People have many reasons for not being fully vaccinated. Here’s a look at some of the most common.
1. "It hasn't been around long enough."
Point taken. Scientists really did develop the vaccine in an incredibly short amount of time.
But there’s more to the story. It turns out they had a running start with technology and research that has been at hand for years, a September 2021 story on AARP.org explains. “The virus that causes COVID-19 is related to other coronaviruses that have been under the microscope for years, including those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). ‘The knowledge gained through past research on coronavirus vaccines helped to accelerate the initial development of the current COVID-19 vaccines,’ according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
Remember, the mRNA technology that went into the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been around for a decade. A lot of people, including some who worked in health care, waited to get the vaccine to see how it affected others. One year and more than 9 billion doses later, we have an answer: It saves lives and, more often than not, prevents serious illness.
2. People get COVID even after they've gotten the vaccine. The vaccine doesn't work."
That’s correct. No vaccine is 100% effective.
But remember that the primary goal of the COVID vaccine was to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. (Many of us forgot or missed that when the vaccines first started being distributed.) On that front, the vaccine has been a spectacular success. Most current hospitalized patients are not fully vaccinated or boosted. And nearly all deaths due to COVID are among those who are not fully vaccinated or did not get their booster.
3. "If the vaccine is so great, why do we need a booster? It seems like that just proves it doesn't really do what they say."
Stop and think: How is it exactly that you were already familiar with the phrase “booster shot” before COVID?
Because you already knew vaccines sometimes require boosters. After all, you almost certainly got them as a kid if you went to public schools, which require a full slate of vaccines for children to be admitted. And if you're a parent, you probably got them for your kids, right?
For example, you’re supposed to get five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) shots.*
So yes, as COVID continues, public health experts have determined that the effectiveness wanes over time. The booster gets your immune system back to maximum fighting strength.
Stop the spread, start the healing.
4. "I've already had COVID, so I'm protected."
To be sure, having had COVID does offer some protection. And that’s great news.
The trouble with “natural immunity” – the kind you get from having the virus – is that everyone is different, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer.
It matters “how old you are, what other health problems you have, what medications you take, and, frankly, how big a dose of COVID you got when you were infected,” he continued. “Some people will get infected and have very mild symptoms, and they tend to have milder immune responses, and their protection probably doesn't last very long.”
He also noted that while we're still learning about the role of natural immunity in COVID infection, that vaccination of those who've had COVID has proven to be highly effective.
A question we might ask ourselves: If we believe in the power of the antibodies that come with getting COVID, why not think about taking advantage of a more powerful, and carefully measured, dose that could spare more misery?
5. "I'm worried about vaccine side effects."
Some people have experienced a day or two of fatigue and other flu-like symptoms; these are common with any vaccine. But some are concerned about scenarios that aren’t real, like unproven claims about, for example, infertility.
There are no links to fertility problems and the vaccine, said Dr. Pamela Oliver, an ob-gyn with Novant Health WomanCare in Winston-Salem, Novant Health executive vice president and president of Novant Health Physician Network. “There's nothing even theoretical about this, or any, vaccine causing infertility,” she said. “Anything you hear or read to the contrary is absolutely unfounded.”
6. "The vast majority of people infected with COVID have survived. I'm willing to take the chance."
Indeed. Most people have survived. And if you’re young and don’t have underlying health problems, your chances of a full recovery are certainly better.
But that’s not to say you have nothing to worry about. Take this case of the 34-year-old father of three daughters who nearly died and was stunned to wake up in a different month from when he came into the hospital.
And in fact, your chances of skating through COVID without complications aren't as strong as some might think. To be sure, many people have had mild symptoms and moved on. But within six months of contracting COVID, one in three survivors is diagnosed with a brain, mood or psychiatric disorder, according to a study in Lancet Psychiatry that was conducted before the omicron and delta variants.
“I would say the actual numbers are much higher for COVID survivors experiencing neurological effects post-COVID,” said Dr. Megan Donnelly, a women’s neurologist at Novant Health Neurology and Headache – SouthPark.
“Among other issues we’re encountering in patients are acute delirium or encephalopathy, which essentially means brain fog, confusion or general inability to focus,” Donnelly said. Other post-COVID fallout includes fatigue and heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, longer-term loss of sense of smell and depression.
7. "It's my choice. If I get sick, I'm hurting no one but myself."
It’s your choice, to be sure. But a little food for thought: Children under 5 are not eligible for the vaccine yet. And the immunocompromised, including many people who’ve had cancer or are elderly, are at greater risk of getting sick, even when vaccinated and boosted. When we choose not to get vaccinated, we also choose to increase our odds of becoming sick and spreading the disease to others who are not able to protect themselves.
And the longer COVID hangs around, the more variants we’re likely to see. And as we know, things aren’t going so well with the omicron variant at the moment.
*Fully vaccinated = Five valid doses of DTaP or four doses if dose four was administered at age 4 years or older.
Roland Wilkerson contributed to this story.