As we turn the calendar to 2021 and bid an earnest “good riddance” to a year racked with trials, tribulations, and tragedy, there is reason for hope.
This month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. This is not an immediate elixir for the pandemic. It is a step in the right direction, a start on the path to herd immunity. Not until we reach that threshold can we expect any semblance of normalcy to return to our daily lives.
Health care systems like Essentia and St. Luke’s have started to vaccinate their front-line workers. Residents of long-term-care facilities also received some of the first doses, with other essential workers and vulnerable populations up next. The majority of Americans hopefully will have access by summer. Whenever it’s your turn, we implore you to get the vaccine.
There is no safer or surer way out of this public health crisis. We cannot emphasize that enough. Our best chance to eradicate a virus responsible for about 340,000 deaths in the U.S. is to embrace vaccines.
We understand some people may be reluctant to get the vaccine. Some of the first estimates last spring called for vaccine development and distribution to take several years. However, do not mistake speed for carelessness. Rather, it’s the product of some of the world’s most brilliant minds, who had almost-limitless resources at their disposal, collaborating to keep us safe. No steps were skipped. Phases occurred simultaneously, so instead of waiting for one time-consuming trial phase to conclude before starting another, they overlapped. That had never been done before.
The ensuing data review, by independent experts and organizations, was exhaustive. And it has highlighted both remarkable efficacy and safety. From more than 40,000 participants in Pfizer’s Phase II and III trials, 170 cases of COVID were diagnosed — 162 in the placebo group and eight in the vaccine group. Results from Moderna were similar; 95 COVID diagnoses from 30,000 participants, with only five of those in the vaccine group.
Beyond effectiveness rates of around 95% for both vaccines, side effects were relatively minor. Some participants reported things like headaches and fatigue, but those are typical for any vaccine or medication. Others noted allergic reactions, but, again, that’s not abnormal. If your fears persist regarding possible allergic reactions or other risks, please consult your primary-care provider. Equip yourself with the most reliable information when evaluating a vaccine.
And know this: We — doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals entrusted to look out for your well-being — would not advise our patients and communities to receive a vaccine if we questioned its safety.
This should not and cannot be a politically charged issue. COVID doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. Instead, it’s proven to be even-handed in the suffering it unleashes. Protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your neighbors isn’t a liberal or conservative ideal; it’s a human ideal. If we want our businesses to fully reopen; our teams back on the field, court, or ice; and our kids back in school, we need to rally around these vaccines.
Health care providers continue to need your help in slowing the spread of this disease. Even with the optimism that accompanies vaccine rollout, there will be more pain and heartache in the days ahead. Our resources remain stretched thin as we care for COVID and non-COVID patients. The best way you can help us? Continue to wear a mask and socially distance — and get the vaccine when you’re able.
When that time comes, hopefully you are buoyed by evidence. Our hope is that you will see health care workers and others safe and unencumbered by fears of contracting COVID after getting vaccinated and decide to get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity.
If you’re skeptical, please keep an open mind. You owe it to yourself. And you owe it to those around you.
Dr. Jon Pryor is president of Essentia Health in Duluth. Dr. Nick Van Deelen is co-president, CEO, and chief medical officer for St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the request of the Opinion page.