We are slowly rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in California. Though I mainly see patients as a private practice pediatrician in Los Angeles, because I also work in the hospital setting, I was first in line to receive the vaccine when it became available. I received my first dose on December 18 and my second dose today, January 8th. I will admit I was nervous to receive the vaccine and had to do a significant amount of research before I felt comfortable with the decision. Many of my patients have already asked what my opinion on the vaccine is and whether or not I believe their families should get vaccinated. After many hours of discussions with infectious disease specialists, OB/GYNs, pediatric colleagues, and other specialists, as well as pouring over the research and data available, I confidently decided that getting the vaccine was the right decision. The first day I mainly had soreness of the left arm at the injection site. This soreness was more than I have felt from other vaccines. On the following day, I had vague body aches and a mild headache, but managed without taking any pain medication. By day two after the vaccine, I was completely back to normal.
I believe most people are hesitant to be vaccinated because of fear or misinformation. Social media posts spreading false rumors about infertility and other baseless claims are spreading like wildfire. However, these claims have NO basis. The medical community including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) overwhelming supports the vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has pushed for the vaccine trials to include children. The pandemic has forced families to make very difficult decisions and whether to vaccinate is a decision each family will have to make for themselves. When making this decision, parents should weight risks and benefits as they would with anything else. The risk of getting sick from COVID is very real at this time, especially here in Los Angeles County where the positivity rate is nearly 1/4. This essentially means that COVID is everywhere. We now know that this disease preys on the elderly with 95% of deaths occurring in people over 50 years old. Getting vaccinated will protect our parents, grandparents and allow for a more speedy return to normal.
In an effort to help answer some of the concerns many of my patients' parents have brought up with me, I will list them below along with my personal medical opinion.
Q: What about the side effects?
A: The COVID vaccines currently available are highly immunogenic. This means they are more likely to cause some type of immune response soon after receiving the vaccine. These side effects include fever, body aches, fatigue, headache, to name a few. These side effects are GOOD. They mean that the vaccine is working! Your body is reacting and producing an immune response which means antibody formation. These effects are short-lived and should resolve within 1-2 days. Tylenol can be taken for pain.
Q: But I am young and healthy. Wouldn't I be fine if I got COVID?
A: Young healthy adults generally fare well but for reasons not yet understood, some young healthy adults die from COVID. Some of these adults suffer from aneurysms, stroke, severe pneumonia, or heart attacks. Many get very ill and recover. Many young healthy adults have only mild symptoms but fall into a category called "long haulers" who suffer from chronic fatigue, brain fog, and nerve pain for months after their mild COVID illness.
Q: I am willing to risk my chances of getting COVID. Why should I get the vaccine?
A: That's fine. No one is mandated to get vaccinated (as of now). But I ask you to consider that although you may not be worried about your own risks, do you feel the same when it comes to your parents? Grandparents? We are now nearly a year into the pandemic. Avoiding seeing family has become increasingly difficult after so much time has passed. The COVID vaccine will not only protect you, but it adds another layer of protection for your elderly loved ones as well as people who are immunosuppressed.
The bottom line is, there is no easy way out of this pandemic, but the most certain road out involves the vast majority becoming vaccinated against COVID-19.
Lucille J. Uber, MD, FAAP