So, a friend of mine from high school posted this question and comment on Facebook:
As I really don’t like being confrontational just to be confrontational, I asked if they really wanted an honest answer, or were just looking for reassurance in their choice to not get it. I promise that wasn’t passive-aggressive, just an honest ask.
At any rate… my legendary reputation for patience is really just a myth, so I started writing this to address a few of those questions/comments and have something to share later when someone (inevitably) asks again why they should get the shot.
So first, a primer:
My creds…or lack thereof
I am not a doctor, never had the interest, temperament, or quite frankly the type of brain required to enter the medical field. I am, however, an engineer, and science is very much and ingrained interest as a function of my career, and, also quite frankly, the type of brain I actually do have.
That being said, I am no fan of Western Medicine as an institution. Not because they aren’t helping, or because they aren’t smart, or don’t figure out how to help people live longer, better lives, or they don’t actually care about the well being of patients…. no, I really think they do or are ALL of those things. My problem is the profit motive. I truly believe in capitalism, but I also equally believe that certain segments of the economy simply shouldn’t have a profit motive: military, law enforcement, education, and health care. I understand the arguements made by pharmaceutical companies that the profit motive incentivizes them to do better things, and they would have a point if they weren’t making 40,000% profits on insulin, or made $100,000 pills, or had people like the Pharma Bro in their midst. I just don’t trust Big Medical to do the right thing unless coerced by regulations. Now, that being said… vaccines just plain work, and they are one of the few things that have almost no profit margin, and no revenue potential. We’ll get to that in a few, because, sure, there are exceptions and simplifications, but in general, vaccines are a 1-shot, no recurring expense kind of thing.
How vaccines work, and how they don’t (from a lay perspective)
The common belief is that vaccines are a magic shot that if you get it, you can’t get a certain disease they protect you from. You get a polio shot, and you never have to worry about it again, right?
Well, that’s a fairy tale. That’s just not how it works, and frankly, it’s never worked that way.
What’s generally referred to as the first ever vaccine was for smallpox. Smallpox was a stupid-level scary disease. Variola Major had a roughly 30% mortality rate, while the lesser form, Variola Minor, had roughly a 1% mortality rate. But even people who survived were often horrifically scarred, and many blinded. It was a shit disease to have gotten. But someone, a guy named Edward Jenner, discovered that milkmaids and dairy farmers almost *never* got smallpox. That led to some questions, and study and learning that nearly all milkmaids got Cowpox, as they handled cows with cowpox on the regular, and cowpox was zoonotic, or transmissible from animals to humans. Horsepox was the same way, and mounted cavalry was noted to have much fewer incidents of smallpox, too. Jenner tested using fluids from a pustule (big gross zit full of germs, yo) and applying it to a human intentionally would give that person cowpox, which was obnoxious, to be sure, but nearly never lethal. Because the cowpox/horsepox viruses and the small pox viruses are of similar families, and the vectors they use to infect cells are virtually identical… having one disease meant you wouldn’t be struck down with the other. They had no idea that it was a virus, at the time, nor that the germs caused the disease, and such… but the lucky break was that it worked. People that got this treatment pretty much stopped dying of smallpox. There were problems, of course, that they couldn’t foresee- the most common way to do this was an arm-to-arm fluid transfer… which often led to the spread of syphillis and such. Unintended consequences are real.
Now, the reason the cowpox virus acted as a shield to smallpox is generally how vaccines, in general, work. (Don’t @ me with exceptions, please.) Your immune system senses foreign germs that are harmful, and sets out to fix the problem. This usually involves types of white blood cells and antibodies that some white blood cells (lymphocytes) produce. Now I’ll be the first to admit, that this is where my understanding of the process breaks down, but I believe the lymphocytes create antibody particles that other white blood cells use to fight, in this case, a virus. Viruses are cells, and they can be “killed”, (there is still some debate as to whether viruses count as life forms or not), but they are like anything else- biologically, they don’t really want to die. So, they have defenses. For things in that scale, what one can use as a weapon isn’t necessarily obvious to us… but maybe it’s a chemical compound, or protein, or amino acid that the virus finds toxic. Maybe it doesn’t react well to heat. Maybe it’s a protein that has a sort of slime that fills all the holes the virus would use to inject it’s DNA into cells to infect them- it doesn’t have to *kill* it, but preventing it from infecting more cells is just as good.
