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Why I Got Vaccinated

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - 09:30

By Philip E. Stieg

Chairman and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief
Margaret and Robert J. Hariri, MD ’87, PhD ’87 Professor of Neurological Surgery

Working in a hospital, you get accustomed to all the standard health precautions that are taken every day (hand hygiene, surgical masks) and every year (TB test, flu shot). Most of the time I don’t think about these steps except to make time for them – I know they are important, they’re based on sound scientific evidence, and they help keep everyone safer. It’s not any different with the vaccine I just got for Covid-19.

I know some people still have some hesitancy about getting the Covid-19 vaccine – there is a natural tendency to equate “warp speed” with “cut corners,” and so there is some suspicion that the vaccine wasn’t adequately tested before being approved. That’s simply not true – the two vaccines now being distributed were fully tested in the lab before beginning clinical trials, and tens of thousands of volunteers in those trials were vaccinated starting many months ago. I’ve been following the progress of the design, development, and testing of these new vaccines, and I am completely confident of their safety.

Not only were they thoroughly tested, they are also very different from other vaccines that are based on killed or weakened viruses – these new messenger RNA vaccines never introduce the actual virus into the body. These mRNA vaccines deliver instructions to our cells on how to make a piece of the spike protein that’s characteristic of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The body’s immune response to that little piece of the spike protein creates the antibodies we need to protect us when we’re exposed to the actual virus.

Yes, the vaccines were developed remarkably quickly, but I find that to be a reason for admiration, not fear. Our scientific community proceeded at “warp speed” because the stakes are so very high. As millions of people continued to get sick, with so many of them unable to recover, the impetus to develop a safe and effective vaccine drove innovation. Remembering how long it took to develop a polio vaccine, with tens of thousands of children becoming disabled each summer, I find it not frightening but gratifying to see this process speeded up.

 Yes, there is a “but” in all this. It’s not “but it may not be safe” or “but it could have side effects.” The only “but” here is “but we need lots of people to get vaccinated.” Vaccines only work when they protect large communities, giving the virus nowhere to replicate. When the virus jumps into a vaccinated body and is soundly defeated, it can’t then keep spreading and infecting more people. The more un-vaccinated bodies that are out there, the more potential hosts where the virus can set up camp and live to infect others, the more this pandemic will continue to run rampant around the globe. We need a critical mass of people to get the vaccine to stop the coronavirus in its deadly tracks.

That’s why I’ve become one of the 10 million Americans who have been vaccinated so far — 50,000 of them right here at NewYork-Presbyterian. I know I still need to be careful, and I’ll keep wearing a mask and keeping my distance. If we all do that, keep following the safety precautions while we wait our turn to get the vaccine, we will reach that critical mass of vaccinated individuals soon. I know we all look forward to the day when we can take off the masks, go out to dinner, and hug our loved ones again. That shot in the arm I got today is the fastest path to that day, so I encourage you to get vaccinated as soon as possible. That’s the kind of warp speed we need to put this pandemic behind us.

 

See also: Information Overload