A few weeks ago, I received a call from a Boston activist to tell me that her daughter was in critical condition with COVID-19. She had likely acquired the virus while distributing masks and hand sanitizer to residents in the community, she thought. Suddenly, her eldest child and recent college graduate was isolated in a room with no visitors, on oxygen, and receiving unfamiliar medications.
The young woman has since been discharged and is recovering, but her mother was terrified that her daughter would die.
As a physician in an intensive care unit, I have witnessed heartbreaking suffering this past year. Those in my community, Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities, have been particularly impacted.
The pandemic is expected to shorten life expectancy among Blacks by 2.10 years and 3.05 years among Latinos. Stopping the disproportionate impacts of the virus and preventing future widening of racial health disparities rests with vaccination against COVID-19.
Unfortunately, Black people in particular have been the target of misinformation campaigns that capitalize on their mistrust in the healthcare system.
Let’s put this to rest: The COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain live viruses or microchips. They cannot alter your DNA and don’t cause autism. The truth is that vaccines remain one of the most effective public health measures to combat infectious diseases. If we don’t get immunized, diseases recur.
All three vaccines available in the United States - Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson - were developed using the highest safety standards and put through rigorous trials that included diverse demographics. There are many numbers being thrown at us about effectiveness, but in terms of what we care most about - preventing hospitalization and death - these vaccines are 100 percent effective. Whichever vaccine is offered to you, it works. Take it!
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses. Johnson & Johnson’s requires one. Having different types of vaccines available for use, especially ones with different storage requirements, can offer more options and flexibility in achieving vaccine equity. Access for those who lack transportation to mass vaccination sites, including many in communities of color, is key to a successful vaccination effort. The latest data continue to show whites are receiving vaccine doses in higher percentages in Massachusetts — 31 percent compared to 21 percent for Blacks and 13 percent for Latinos.
I have heard firsthand from minorities who feel that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is inferior and being made available to them out of convenience because it is only one dose and can be easily stored. I cannot emphasize enough that when it comes to hospitalization and death, all three vaccines work equally well.
Finally, if you experience symptoms after vaccination that’s actually good. It’s a sign your body is developing antibodies to protect you against future COVID-19 infection. Symptoms are generally mild and last one to two days. Fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, and chills are most common. Severe allergic reactions are rare.
Vaccination is the only tool we have to prevent you from developing severe disease and dying. It is the only means of preventing your loved ones from grieving your loss of life. With COVID-19 variants on the rise, which may result in more severe disease, we must embrace the incredible feat of scientists.
Sharma E. Joseph, MD is an Anesthesiologist and Critical Care Physician at Tufts Medical Center. She also currently serves as Director, Health Policy and Advocacy at the New England Medical Association.