.
As a family medicine doctor, I had the opportunity to get the vaccine on Dec. 15. Not getting it was never a possibility to consider. I felt no hesitation, even as a breastfeeding mother of an infant. The only side effect I experienced was a sore arm, but within 24 hours I felt fine.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have received the vaccine so I can be here for my patients and for my family. When the vaccine is approved for children, mine will be vaccinated to not only protect them, but also their caregivers outside our family who may be at higher risk of this disease.
It is important to understand that while the vast majority of those infected with COVID-19 recover, a significant number of people will die or have long-term complications. This particular virus spreads more easily than other respiratory infections and tends to be more severe, especially for those with underlying health conditions. Even months after infection, some patients still have symptoms or lingering lung and heart disease, at times even requiring organ transplant. We don't always know who will get severe disease.
Receiving immunity from the vaccine is safer than immunity from actually contracting the virus. Even if you contract the virus and do well, you could spread it to someone who may not recover. Vaccination is vital to moving forward as a society. It is the only way isolation, with all its social effects, will come to end, including at hospitals, nursing homes and hospice centers.
There is no other ethical way to achieve herd immunity while keeping the economy stable. At least 70 percent of our general population must be immunized for life to go back to normal, according to public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some individuals, including the severely immunocompromised, cannot be vaccinated. They depend on the immunity of those around them to limit exposure. It is also unlikely that newborns or very young babies will be able to receive the vaccine offered next year for children.
The CDC and Food and Drug Administration will continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines for a long period of time. There are very few perfect solutions in medicine overall; safety and efficacy are the goals that define vaccines' success prior to approval. Through a focused global effort, a vaccine is available that offers decades of research. Protocol has been followed and processes for rollout are in place. As scientists, we've done our part. Now, it's up to the public to take the vaccine.
Every person who can take the vaccine should when eligible. It is the responsible choice.
Dr. Calin Kirk is a family medicine doctor.