(Opinion) MMR vaccine

I was so excited to get my COVID-19 vaccine in mid-April. As a remote student, I was unable to get vaccinated at the clinics on campus and had been scouring local pharmacies for appointments. I finally managed to book an appointment at a grocery store, and I was every bit as nervous as I was excited. “How will my body react?” I asked myself as I drove to get vaccinated. I was aware of the side effects, but I knew the mild flu-like symptoms would disappear within a few days. However, the thought of resuming pre-COVID-19 life once fully vaccinated quelled the anxiety I had about potential side effects. I began planning trips with my vaccinated friends and family, and I could finally experience the relief of knowing that I was protected from the virus. 

After I got my Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I felt on top of the world — that is, until the following morning when it was announced that the CDC would be pausing production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines to investigate the occurrence of blood clots after vaccination. My experience was not without its challenges — initially I was anxious and even regretted my decision to receive the vaccine — but now, I only feel relief. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is now back on the market and I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to get vaccinated, no matter which brand of vaccine is offered. 

Remember to go in with the expectation that you may experience some symptoms. On top of minor arm pain and general sluggishness, I had to monitor my symptoms for an additional six to 13 days after inoculation like everyone else who had recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I immediately began to spiral into an anxious state in which I regretted my decision to get vaccinated. I was mad at myself for getting vaccinated too early and felt that I should have waited to get a different brand of vaccine. Ultimately, I was scared of the unknown.

What I failed to realize is that this same situation can happen with many new vaccines and drugs. Let’s place the risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccine into perspective. Have you ever seen drug commercials on TV in which the narrator endlessly lists symptom after symptom, such as blood clots, nausea, body pain, etc.? The same precautionary list applies to the COVID-19 vaccine, but these symptoms make national headlines because the entire human population has been affected by the pandemic which the vaccines promise to help end. With the extensive distribution of any drug or vaccine, it is likely that someone will have a rare and adverse reaction. However, these symptoms do not always prevent people from taking that particular drug or vaccine because the benefit outweighs the risk

Ten days after production was paused, the CDC re-approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for distribution with only 3% of symptom-related cases classified as serious. In fact, research shows that some symptom-related cases were caused by anxiety rather than the vaccine itself. In my case, anxiety was most likely culpable for my day’s worth of nausea. If you are anything like myself, you may be just as nervous about getting vaccinated as I was, and that is OK. These vaccines are new, and research is continuously being conducted to determine how these vaccines will affect our bodies over time. Instead of avoiding vaccinations, this anxiety should instead motivate us to do our research in preparation for post-vaccination symptoms. 

This past month, the CDC announced a rare symptom associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has been shown to cause blood clots within women under 50. Out of the 10.2 million people who have had the vaccine, only 32 reports of the condition have been confirmed within this population of women. Although these side effects are rare, I could not ignore the small voice inside my head convincing me I could be the one affected. I also would not have doubted my vaccination as strongly had I not fallen within the age range of affected women. Instead of allowing this unsettling feeling to linger, I began reading different news sources and following developments to better understand the vaccination symptoms. After hearing medical professionals support the vaccine despite the rare occurrence of blood clots, I too began to trust my decision to get vaccinated.

I do not blame those who choose not to be vaccinated, but I hope people fully understand all the repercussions for not getting vaccinated before making a decision. If enough people refuse to be vaccinated, the population may never reach herd immunity, making it harder for the world to defeat the virus. As injection rates slow down, and with only over 100 million people vaccinated, herd immunity may seem rather far away. If we are to achieve this goal soon, it is imperative the majority of Americans receive vaccinations.

Dr. Leah Johnson, professor of statistics at Virginia Tech, studies epidemics through a mathematical lens. She detailed what can happen if a large enough portion of the population decides not to get vaccinated.

“If many people decide not to get vaccinated, they remain susceptible to the infection,” Johnson said. “This is a bit like leaving extra flammable material around instead of cleaning it up. If there’s enough flammable material around, a fire can catch a spread, potentially quickly. Vaccines are like clearing the underbrush — it’s much harder for a fire to either start or spread.” 

Every vaccine is not 100% effective. From 2019 to 2020, the flu vaccine was only 45% effective, yet there is a reason why people receive that vaccine every year. While vaccines can protect us from getting sick to some extent, they are primarily designed to mitigate devastating symptoms in the event we do get sick. The COVID-19 vaccine aims to do the same.

Johnson also details how vaccination distributions have impacted the spread of the virus thus far.

“It’s hard to tell for sure yet, but most of the vaccinations seem to be doing what they are intended to do: reduce transmission overall,” Johnson said. “They seem to be doing this through two mechanisms: first, reducing the probability that a vaccinated person will become infected at all, and second, if that vaccinated person becomes infected, it seems to reduce the probability that they will spread it on. Additionally, vaccines reduce the likelihood of serious infection complications and death.”

Compared to the flu vaccine, the efficacy rates of COVID-19 vaccines are much higher — Pfizer has shown to be 95% effective within individuals without previous infection, Moderna is 94.1% effective within individuals without previous infection and 86.4% for people 65 and older, and Johnson & Johnson is 72% effective overall. Although there is a chance that one can experience symptoms from the COVID-19 vaccine, the potential for herd immunity should outweigh this risk. 

“Herd immunity is a bit of a sticky concept, and one that inherently relies on vaccines,” Johnson said. “The idea is that if enough people are immune, the disease won’t spread. However, since we have new people being born, there are always more susceptible people entering the population and eventually there will be enough to allow the disease to spread again, unless we vaccinate.” 

The discourse around herd immunity continues, but the hope remains the same: that enough people get vaccinated to prevent the virus from mutating. Getting vaccinated is the only way we can achieve herd immunity, which will bring us one step closer to pre-COVID-19 normalcy. 

I no longer regret my decision to be vaccinated. The thought of giving my grandparents a hug, spending time with my friends and potentially preventing others from getting COVID-19 by getting vaccinated personally outweighs the risk. Pre-COVID-19 life can come much sooner if others similarly choose to get vaccinated despite the risks involved. 

Recommended Stories