We are, as a state, at a critical point in our battle with COVID-19. After a brutal year where we lost more than 10,000 fellow Louisianians, saw hundreds of thousands of businesses close or downsize and nearly half a million people lose their jobs, we now have a way out of this COVID mess. But, there’s a catch:
You have to get the shot(s). You have to engage.
We have roughly 4.6 million people in Louisiana, and as of this writing, 1.4 million of us have gotten our COVID-19 vaccines. That’s good news! The not-so-good news is that the rate of people rolling up their sleeves is slowing down. To build enough immunity in the community to fully protect us against another outbreak and slow the spread of COVID-19 variants that are popping up, we really need twice as many people to get their vaccines by the end of 2021.
Today, I want to specifically address people who have yet to get vaccinated. I’m going to do that by addressing some of the reasons I’ve been given personally from folks who have not gotten their shots. I’ve got some interesting facts here to share with you. Let’s go ahead and take them one by one, shall we?
But first, let’s remember one thing: Louisiana’s economy, and all of our financial futures, are entirely dependent on avoiding another 2020. The ONLY way to make this happen is mass vaccination.
“But Mike, they developed this vaccine way too fast! What if something goes wrong?”
I hear you. We’ve never seen vaccines go from development to market as fast we saw in 2020. But here are some things to consider. First, NOT A SINGLE STEP IN THE U.S. FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION’S TESTING PROCESS WAS SKIPPED. Everything federal agencies normally do before a vaccine is cleared for general use was done for the COVID-19 vaccines. Second, the vaccines using the newer mRNA technology are based on science and testing that was actually waiting in the wings; it just needed a bit of tweaking to create vaccines that focus on COVID-19 specifically. If you don’t believe me, read this article published three years ago about mRNA vaccines in the science journal Nature.
The Pfizer vaccine, for example, was completely finished in March 2020, and it has not been changed at all since then. Pfizer-BioNTech spent 10 months getting their shots through clinical trials and making sure they were safe, then getting authorization from federal health officials who reviewed their clinical trial data to be able to put shots into arms. Now, some 200 MILLION Pfizer doses are out there and will be injected through 2021. And that’s just one vaccine developer. The trial results showed the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized are safe and effective at preventing hospitalizations, death and severe outcomes from COVID-19.
“But Mike, I’m really busy! I can’t just drop what I’m doing and go get a shot, twice!”
Frankly, I’m glad to hear you are busy, and I hope you are gainfully employed, because during 2020 a ton of people lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. But, I’m telling you that you need to make the time to get your shots. Why? First, because you can still catch or spread COVID-19, and every person who catches it increases the chances that it will mutate into a new form of the virus. More mutations mean more chances COVID-19 will turn into even more dangerous strains that the current vaccines might not work against. The only way to deny a virus the ability to mutate and change is to deny it a host.
By staying unvaccinated, you are inviting COVID-19 in. Second, we know another outbreak of COVID-19 will do untold damage to our economy and the fortunes of average Louisianans. I know none of you want to contribute to that. And, there are three types of COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. – the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses for maximum effectiveness, but the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose. If you travel frequently, have difficulty taking time off work for vaccine appointments or just want to get it over with all at once, you should look into the single-dose option.
“But Mike, I haven’t been to the doctor in years, and I don’t know where to go for the vaccine!”
Getting a shot right now couldn’t be easier, and it’s free. You can use these state health department’s website to find somewhere close to you. There’s also a Louisiana COVID-19 vaccine hotline, 1-855-453-0774, you can call to get help finding a vaccine site or making an appointment. And last time I checked, pharmacies that offer the vaccine are still taking appointments on their websites or over the phone. In addition, some towns are running large, mass vaccination sites (like Gonzales and Baton Rouge) where you just drive up and get your shots. It’s way easier than you think. Give it a try!
Is transportation an issue? Our Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is sponsoring programs around the state that offer free rides to and from vaccine appointments. If you don’t have a vehicle, cannot drive or have other transportation challenges, call the statewide 211 network to find out about ride share programs in your area.
“But Mike, I read online these vaccines mess with your genes and your DNA! I don’t want any part of that!”
Take a deep breath, and we’ll have a talk about that right now. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the most popular right now, use a technology to fight COVID-19 called “messenger RNA,” or mRNA for short. This technology does not remove, add, alter or change any of your DNA (your genetic make-up). That’s not how it works.
What it DOES do is show your immune system an image, like a picture, of the COVID-19 virus, and your immune system is so smart and flexible that from that point on, if COVID-19 shows up, your own immune system will create special cells to fight it and keep it from reproducing. If a virus can’t grow, can’t take over new cells, then it’s done. You can think of these mRNA vaccines as teachers, taking your immune system to school and educating it so it knows more and can do more from now on. Once the vaccine does that, within 30 days, every trace of the vaccine is gone from your system. Only the learning remains. There is no impact on your DNA or your genetic makeup.
And if you are still concerned, you can get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a viral vector vaccine, which uses a tiny, weak bit of the virus to create a vaccine that goes into your cells so your immune system can learn how to build an immune response.
“But Mike, I’ve heard this vaccine can damage my ability to conceive children!”
Of course, this is a VERY sensitive concern, and I’ve heard it more than once. Unfortunately, this idea began as a web-based rumor with zero science or actual results behind it. The rumor claimed that developing immunity to a spike-based protein like COVID-19 uses to spread would ALSO cause an immunity, specifically in women, to the proteins in placental cells and make fetal development more difficult.
