I am writing this letter as a local Internal Medicine physician, resident of Jackson County, and a member the COVID-19 vaccination coalition, a local group of community leaders, medical professionals and private citizens in Jackson County who collaborate with the University of Florida Coronavirus Vaccine initiative.
This summer is beginning to feel a lot like last summer, with some differences. Last year, we had limited access to testing, no proven therapies, and no vaccines. Instead, we learned to wear whatever type mask we could, wash hands frequently, and social distance.
This year, we have available widespread testing, very effective infusion therapies, and a vaccine available for everyone who is eligible. Despite this good fortune and self-described fatigue from mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing, we are experiencing our fourth COVID-19 surge, this round driven by multiple variants especially found in rural areas, like ours, which has a large percentage of unvaccinated population.
Jackson County currently has vaccination rates well under the 75-85% necessary for community immunity, or “herd immunity.” For residents over 65 years of age, the rate is 63% vaccinated. For those over 12 years of age, the vaccination rate is 36%.
Across the United States, over 90% of hospitalizations are due to COVID-19 and over 90% of deaths due to covid-19 are in those who are unvaccinated.
As communities begin to recognize the risks associated with this fourth resurgence, there has been an increase in vaccination rates but we need more citizens to get vaccinated, especially in rural communities like ours.
So what’s the barrier to getting vaccinated? Vaccine hesitancy, fear of side effects, and rumor.
Vaccine hesitancy is driven in large part by fear: government, scientific advancement, and side effects.
I’m not here to change your minds about trust in government, but I hope you will see as I have that the science is sound! It is the exact same science that has developed the amazing therapies, cures, and medications from which we all benefit: just look in your medicine cabinet. It is the same science I have trusted to care for my patients for over 40 years.
I have observed and personally experienced side effects from the vaccine. These are far easier to tolerate in most instances than serious COVID-19 infections. The side effects indicate that the vaccine is helping your body build immunity to the virus.
Common side effects include chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain and injection site pain.
While the side effects can be uncomfortable, it is necessary for you to get all the required doses of the vaccine as recommended. You should develop immunity one to two weeks after you are fully vaccinated.
I’d like to address some myths about COVID-19 vaccinations.
1. The COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID.
2. The government can track me through a vaccine.
3. The vaccine can change by DNA.
4. The vaccine can make me sterile.
5. The vaccine can cause AIDS.
6. The vaccine cannot be given when there exists an egg allergy.
The answers to myths 1-6 above are a resounding NO!
7. The vaccines were rushed into production. NO!
The vaccines were developed quickly due to aggressive funding and the advanced state of vaccine development that existed before the pandemic began. For instance, the COVID-19 genome was mapped within a month of its discovery. Multiple research groups, academic centers and medicine developers had access to that data. This prior scientific structure accelerated vaccine development.
8. The vaccines are not safe until the FDA fully approves their use. NOT TRUE!
Over 180 million vaccines have been given in the United States, over 6 million in Florida, and many, many millions throughout the world. These are much greater numbers than are usually required to prove the safety of a vaccine.
Patients in my practice reflect your concerns regarding vaccinations; however, they are beginning to understand that getting the vaccine will protect their health and the wellbeing of their families, friends, neighbors, and communities. By communities, I include those at particularly increased risk: those with very high risks who are unable to be vaccinated, our local health care community, including long-term care facilities, emergency responders, hospitals and their staff. The latter groups are those who have been on the front line combating the virus for over 18 months.
We all share and have experienced the despair and frustration felt at the beginning of the pandemic, when we had little to offer to so many. We now have vaccines. They will help us get through this. We owe getting vaccinated to those we’ve lost.
I urge you to discuss your vaccine concerns with your health care provider. The virus and its multiple variants do not care how old you are, your risks, your gender or ethnicity. The fact is, the COVID-19 virus and its variants will continue to spread and cause the most misery in those who have not received the vaccine.
You can reach out to these sources for more information:
Jackson county health department at 850-526-2412
The University of Florida at coronovirus.uf.org/vaccination/
The State of Florida COVID-19 hotline at 866-779-6121.
The COVID-19 Vaccines are free and available right now at these familiar locations:
The Jackson County Health Department
Your health care community would appreciate you considering getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
The best vaccine for you is the one available to you right now.
Joe H. Gay, M.D.
Diplomate and Board Certified, ABIM
Chipola Medical Associates, LLC and COVID-19 Community Coalition Member