You would *still have the virus inside you*, but it would be relatively neutralized. At that point you are still a carrier of that disease, and virus cells that are in you can escape through a sneeze or cough, before the white blood cells have taken care of all of them. That means you can still transmit the disease. BUT, because you are sharing MUCH less of the disease, since the immune system is killing most of them, you aren’t shedding as much physical mass of virus cells, and that directly translate to fewer people getting it from you. It can still happen, but on average, it will happen MUCH less.
There’s this one weird trick…
Well, maybe not just one… and maybe not weird, who knows. But for most virus and bacteria that you gain immunity to, or even simply don’t die from, there’s *something* that your body figures out how to defeat. If your immune system can’t beat it, it multiplies till you die, or it changes into something less harmful over time. If your immune system just ends up in a stalemate, you have a disease for life, even if it’s not always active (like herpes).
The trick, though, is to figure out what that “trick” really is. When you pick up a disease- say the flu- your body may or may not immediately recognize what it is, or even if it’s bad. Some are devious- HIV works by attacking the cells that would be the first to fight it… essentially a “invade the country by destroying all the military bases first” scenario. Can’t lose the war, if there’s no army to fight. Most are ones the body recognizes as a threat, and neutralizes first… if it knows how. It learns of the course of a lifetime, to react to or create antibodies that are specific to the threat in front of it. The first time you see a complex flu virus, your body doesn’t know what to do, so it throws everything it can at it.
“PHELGM! I NEED PHLEGM! DROWN IT, STICK TO IT AND HACK IT OUT THE LUNGS! GO! GO! GO!” … “YOU! MANNING THE FURNACE! FULL HOT, MAN! FULL HOT! BURN IT OUT!” … “HEY! STOMACH! YOU DID THIS! GET WHATEVER YOU GOT IN THERE OUTTA HERE! NO, NOT THAT WAY! THE WAY IT CAME IN! NOW!” …. “BLOOD VESSELS TO THE SURFACE MOVE MOVE MOVE I WANT RASHES EVERYWHERE FOLKS!!!!!”
If you get a bug that is cured fasted by being 101.3°, then you’re gonna get a fever. If a bug settles in the lungs, you’re gonna get a phlegmy, hacky cough. Sinuses = runny/stuffy nose. Those are your own defenses, NOT the disease. The symptoms are you *fighting*, not something the bug is doing to you. The whole time, your lymphocytes are producing all the different formulas for antibodies it can remember, and new ones, for good measure. If one of those seem effective, it starts producing more… and if it’s a new one it just invented… it adds it to the memory for next time.
If there is a chemical solution it already knows of, à la antibodies, the body ramps up production of those antibodies, stat. You usually never even feel that. Sometimes you do- maybe you’re a little more tired than usually for no apparent reason… maybe you just successfully fought of the bubonic plague… you don’t know! But those antibodies are a specific formula, and if it doesn’t know the right compostition, it’s guessing at random. That could take forever, and you could quite literally die before it figures it out.
ENTER: The Modern Vaccine
What if we discover someone who has already had the disease, and successfully fought it off? Could we harvest some of their antibodies? What if we could teach other bodies how to make them too? Then what?
Well, that’s essentially how they work. The newest vaccines are called mRNA vaccines… and they are fucking clever. They don’t use the disease… they use a *blueprint* for the part of a disease that infects you, or makes it bad, and tells your body, start making this thing, and if you run into this guy, you’ll know how to kick his ass.
XKCD has an EXCELLENT demonstration on how it works: (click the link for the full comic… this is just a snippet.)
Some vaccines are SUPER EFFECTIVE, some are mostly effective… some are just better than nothing.
