Opinion: I'm a front-line worker. Here's why I'm getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Asha Shajahan
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Numerous texts and phone calls were received from fellow colleagues along the lines of “are you taking the vaccine?” The COVID-19 vaccine has been shipped and begun to be administered as part of the emergency distribution, and it’s the brave front-line heroes who are going first.

Many are uncertain if they should trust this vaccine, and this doesn’t exclude the initial hesitancy from members of the medical community. It comes down to a risk vs. benefit analysis, trust in the messenger and faith in the science.

As a front-line worker I too was concerned about the safety of the vaccine, but I definitely will be taking this vaccine and here is why. 

The risk for the COVID-19 vaccine is minimal, Shajahan writes.

I’m at high risk of exposure due to my profession. Just like everyone else, I long for the world to go back to normal. The two front-runner vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, are greater than 90% effective, whereas the influenza vaccine is usually only 30% effective.

I take the influenza vaccine every year without hesitancy. 

We all have a certain level of risk in our lives — flying on an airplane or driving in a car. There is risk in almost anything that we do. 

On one hand, there’s a risk in catching COVID-19. Even though I have no prior medical conditions and am in a low-risk age group, I could spread it to those who are high risk. I also fear the “long hauler” side effects of chronic fatigue. Having seen COVID-19 at its worst, where patients spend their last days alone on a ventilator, and at its best, with patients being treated at home, I still would rather avoid infection.  

One of my physician colleagues who was also low risk contracted COVID-19. She wasn’t hospitalized but has had symptoms for five weeks. She struggles with fatigue, shortness of breath and had to take a leave of absence from work. Worse, her two sisters had much more serious cases that resulted in hospitalization. “You don’t want to get this virus,” she told me. “If only the vaccine was available.”

On the other hand, the risk for this vaccine is minimal. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated virus into our bodies. But the COVID-19 vaccine is different. It’s an mRNA vaccine which is not a live vaccine. The vaccine provides  “instructions” from the messenger RNA on how to fight the virus.

This will mount an immune response in the body which may result in fever or body aches for one to two days at most. I would trade that in any day rather than being sick for 14-21 days, or even having months of chronic fatigue. The vaccine is a safer option than getting this nasty virus. 

MRNA technology has existed for more than a decade. The science behind it isn’t new.  Some have misconstrued “Operation Warp Speed” as a quick fix that lacks appropriate scrutiny by the scientific community. However, even before COVID-19 was in existence, mRNA vaccines were being developed as a promising alternative to conventional vaccine approaches.

Also, mRNA vaccines can be developed quicker because they don’t require the same testing as other vaccines since the virus isn’t injected, just the instructions on how to fight the virus. 

But in order for people to make up their minds, they have to do their own risk benefit analysis. Everyone’s world views, identities and moral values affect what they find credible. Consistency of messaging and the actual convenience of getting the vaccine all play a role. 

In others, decisions will be based on decades of mistreatment and exploitation that have resulted in a profound lack of trust in new medical treatments. There are deep structural determinants of vaccine hesitancy. The public health community needs to be able to respond to these concerns in order to make the vaccine distribution successful.

A vaccine with 90% effectiveness is useless if nobody takes it. 

When I do my risk benefit analysis, my decision is based on my individual agency. I trust the safety of the mRNA vaccine. I have a responsibility to my community and family, and want the freedom to go back to the world as we knew it. Although inconvenient to have to take two doses, the benefits of having immunity outweigh the risk of getting the virus.

We all have understandable fears; to appease this, talk to experts that you trust. Discuss it with fellow community members. Read and learn about how to detect misinformation. This is what I and many of my medical colleagues have done. I have concluded that taking the vaccine is not only worth it, but it’s the safest and most responsible choice we have.

Asha Shajahan is a primary care physician and graduate medical education director of health equity and disparities for Beaumont Health. She is an assistant professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She is a podcaster for Beaumont HouseCall Podcast, writer and community health advocate.

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