I’ve just had my first COVID shot!”
I happened to recently overhear a conversation between two nearby people I didn’t know. The words the first person spoke were expressed in a tone of relief.
“I had my second dose two weeks ago” was the triumphal response of the second person; then she added, “I have friends who are hesitant and scared to take the vaccine. And that’s understandable with so many stories going around about inadequate development time and insufficient testing and even possible side effects.”
This conversation is reflective of countless such discussions and decisions individuals are making as they determine whether it’s best for them to get the vaccine to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The question for many is “Should I or shouldn’t I?”
On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. More than a year and 3 million-plus deaths later, the situation remains disruptive and challenging.
Regardless of the consequences, the COVID-19 vaccines shine light at the end of the tunnel. Worldwide, at the time of writing, 1 billion shots have been given. Vaccination centers have been set up throughout the U.S. to provide accessibility to those more than 16 years of age. Numerous primary-care health providers and pharmacies are also giving the shots. But are these vaccines safe? Once vaccinated, what then? Are there risks and concerns? Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Three vaccines have been approved for use in the United States: Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (two-shot vaccines), and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a “one and done” injection. The administration of the J&J vaccine was resumed following intensive investigation of 15 case reports in the United States of a rare side effect of blood clotting. These cases were mainly in women under the age of 48, some using hormonal treatments and some with associated obesity. The stringent safety-and-side-effect tracking offers reassurance that the priority is to protect the individual’s health. Because the benefits of immunization currently outweigh the risks, resuming its use appears warranted—with warnings and advice for those at risk for clotting complications to seek an alternative vaccine.
Many people are asking, “Which vaccine is best? Which one should we take?”
At this point, robust peer-reviewed data and research are available supporting the safety and efficacy of all three vaccines. Health officials advise that the best one to take is the one you’re offered at the time, with a careful exclusion noted for those with clotting risks to avoid the J&J vaccine. Millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the U.S. each day have so far not revealed additional unexpected side effects or problematic consequences, other than those noted during testing phases, as well as the rare instances of blood clotting with J&J.
It’s not abnormal or unreasonable to be concerned about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. It’s therefore helpful to note that the vaccine efficacy to date has been very encouraging as measured by the outcomes of preventing death, ICU admissions, and even overall hospital admissions because of COVID-19. The vaccines are also expected to protect against the United Kingdom variant, which is becoming prominent in the United States.
The country of Israel recently reported its first day of zero deaths from COVID-19 following its aggressive vaccination rollout. They’re hopeful that they’ll soon approach community (herd) immunity.
The current best peer-reviewed and evidence-based health science and public health preventive data encourage and support vaccination.
Research so far indicates that the vaccinated individual may become infected, but in these instances, the degree of illness is significantly decreased. We don’t yet know how long protection will remain effective, however, and the need for boosters may become a reality, even as the flu injection is an annual immunization. It’s therefore prudent to continue prevention measures as well as to consider responsible immunization.
There’s a deluge of information in the media and on the Internet regarding COVID-19 (including misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and allegations), but the current best peer-reviewed and evidence-based health science and public health preventive data encourage and support vaccination. To help work through the possible vexation of vaccination, you can check out the Adventist Church’s informational document on vaccines,1 as well as the church’s official statement on immunization.2
Although vaccination against COVID-19 is strongly recommended by the Adventist Church, it’s not mandated for church members. The decision is left to each individual’s conscience and choice. It’s important to note that the vaccines are still under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
So what changes after someone has been immunized against COVID-19? The official guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO are being revised on an almost daily basis as more data and evidence are analyzed. Changes and adjustments are inevitable.3 Since not all people you may interact with are vaccinated, the previously given general preventive measures and guidelines should still be followed.
These guidelines and data are subject to ongoing review as the situation regarding the pandemic evolves. The data will teach us even more.
We’re all weary of this disruption—the death, separation, and suffering. As we live each day in the hope of Jesus’ return and long for His appearing, let’s do what we can to avoid COVID-19 fatigue. Despite progress, the battle isn’t yet over. And no, it’s neither abnormal nor unreasonable to worry about safety and efficacy of the vaccine; that’s why there’s so much effort to secure the best data while combating this deadly pandemic.
Don’t let vaccination become a vexation! Prayerfully consider the matter, check the reliable peer-reviewed health science, and consult your health-care provider regarding your risk profile. Let’s be gracious and kind to one another, and respectful of views different from our own.
We have hope, we have purpose, and we have the promise of God’s presence with us. We can even face death with unwavering hope and assurance. Let’s therefore “be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid . . . , for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NIV). Maranatha!
To learn more, also read “The Psychology of Vaccine Hesitancy,” by Carlos Fayard, at https://adventistreview.org/the-psychology-of-vaccine-hesitancy.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.