COVID Vaccine
The choice became clear. I would get the vaccine.

The choice became clear. I would get the vaccine.

“To be clear, I am not a vaccine skeptic — my three children are fully vaccinated and I dutifully take my flu shot year after year. But I had serious doubts about the speed of the Covid-19 vaccine development process, which seemed to me to be a political tool then-President Donald Trump was trying to use to win re-election. How could a vaccine developed under a president who displayed repeated acts of racism and who actively enabled white supremacist groups be trusted? Across the country, many Americans are wrestling with similar concerns.

And yet, on Dec. 17, 2020, I received my first dose of the vaccine.

Here is what helped change my mind. First, I had to educate myself about how the vaccine had been created. The mRNA technology behind the Covid-19 vaccine has been under development for decades. Yes, its compressed timeline was aided by governmental funding, but the vaccine was worked on by thousands of scientists, underwent a rigorous three-phase clinical trials process, and was approved by two federal advisory boards (the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Also, seeing photographs of Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black scientist at the heart of Moderna’s vaccine development, in her lab was powerful. Representation matters and is critical to repairing centuries of structural racism that contributes to medical mistrust.

Second, I read the experiences of people of color and trusted Black physicians who participated in vaccine trials. Reading their thought processes, how they weighed risks and benefits, and what their symptoms were after the second dose helped me envision taking the vaccine. Never doubt the power of social media and the written word to influence behavior.

Third, my mom practically begged me to get the vaccine. Since March, she’s been hearing my own terrifying stories about Covid-19 patients. The tears of a young woman with only mild symptoms, who worried about exposing her elderly father in their small home. The middle-aged, healthy health care worker who came in gasping for air; the fear in her eyes as we talked about the need for intubation. She survived. Many did not. Still, I was undecided until the Pfizer trial was published. The graph from that study showing the continued rise of Covid-19 infection in the placebo group compared to the near complete drop-off in those who received the vaccine will forever be imprinted on my mind. In addition to being a physician, I am a scientist. And while the historical examples of experimentation on Black bodies in the name of science are too numerous to count, and concerns about racism and bias in research persist, I still trust rigorous science. I was almost ready to say yes.

My final concern was the risk of a rare, severe and yet undocumented long-term side effect of the vaccine. The Pfizer study only followed people for two months. But I was reassured to learn that, for vaccines generally, adverse reactions most commonly occur in the first days to weeks after vaccination. I weighed these unknowns against the risks of contracting the coronavirus — death, a prolonged hospital stay or, and perhaps most convincing to me, the increasingly documented lingering, and not rare, long-term complications from Covid-19 itself: brain fog, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, depression.

The choice became clear. I would get the vaccine.”

Full article: By Dr. Eugenia South, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

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