May 12, 2021
When I was a boy, I remember hearing stories from my parents about the Great Depression and World War II. Back then a common saying was “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” Women would draw a dark line up the backs of their legs with an eyebrow pencil to mimic the seam of silk stockings. There was no extra silk for stockings, it was used to make such things as parachutes for the war effort. One of those parachutes was worn by my Uncle as he flew a dive bomber over Iwo Jima and Okinawa. As a nation, we pulled together, set aside our political beliefs, and sacrificed ourselves to fight against, and ultimately defeat, the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. 419,400 United States Citizens died in World War II 1.
Today we have a new challenge, one that requires us to pull together again. It isn’t a rogue country, but it has killed millions of people. It is something that doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t care about political affiliation, gender, wealth, borders, or prestige. It is COVID-19.
As a physician, I have watched this virus tear families apart. My patients have lost loved ones, and our clinic has lost patients to the pandemic. I have other patients who are still on oxygen and steroids and are slowly recovering months after their initial infection. I have had both men and women sit in my office and cry while telling me how they feared for their life. Others have told me they “have never been so sick.”
I have also heard from patients who are concerned regarding vaccination. I have been told there “hasn’t been enough testing,” and “I’m afraid of long term effects,” Some are afraid the vaccine will “rewrite their DNA,” while others are concerned about side effects and reactions to vaccination. For those in our community who are concerned, I hear you, and I will try to address these concerns.
All the vaccine approvals were prioritized, meaning other work was set aside and these vaccines were moved to the top of the list at every step in the process. While these vaccines were approved quickly, no scientific corners were cut. All of the vaccines are efficacious against the variants we know of. Incidentally, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was tested in South Africa against the variant present there.
None of the vaccines contain live virus, it is impossible to contract COVID-19 from the vaccines. As far as vaccine reactions are concerned, most are actually a good thing, as it shows the immune system is reacting to the vaccine and is generating antibodies against the virus.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will not re-write anyone’s DNA. The molecular machinery in a cell doesn’t allow for this. These vaccines simply use engineered messenger RNA to instruct cells to make fragments of the virus. These fragments are then presented to the immune system, mimicking an infection, which results in immunity.
Right now, the main COVID-19 variant in Lewis and Clark County and Montana is the British variant2. Thus, in an effort to minimize further mutations that may escape our vaccinations, it is imperative we achieve a 70-85% immunization rate, as this is the ultimate way to defeat this virus. Doing this will also protect those who have weaker immune systems (and may incubate another variant of the virus), as well as protecting our neighbors, friends, and loved ones.
Like in World War II and the Great Depression, we must pull together in an effort to defeat this virus. We have the tools and the knowledge to do it. I have one patient who had a severe auto-immune disease flare after the first dose of vaccine. This person is planning on getting the second dose, knowing they will be in pain, with swollen joints, and hours of morning stiffness. I asked this person, “why?” Answer - “Because it is the right thing to do, and I’d rather endure this than possibly die.”
To date, COVID-19 has killed 578,421 United States Citizens3, more than were killed in World War II. If we want life to return to normal, I ask us all to pull together, follow CDC guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing, and obtain vaccination as soon as possible.
Dr. James Bennett is a rheumatologist at St. Peter’s Health.
1 Wikipedia. org; http://www.wikipedia.org; search string: “Deaths in World War II”; accessed May 5th, 2021
2 Montana State Department of Health and Human Services Website; https://dphhs.mt.gov/Portals/85/publichealth/documents/CDEpi/DiseasesAtoZ/2019-nCoV/Reports/VariantWebUpdate042921.pdf; Accessed May 5, 2021
3 Montana Response: COVID-19 - Coronavirus - Global, National, and State Information Sources; https://montana.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7c34f3412536439491adcc2103421d4b; accessed May 5th 2021