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Let’s End This Together: Vaccinations Are Our Ticket to Turning the Pandemic into an Endemic

Nathan Hagstrom, MD

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Nearly two years ago, the world learned of a new virus. In a matter of months, COVID-19 reached pandemic level, impacting our lives in virtually every way possible: our health, our work, our children and our relationships. It’s something none of us had a choice in. One simple and effective choice can give us the power to put it behind us. 

Vaccines are our best shot. A year ago, we started vaccinating our colleagues at Lehigh Valley Health Network. That moment brought tears of relief and hope of an end to the COVID-19 ordeal for our frontline staff who worked tirelessly and compassionately and continue to do so. We’re now offering boosters to our most vulnerable. Earlier this month, we began vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds.

Vaccines save millions of lives and prevent disability that is unimaginable in today’s world. The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be extremely safe as well, and it makes sense, says Nathan Hagstrom, MD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital.

Vaccines are extremely safe. Thank goodness, because they’re essential to maintaining a healthy population, especially children. Vaccines save millions of lives and prevent disability that is unimaginable in today’s world. The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be extremely safe as well, and it makes sense. They use natural means to trigger immunity without all the risks and complications of getting the disease. The virus that causes COVID-19 is an RNA virus, and some of the vaccines use RNA to trigger immunity.

When you are vaccinated against COVID-19, even if you contract the virus, your body isn’t getting the whole virus, just pieces. With the RNA vaccines, these pieces are being presented to the immune system in a more natural way, which is one reason they’re more effective.

No vaccine in the history of mankind has been 100% effective – but we’ve still managed to eradicate diseases such as polio and minimize the spread of others such as measles. The COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in preventing serious illness and they appear to also be effective in preventing spread. 

Anecdotally, you may hear of someone who got vaccinated and still got COVID-19. It can happen as it can with any vaccine. In most cases, vaccinated people who got the virus did not die or end up hospitalized from COVID-19. 

Regarding children, some parents weighing their options ask: My child is healthy and not likely to get really sick and end up in the hospital with COVID-19, so why should I vaccinate him/her? 

We’ve seen children get seriously ill, and even die, from COVID-19. Pediatric hospitalizations for COVD-19 went up fivefold this summer across Pennsylvania. Nearly 30 percent of all children hospitalized did not have underlying health issues. More children have been sickened and died from the delta variant than the flu. 

Protection also goes beyond the virus itself. Children have been greatly impacted by this pandemic.

They’ve missed birthday parties, important lessons in school, soccer games, time with their grandparents. Every time an unvaccinated child is exposed, they need to quarantine, keeping them from friends and fun.

Let’s also remember 140,000 children have lost a caregiver – moms, dads and grandparents – to COVID-19. Rates of eating disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts among children are at record levels. Children are resilient, but they need stability and hope. While the brutal toll of the pandemic will reverberate for years to come, we have a safe and effective tool to help end this suffering.

Be prepared

As you make your holiday and travel plans – make getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu part of that plan.

Unfortunately, there has been false information about these vaccines that is causing concerns for parents. 

First, there is no impact on fertility. There has been no evidence of that in the millions of people who have gotten the vaccine thus far, and there is no biological reason why it would impact fertility. 

Second, vaccines don’t cause brain damage, organ damage or any permanent medical problems to any measurable degree in children. With or without vaccines the risk of developing a rare medical disease is the same. Vaccines protect people from getting diseases that clearly do cause serious lasting damage and even death. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 is one of those dangerous viruses that needs to be prevented with vaccines. Among children, the only rare side effect that has been seen with mRNA vaccines is something called myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. It’s more common in boys and young men than girls – but it is by no means common. It’s incredibly rare – and almost always goes away on its own. Data shows you are more likely to get myocarditis after getting COVID-19 than getting the vaccine.

Some unvaccinated people fear side effects and allergic reactions. A recent study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found the risks of a serious allergic reaction is eight in 1 million. Experts agree, the potential for fever, chills and other minor side effects far outweigh the risk and discomfort of getting the disease.

The COVID-19 vaccines offer an amazing and safe way for all of us to return to a more normal daily life and protect the people we love and rely on. 

As you make your holiday and travel plans – make getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu part of that plan. 

Together, we can collectively make a big impact and steer ourselves out of this pandemic into a more normal endemic with COVID-19 still around, but much more manageable, by getting vaccinated.

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