That is completely untrue. Both Dr. Paul Offit, who directs vaccine policy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the latest information from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention say that there is no risk to anyone’s fertility from the COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, it’s now believed that some of the immunity developed in a woman who receives the vaccine will TRANSFER that immunity to her baby, so getting the vaccine protects both of them. And, pregnant women are at a higher risk of death or severe complications from COVID-19, so the CDC has recommended the vaccines as a priority for this group.
“But Mike, everyone in my family has already had COVID-19. Doesn’t that mean we’re immune now and don’t need any shots?”
While catching and surviving COVID-19 does convey some limited immunity because your body builds up antibodies to fight off the infection (I had it myself in October 2020), the natural immunity you get from infection is nowhere near as strong or long-lasting as vaccine immunity. There is so far no definitive answer for how long natural immunity lasts.
At the moment, it appears that the worse your case of COVID-19 was, the longer your immunity will last – but still not as long as vaccine immunity. For the people who have been RE-INFECTED with COVID-19 months after they tested positive, the majority of them had very mild cases. So far, it seems the immunity lasts between five and 10 months for most people, but this virus is not like chickenpox where you get it once and you’re done. How many people do you know who’ve had flu or colds more than once? It’s that type of virus.
If you don’t get vaccinated, even after you’ve had COVID-19, the odds are good you could catch it again. And there are no guarantees that your second time around will be easier than the first time. My lovely bride, the RN, was hesitant about getting vaccinated in 2020. But after she caught COVID-19 in October and spent 10 days in bed with low oxygen levels, feeling poorly and unable to do much of anything, she told me, “Bring on the shots, I never want to go through THAT again!”
We should all be as smart as she is.
“But Mike, don’t these shots make you feel bad? Don’t they have terrible side effects?”
Great question! In the interest of full transparency, here are the latest stats on side effects of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, as reported last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
After the first shot, 65% of the people reported some muscle soreness right where the needle went in, 31% reported they were tired for a day or two after the injections, 25% said the vaccine gave them a headache that lasted a few hours, 19% said they got body aches or soreness that lasted less than 24 hours.
After the second dose, you can add joint soreness (26%) and chills (31%) to the list of reported side effects. So the vaccine might make you feel bad for a bit. And, these symptoms are pretty common side effects of any vaccine, like the yearly flu shot. It’s actually good news to feel a little bad afterward – it means your immune system is mounting a response. The vast majority of these symptoms disappeared within the first 48 hours, but some symptoms did extend out to as much as a week for a few people.
Frankly, I got both doses of the Pfizer vaccine and never felt anything other than a sore arm, but I know not everyone is as lucky as I was. Still — if the vaccine really were that dangerous, you can bet I would never let anyone vaccinate me or any of my family. We got the jab because all the evidence says it is safe, effective, and essential to keeping our economy open and thriving here in Louisiana.
I got the Pfizer vaccine, but there are other vaccines out there, and I want to address the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it has been in the news. It worried folks when federal health officials “paused” giving that particular vaccine for a few days. The pause gave CDC, FDA and others time to look into reports of blood clots that occurred in a few people who had gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After careful study, they decided the risk of this side effect was very, very small, and so the benefits of this vaccine outweighed the risks. How rare was this side effect? Out of 9,000,000 people vaccinated, 28 had a problem. That’s a 0.0006% chance of this side effect affecting someone getting the J & J vaccine. Still, if you’ve been told you’re at risk for blood clots or have any other health concerns about which COVID-19 vaccine you should get, ask your doctor. You have three vaccine options, and your doctor can guide you to which one is best for you.
You can rest assured that the COVID-19 vaccine is being closely monitored and I suggest checking out the tracking system – formally called the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System – to reassure yourself of the level of analysis going on.
“Mike, I’m not worried, as a religious person, I’ve put myself into God’s hands and whatever happens, happens!”
As a Bible-believing Christian who puts himself in God’s hands every single day, I can understand this argument. I also know I cannot deny the fact that Scripture demands that we (first) love God with all our heart, and soul and mind, and (second) love our neighbors as we love ourselves. NOT giving a neighbor, friend or family member COVID-19 feels to me like the right, Christian thing to do in perfect compliance with my Scriptural heritage. You should feel free to join me in this and protect your family, friends and neighbors.
“Look Mike, I’m tired of people telling me what to do! They can’t MAKE me get some shots I don’t want!”
Hey, I feel your frustration! The past 12-15 months have been pretty brutal for all of us here in Louisiana. Not only did we have to deal with losing loved ones and people getting sick, we got hit with FIVE named hurricanes in a single year (two of which hit RIGHT on top of each other in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes), we had government shutdowns and stay-at-home orders imposed on our businesses and we lost jobs, THEN we got smacked with an ice storm to kick off 2021! I’m afraid to even say the words “What next?!”
I honestly don’t want to try and make anyone do something they really don’t want to do. At this point, I’m begging people to use their common sense, learn the facts, and help our state fight off COVID-19 for the future. I’m asking, politely, please, get yourself vaccinated.
And as with any health issue, if you have questions, talk to your healthcare provider or your pharmacist. They are there to be your partners in health, talk candidly with you about any concerns and give you guidance for your specific situation. But – do not just avoid the vaccine entirely out of fear or from things you hear or see posted on social media that might not be true.
The Straight Talk is, if we want to get back to doing all the things we love to do here — gathering for festivals, football games, baseball games, concerts and other live music events, family reunions, birthday parties, even Mardi Gras and crawfish boils next spring, we REALLY need to take this seriously and all get vaccinated.
And from the bottom of my little Cajun heart that’s never lived anywhere else but here, I want to go ahead and THANK YOU in advance for taking the time to do it and protect my Louisiana.
God Bless You All!