Galen Goertzen: Science says stick with the vaccines

By Galen Goertzen

Sometimes I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has said, “We just need to move past COVID-19 and get back to normal life.” But how do we do that? Most health professionals believe it’s through vaccination. The more people who are vaccinated, the more immunity we’ll all have from the disease. Diseases like polio and measles have taught us this lesson. But there are still many misconceptions and fears in our community that I hear every day. As a local clinician and educator, I’d like to share what we know and what we’ve learned.

COVID vaccines, particularly the mRNA vaccines, are remarkably effective. If you’re vaccinated and get boosters as recommended, you’ve significantly reduced your risk of getting seriously ill and developing severe disease that could lead to hospitalization or death and have also decreased your risk of spreading the disease in the community. A recent analysis from the Commonwealth Fund estimated that vaccination has already saved 3 million lives and more than 18 million hospitalizations in the United States alone.

Vaccination can prevent serious long-term health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found approximately 1 in 13 adults in the United States had COVID symptoms lasting more than three months. Known as long COVID, the lingering symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, and changes in taste or smell (to name a few). The evidence we have now shows vaccination not only prevents infection, but also reduces your risk of getting long COVID if you’re infected later.

COVID vaccines are safe but can result in some side effects. You may feel uncomfortable for a few days after you get the vaccine. This is not because of the vaccine; it’s a sign your immune system is roaring into action and preparing to prevent future infection. These side effects only last a couple of days.

As with most vaccines, serious side effects are rare. Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), for instance, is estimated to occur in about five cases per million doses given. Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) is one problem that has been reported with COVID vaccination, but even in the highest risk group it occurs in less than 1 in 10,000 people. A study published by the American Heart Association showed that you are at considerably higher risk of getting myocarditis from COVID infection than you are from the vaccine. Once again, the vaccine is much safer than the disease.

There is almost zero risk of serious problems arising from vaccines years in the future. A vaccine is a tiny protein injected into your body one time. The effects and the value that you get from vaccination are from the work of your own immune system, not from that protein, which is long gone within a week or so. There is no known mechanism for that protein to cause problems years after it has been flushed out of your body.

Vaccination is safe for those who are pregnant – and it is vital. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommends vaccination for people who are pregnant or considering pregnancy. There is very strong evidence that COVID infection itself leads to a higher risk of severe illness or even death in people who are pregnant. On the contrary, there is no evidence of adverse maternal or fetal effects from COVID vaccination.

I’d like to applaud our region for the progress we’ve made so far. I also want to challenge you to remain vigilant on vaccinations and boosters, which we’ll continue to need as the virus evolves. If you have questions or concerns, please ask your health care team. We’re eager to help, inform, and guide you and your family. In time – with most of us vaccinated – we can return to “normal.”

Galen Goertzen has worked as a pharmacist in Spokane for Kaiser Permanente Washington for more than 30 years and currently works as a clinical pharmacy coordinator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: