The Steep Hill We Still Need to Climb with Covid

I live in Minnesota, where summers are short and highly valued. We Northeners spend our winter daydreaming and planning our summer activities, which was probably even more true during this Covid winter. My plans include backyard dinners, weekends at the lake with family and friends, enjoying the bounty of Twin City restaurants and biking along our extensive network of trails. Unfortunately, some of those plans may not be a reality due to the rising Covid cases in MN. And this predicament is what has brought me the most frustration over the past year; the failure of individuals to follow simple guidelines around masks and social distancing as well as the reluctance to get the vaccine.

My clinic is administering hundreds of vaccines each week and I ask every patient if they wish to be put on the waiting list. This includes pregnant patients, as the evidence is strongly supporting benefit to both mother and unborn child with no evidence of negative side effects. At the time of this writing, 50% of Minnesotans have received their first dose of a vaccine. We need 75-80% of the nation to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and put an end to this pandemic. Getting the last 25% of the population vaccinated is the steep hill that will take longer and require more encouragement than vaccinating the initial 50%.

I need all of those who have been vaccinated or are waiting for their chance at a vaccine to push our nation up that remaining steep hill. Talk to family and friends who may be reluctant to be vaccinated about your experience with the vaccine. Comment on falsehoods that you see on social media. Restrict your unmasked social interactions to only those adults who have been vaccinated. Continue to wear masks in public until we can achieve herd immunity and the prevalence in the the community is very low. I have included some facts below that address the most common falsehoods I hear from patients during my discussions.

  1. The vaccine is too “new” and I want to see how others do first before I get it myself. mRNA technology was first developed in the 1990’s and has been studied in flu, Zika, rabies and CMV. Widespread use of the technology did not become necessary until a worldwide pandemic occurred. Covid-19 is that event. Are we really that selfish as a nation that we won’t take a miniscule risk of getting a new vaccine in order to protect our friends and family?
  2. I know lots of people who have had Covid and they weren’t that sick. This was especially true during the initial wave of Covid in 2020 but has become less true in 2021 as the Covid variants have become more common. Our hospital beds are now filled with much younger patients who are not succumbing to Covid but who are going home on oxygen for weeks to months. The existence of long haulers disease is a reality that we are seeing more frequently with chronic fatigue, shortness of breath and foggy memory months after initial recovery.
  3. The vaccine can cause infertility by changing the DNA of my cells. mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell where DNA is housed. Rather, it works as a “messenger” telling the cell to make a protein that is displayed on the outside of the cell and initiates an immune response. There is no live virus involved in the vaccine and the mRNA is broken down as soon as its message is received by the cell.
  4. I have had Covid, or think I had Covid, so don’t need to be vaccinated. I have seen multiple patients who have had Covid twice. Natural immunity has been shown to only last 3 months while vaccine immunity has now been proven to still be effective at 6 months post vaccination and is probably closer to a year of immunity. If you have had Covid, the initial reaction to the vaccine is no different than if you have not had Covid.
  5. People get “sick” after the vaccine. While many people develop a low grade fever and body aches within the first 24 hours after getting the vaccine, this is not a Covid illness but the immune system reacting to the messenger and gearing up for a fight against future infection. If you talk to anyone who has had a moderate case of Covid with days of high fever, fatigue and body aches they would greatly prefer the mild 24 hours of post vaccine reaction.

People want to hear from others they trust about their experiences getting the vaccine as well as the reasons they were vaccinated. Please help health care providers spread the word and get us to herd immunity in the next few months. A Minnesota summer is approaching and I am excited to enjoy all of what is has to offer.

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