Written by Clay Smith
This was a letter I wrote to our team at the Vanderbilt Health Clinic at Walgreens on December 12, 2020. Multiple family members and others have asked my opinion about the vaccine, and I have forwarded them the original email I sent. I thought it might be helpful to create a post with that content so it could be publicly available. Here is the letter.
December 12, 2020
There has been amazing progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. I’m an avid reader and skeptic of the medical literature. In fact, that is a big part of my job. As such, I have approached the literature related to the COVID-19 vaccine with the same level of critical thinking. In light of that, I wanted to cover the reasons why I am planning to get the vaccine myself and have my family vaccinated as soon as possible.
For more in-depth information on the COVID vaccine, I would strongly recommend you read the FAQ page on the VUMC COVID site here.
Here are the top ten reasons I am planning to get the vaccine.
COVID-19 can kill or seriously harm me. I would like to live and be healthy and watch my kids grow up. For many that COVID-19 doesn’t kill, it leaves them debilitated. Among people who become infected with COVID-19, 81% have mild disease; 14% are hospitalized; 5% need critical care. This virus is no cake walk. A recent study of young patients 18-49 years old with no medical problems who were hospitalized with lab-confirmed COVID-19 found that 22% (over 1 in 5) ended up in the ICU, 10% on the ventilator, and 0.6% died. These were previously healthy people. Do you really want to take your chances? I sure don’t!
COVID-19 can kill or harm others. This is not just about me (or you), it’s about others. Maybe you are young and healthy and have a low probability for severe disease. What about the frail, elderly, or medically fragile patients with whom you come in contact every day? What about your own family members or friends who are not as low risk as you? I don’t know about you, but I want to spend time with my mom and dad (who are in their 70s), my in-laws, and my patients without fear that I could cause them harm or death. Don’t you?
The vaccine appears to be safe. Although it was developed fast, the studies leading to the FDA Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (and Moderna) were done right. They followed the same stringent processes required for any drug or vaccine. They were able to do it so fast because they had nearly unlimited funding and resources. I know some of the people who did this research or who advised the FDA. They are people of integrity. They are crazy smart. They care about people. They are really good doctors who want to do right by their patients. I trust these people.
The vaccine really works! The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective. The Moderna vaccine is similarly effective. This is absolutely stunning! It seems that the vaccine produces a potent, consistent, and hopefully durable protective immunity. This is an early Christmas present!
It’s free! Who doesn’t want free? Maybe I’m just a cheapskate…
I’m ready to get back to normal. Although we will still need to mask up a while longer after the vaccine, this is a major step in getting us back to normal. I just want to go out to a restaurant and not freeze sitting in the outdoor seating – or just settle for takeout. Imagine eating in a restaurant! What!? If you’re ready to see COVID-19 in the rear view mirror, get the vaccine.
I feel reassured that I understand the vaccine, how it works, and why it’s safe. I admit, I was skittish about mRNA vaccines at first. They have not been used before at scale. However, mRNA vaccines have been studied for over 15 years. The science is not new. This is a fantastic article with great illustrations on how the vaccine works and also has a vaccine timeline. Here’s the deal, the vaccine squirts in mRNA cloaked in a clever lipid nanoparticle. The mRNA gets into your muscle cell and gets translated into a spike protein (not a COVID-19 virus – just the little protein spike on the surface). There is absolutely no way the vaccine can give you COVID-19, because it doesn’t have any virus in it. The body mounts a vigorous immune response to the new, foreign protein spike. Then, the next time you are exposed to real COVID-19 virus, you have loads of antibody that will neutralize it before it does any harm. The mRNA from the vaccine degrades and gets chopped up by polymerases in the cell cytoplasm. The mRNA never gets into the nucleus of our cells. In fact, it can’t become part of our genes because the human body can’t convert RNA to DNA. We can only transcribe DNA to RNA. So, it can’t “get into your genetic code,” so to speak. And there is no worry about the mRNA just “hanging around” and making spike protein forever. The cells make mRNA to code for proteins all the time. As soon as it serves its purpose, mRNA is broken down. This is what your cells are doing right now trillions of times over as we make new proteins.
I am on the frontline. And so are you. Healthcare workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients are at greater risk of illness, and their family members are at increased risk. You need this protection for yourself and your families.
My kids need to return to normal. Herd immunity is key to kids returning to school. We get to herd immunity – that is, enough of the population immune to the virus so it can’t spread like wildfire – with vaccination much more safely than getting sick with the actual virus. Vaccination lets our kids get back to normal school or other activities. If nothing else, let’s do this for them.
Our patients need us. If we get sick with COVID-19 or have to quarantine, we can’t serve our patients. Getting the vaccine lets us get back to work like normal.
Team, I am all in with getting a COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, I am scheduled to get my first dose December 19. I would tell you if I thought it was not safe. I care about you and don’t want you to get sick. I think this is the best way for you to keep safe. As a physician, I strongly advise you
to get this vaccine. In fact, I hope to see you there when the time comes to get our shots.
Thanks for your courage in facing the pandemic so far. Just hang on. The vaccine is coming soon – likely next week. What a gift!
The views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.