There are degrees to how well vaccines can and do work. As the HIV epidemic proved, just getting exposed and not dying doesn’t give you immunity to that disease. Sometimes they can linger for the rest of your life- herpes, syphilis, chicken pox (yes, chicken pox. Ask anyone who has ever had shingles.) Some mutate so frequently that the vaccine only works on a few strains, but not on others- flu vaccines, the whole reason there’s not a vaccine for the common cold, etc. Some vaccines are slam-fucking-dunks. Polio, modern smallpox, MMR, tetanus, rabies, etc.
Those slam dunks are so effective, that they are mostly responsible for the belief that you-can’t-get-it-if-your-vaxxed. They are so effective that once you learn about the one weird trick, your body can fight it off before it ever knew it had it.
Others, the vaccine simply teaches you how to do it, but maybe it’s a complicated antibody, or the virus has tricks to disguise itself before your immune system can fully ramp up defenses. The vaccine is still effective, because you are able to survive and fight the virus off and not die. If you are already battling other issues, what you’ve probably heard as co-morbidities, the vaccine may still not be enough to fight off the vaccine itself, and you still may get hospitalized. It happens. Sometimes the person has co-morbidities they didn’t even know of, and you may get an instance where someone who seems perfectly healthy dies of pneumonia one day without warning. It just happens.
At any rate, Covid is a good example of a virus that has a shape that is highly effective in infecting living human cells with its own DNA, that it then hijacks the cell to make more viruses, instead of whatever the cell was supposed to be doing. Covid does this with the Spikes it has all over its outside. If you were able to cover, alter the shape, or even break off those spikes, the virus would be rendered useless. Combine that with the blueprint vaccine that tells cells how to beat it, and you get a vaccine that is really VERY effective. Probably as effective as the polio or smallpox vaccines are.
Then why hasn’t the vax wiped it out?
Because not everybody is getting the vaccine. Point blank. That’s it. When the polio vaccine came out, there were still breakthrough cases. Polio vaccine has a 90% efficacy rate. Pfizer’s covid vax has a 94%. That means the vaccine stimulates the immune system with the proper antibodies 90 or 94% of the time, in those cases. 6-10% of the time, the persons vaccine *didn’t work*! Maybe for biological reasons, maybe for mechanical reasons (it wasn’t properly stored, or the container was improperly sterilized, or whatever), but in some cases the vaccine simply didn’t work. Having a community with 50% vaccination rates , the disease has *5 times* people it *can* infect than if it were introduced to a community with 90% vaccination. We need to develop herd immunity of the vaccinated to reach critical mass where the virus has no more hosts to jump to. THAT is what makes the disease go away.
You know what made the Spanish flu virus finally die out? Herd immunity combined with the virus mutating to a softer form. That herd immunity was formed because the natural response, the antibodies people produced when they got sick, were SUPER effective at preventing reinfections. You already have seen this in action- when you get the flu, you aren’t likely to get the same strain again. It’ll have to mutate to get it again. That’s because the flu antibodies find several vectors to kill the flu virus, and you maintain memory of a very effective response. With Covid, getting infected and living to tell the tale doesn’t mean your body figured out the *best* way to kill it, just *a* way to do it. The vaccine in this case is more effective, because it teaches your immune system to make the perfect antibody. It’s simply the best weapon we have. If 30% of the population are people without the vaccine, and are completely unprotected, the virus has enough bodies to jump to, that it can survive indefinitely. If we hit critical mass, the disease simply fades away unless it can mutate into something the vaccine doesn’t solve.
Our luck with Covid thus far has NOT had it mutating to less effective strains. Delta was bad, Omicron was worse for spread. It remains to be seen if the Omicron version is actually weakening, or if we’re simply getting better at treating it. Both could be true.
But I’ve heard of people dying from the vaccine! Perfectly healthy people just dying from the shot…
Statistically speaking, no, you haven’t. You may have heard of someone that was close to you that sort of fits the bill, but I’d bet you a paycheck that I’m right, and they died for reasons other than the vaccine. Have some people had a violent allergic reaction to something in the shot and died? I’ve never seen an actual case, or any link/story/article that points to that actually happening…. but odds are, the answer is yes, that *could* happen. Just as much as you could be olympic athlete, in the prime of your life, and simply prop dead from an aortic dissection.
