Why I just Got Vaccinated
Yesterday, I was vaccinated in our first round with other healthcare workers. You may be wondering if you should or shouldn’t get vaccinated. Let me tell you why I did. Let’s dig in.
The Two Vaccines Available
There is a Pfizer and Moderna vaccine available right now. Both are made using synthetic mRNA. The vaccines work by directing the body to produce a small amount of the spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This causes the body to produce antibodies to the spike protein, which can then actively target the virus. Neither vaccine contains any type of inactivated virus.
Both of these vaccines are about equally effective (95 and 94%). The Pfizer vaccine requires -80C freezer storage while the Moerna vaccine can be refrigerated.
What Is mRNA?
In your body, messenger RNA (mRNA) takes its instructions from DNA in the nucleus of the cell. It’s then exported into the cytoplasm where it makes a protein with those specific instructions. The new protein is then folded so that it can work in the body. So if your body wants more of a specific protein, it upregulates the mRNA that encodes for that protein.
One problem for mRNA vaccines has been that the molecules are not very stable. This issue has been solved in these vaccines is by encasing the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles (small bubbles of fat) which protects them from the body’s breakdown enzymes.
Is this Vaccine Going to Rewrite My DNA?
One of the conspiracy theories out there is that this vaccine because it uses nRNA, will somehow permanently edit your DNA. This is ridiculous. mRNA is made from DNA and then makes proteins. mRNA doesn’t hang around for long. Hence, this mRNA will produce proteins and go away, as it should. There is no way for this mRNA to rewrite your DNA.
Possible Side Effects
An early concern of using mRNA vaccines was that they would be recognized as foreign and cause the body to mount an inflammatory immune response. However, in a seminal 2005 paper, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania reported that synthetic mRNA could both increase protein production and drastically suppress the immune system’s reaction to it (1).
Actual Side Effects
Given that tens of millions of doses of both vaccines have already been administered world-wide and we can all count the severe side effects that have been reported (mostly allergic reactions in patients who were allergic enough to carry epi-pens), these vaccines are far safer than driving your car to get them. Meaning that severe and short-term side effects are about 1 in a million and your chances of a driving death this year are 1/8,303. Hence, you should be more worried about texting and driving on your way to getting the vaccine than the side effects of the vaccine (2).
My COVID Death Risk
I’m 57 years old right now and therefore, I’m in the 55-64 CDC age range where 35,981 people have died (3). Using 2018 mortality tables, COVID-19 would rank as the number three cause of death, just below Cancer at 113,947 and Heart Disease at 81,042. It would be above injury-related deaths at 23,693. So nothing to sneeze at for sure.
Returning to Normal
To be honest with you, I’m not so concerned about dying from COVID-19. There are about 20 million people in my CDC age range and only 35K of them died of COVID this year. That means that the odds of me dying from COVID are about 1 in 550. Likely less given that most that perished would have had illnesses that I don’t have. Given that my lifetime risk of dying in a car crash is about 1 in 100 and I have no issues driving my car, my personal risk of dying from COVID is remote and not something I often think about. Sure, I could die from COVID, but it’s much more likely I could die of a heart attack or cancer.
No, a bigger reason I wanted this vaccine is that I want the world around me to return to normal and I know that if I do my part by getting the vaccine, then that will happen sooner rather than later. While I might not need much protecting, hopefully, this will get us toward herd immunity and protect others.
In addition, I treat patients in Grand Cayman three times a year and I want to get back down there so I can begin treating my patients again. That country, like many others, will require vaccinations for travelers. I also love traveling in general and I know that the likelihood of being able to do that sooner rather than later goes up if I’m vaccinated. Finally, my patients will know that I as their physician am vaccinated.
The upshot? Please get vaccinated when it’s offered. If you’re elderly, you can make a decent case based on your odds of dying from COVID. If you’re younger, that case doesn’t hold water. However, it’s really to protect others and so that we can end these lockdowns and return to normal!
NOTE: I am NOT an anti-vaxxer, never have been. I am a medical doctor who looks at the research and draws his own conclusions. All of my children got their vaccinations. None have had any issues. Nor do I believe that vaccines are evil, In fact, I believe they have saved far more lives than they have hurt.
While I’m always happy to post comments that oppose my point of view, I draw the line at outright conspiracy theories. I’ve gotten a number of poorly referenced comments that I have not published because when I click on the links provided, they take me to anti-vaxxer sites where the people writing their opinions espouse “out there” theories that make no scientific sense. Hence, if you leave a comment, I will check the scientific accuracy of the opinions or links, and if after 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, a year of internship, three years of residency, additional medical training, and two decades of scientific publications I determine they are written by nutjobs, I won’t post them. If they are actually scientifically valid points of caution, I will post them.
(1) Karikó K, Buckstein M, Ni H, Weissman D. Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA. Immunity. 2005 Aug;23(2):165-75. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2005.06.008. PMID: 16111635.
(2) Insurance Information Institute. Facts + Statistics: Mortality risk. https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-mortality-risk Accessed 1/3/21
(3) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics. Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm Accessed 1/3/21.