Nine months into a relentless battle with COVID-19 in December 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized two mRNA-based vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) against COVID-19 using Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). At the time, I was conflicted. To some degree, I was excited because the vaccines were reportedly safe and effective in preventing severe disease from COVID-19, which had led to the deaths of many New Yorkers, including those in the Bukharian community. At the same time, I was anxious, as mRNA vaccine technology was new to me, and both drug companies were able to complete 2 months’ worth of Phase 3 clinical trials so quickly. After reading hundreds of pages of documents and watching many hours of FDA discussions on vaccines, I was reassured that the safety and efficacy of the vaccines far outweighed the risks of COVID-19. In August 2021, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and similar approvals are expected shortly for both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Unfortunately, there are still many people in the US getting hospitalized due to COVID-19, and majority of them are unvaccinated.
Given the Bukharian Jewish community’s Soviet history, it is inherent for many Bukharians to have a natural mistrust of government and authority figures. This mistrust had translated to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. It is no secret that some of the messaging from our leaders and public health officials has contributed to this hesitancy. Many vaccine-hesitant people, including Bukharians, are not ‘anti-vaxxers,’ but are hesitant specifically when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines for a variety of reasons (e.g., public trust, misinformation). Misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines has been pervasive all-over social media, which in our community has fed to further distrust of institutions. However, these lies are disingenuous, dangerous, and threaten our safety. I urge us as a community to look past the confusion, chaos, and misinformation, and focus on evidence-based facts. It’s important to understand that even if one disagrees with policy makers on things like vaccine mandates, this does not change the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines are relatively safe and effective.
Let’s now discuss what we mean when we say that vaccines are “safe and effective”. Regarding safety, we must understand that there truly is no such thing as 100% safe. Safety refers to side effects that occur after a vaccine is administered. Most of these side effects are minor, including pain and swelling around the injection site, mild fever, and fatigue that could last a few days. More serious side effects, such as an allergic reaction to the vaccine are extremely rare. When we say vaccines are “effective”, we mean that the vaccines offer incredible protection against severe disease (i.e., hospitalization and/or death) and to some extent protection against person-to-person transmission.
It’s also ok to ask questions. Can vaccines cause infertility, blood clots, myocarditis (heart inflammation), or COVID-19 itself? How effective is naturally acquired immunity? What are the long-term effects of vaccines? These are all inherently good and legitimate questions. However, it’s one thing to ask good questions and another to claim with certainty, without any supporting evidence, that vaccines cause things such as infertility or COVID-19. It is well established now, for example, that within 6 weeks of vaccination, blood clots and myocarditis rarely occur with the J&J vaccine and mRNA vaccines, respectively. However, it is also known that the risk of blood clots and myocarditis with COVID-19 are far higher. There is no evidence that vaccines cause infertility. “Naturally acquired immunity” provides significant protection in many people, but data from Israel and the US has shown that vaccination in this group significantly boosts immunity and is therefore still recommended.
Given the relative novelty of this virus, we are still learning about the long-term effects from the vaccines as well as from naturally occurring COVID-19. While most COVID-19 survivors return to normal health, many others, including young and healthy people, have continued to struggle with persistent medical problems and the phenomenon of “Long COVID”. Long COVID is a condition where patients suffer from symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath due to lung scarring, and brain fog that persist for weeks to months after the initial infection. There are no reported long-term effects identified that have occurred 6 weeks after vaccination.
It has been 10 months since I was vaccinated against COVID-19. We have much more safety and efficacy data now. Even though I was hesitant then, I trusted the tireless efforts of the scientists and doctors who worked to get the vaccines here. In fact, approximately 96% of physicians across the country are vaccinated as of June 2021.
Now I ask you to trust me. I encourage you to talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Do this for yourself, your family, and the community.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the following physicians from the who are working tirelessly during the pandemic and who support the message above:David Musheyev, M.D., Jonathan Tamaiev, M.D., Moisey Khanimov, M.D., Eric Bondarsky, M.D., Simon Gurgov, M.D., Revekka Babyev, M.D., Daniel Meshoyrer, D.O.
Daniil Shimonov, M.D. is a practicing physician of Internal Medicine and Nephrology at The Rogosin Institute, affiliate of The New York Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center.
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