The US has a system called VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System. As of a report from December 21, 2021, 3 weeks ago, from the University of Missouri health system, there have been a little over 10,000 people who have died within a limited amount of time after receiving the vaccine. Out of 200,000,000 people, and 500,000,000 doses. There have been 855,000 deaths attributed to Covid. Out of 340,000,000 total people (vaxxed or unvaxxed). You are 85 TIMES more like to die from Covid than the vaccines, and that’s just using these raw numbers.
The numbers are not concrete. People have been screaming that for a while, “not that many people have died from Covid… that’s just people ho died *while having covid*!!!”. That’s true! Many of those people died of heart disease or cancer or whatever, and covid simply *pushed them over the edge*. They still would have lived longer, if even only a few days, if they didn’t get Covid, too. That SAME ARGUMENT applies to the number of people who died after getting the vaccine, except, it’s the rule and not the exception. VAERS numbers are small enough to be individually checked by the CDC, and it’s known that the number of pure sudden death from vaccines for healthy people are so low as to be microscopic odds. The vast majority of those cases are ones where people died of other causes, after having had the vaccine. Remember- the first people to get the vaccine we 80 and up. They were already at high risk of dying even without a vaccine. Nearly ALL of the people who *actually* died as a result of the vaccine were due to allergies, and even that number is so low, I *still* haven’t seen anyone share a legitimate example.
If you know of real world examples, please share, but keep in mind, if you have one, I have half a million examples of dead people that absolutely died as a direct result of covid that weren’t going to die the next day anyway.
Bottom line: estimates I’ve seen this week suggest 20%, or 1 in 5 Americans has contracted Covid at some point in the last 2 years. (I’m actually surprised it’s that *low*). The math works out like this: 20% of Americans is 340M * 20%= 68,000,000 people have had it at some point, and 855,000 have died. That’s a 1.2% mortality rate. 1 in 80, roughly. If that seems low, or not-so-scary, take a look at this:
Your odds of dying if you got Covid in the last two years are HIGHER than hitting 1+ the powerball on any single lottery ticket, and winning a grand total of $4 .
That death statistic is scary… but to me, it’s only a small part of the story. For every one that dies, there are more that get it and live with consequences. Some of those consequences seem small, like never getting your sense of taste or smell back… or even just living without those senses for a few months. Some of the people who survived spent weeks strapped to a ventilator, in a humiliating pose, exposed to the world, with a tube down their throat that scars them for life, others have ended up with permanent brain damage. This is not a bug you *want* to get.
If you don’t want to get the jab…
That’s on you. I can’t make you. I can absolutely support legal rules that mandate you have them to attend school or work, just like the rules now for polio, MMR, hepatitis, tetanus, rabies, etc. etc. etc. I think you are wrong if you don’t have an actual medical condition that leaves you immunocompromised and don’t get the jab. I may know you, I may still like you, I may still be related and love you dearly… but you will not maintain my respect for your perceived intellect or for your perceived bravery. Sorry, but I’m convinced, the jab is good, and good for you. If you have a legitimate medical reason for not getting it, you do not need to worry about how I feel about it, you do you, and I’ll fight for your right to *not* get it. The rest of us need to pull our our weight, though.
The vaccine isn’t a magic prophylaxis that shields you from ever interacting with the virus.
The vaccine is not a magic bullet that kills the virus on contact.
The vaccine is not a magic potion that make you superhuman and immune to symptoms if you do get it.
There’s simply no magic here. Just dirty, rough, real world science.
You can still get covid, but the effects should be nearly guaranteed to be less severe than if you were unvaxxed.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you get the vaccine, you could get it and defeat it before you ever knew you had it.
If you get the vaccine, you are nearly certainly preventing yourself from getting deathly ill, but you are also dramatically shortening the lifespan, and thus the ability for spread, of this virus. You are almost certain to save someone else’s life in the process. Odds are, several lives.
Please get the shot.