We’re hearing more good news about increased COVID-19 vaccine production and availability. For many of us, there’s a sense of relief and even excitement in the air.
But I also understand the hesitancy some of my loved ones have about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
As chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, I’ve looked closely at the vaccine data. And I’d like to share what I learned that helped me decide to get one when I can and explain what you need to know about these valid concerns.
3 reasons I’m getting the vaccine
1. I’m ready to be close to family members and friends I’ve missed.
I think about my son, Cam, a soon-to-be college graduate living in New York City. It’s tough enough dealing with the distance between us, so when we’re together, I want to hug him without any feelings of fear or hesitation.
2. I’m ready to enjoy life’s simple pleasures again.
How many of us took for granted activities like seeing a movie at a theater, going to a ball game at a stadium, sitting in our favorite restaurant, or hopping in the car for a weekend trip without worrying about getting sick? We know what we’re missing, and this burden has affected everyone and everything — particularly small businesses like restaurants that either haven’t reopened safely or have closed for good.
3. I’m committed to doing my part.
I want a return to normalcy not only for myself, but for my fellow Tennesseans. And by getting vaccinated, I’m protecting myself — and the people around me. Remember, that the more of us who get vaccinated, the more effective we can be at decreasing the overall burden.
3 valid concerns — and what you need to know about them
It’s normal to have questions or concerns before making a decision about your health. Here are the hesitancies I’m hearing from friends and family — and what I learned about them when looking closely at the research:
1. These vaccines were brought to market quickly.
Because of the crisis situation, there was a very intentional focus to have these vaccines go through clinical trials, approval and manufacturing as soon as possible. However, the foundations of COVID-19 vaccines have been studied for decades, and these trials were held to rigorous safety and efficacy standards. The vaccine trials also included tens of thousands of adults — many with health conditions that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. During the trial, none of the participants were hospitalized or died from COVID-19.
2. Some people are experiencing adverse effects.
It’s not uncommon for some people to experience side effects like soreness at the injection site, fatigue and fever in the days following vaccination. But in the vaccine’s first month of availability, only 21 of the nearly 2 million people vaccinated experienced an adverse event. Most importantly, I always stress that getting these vaccines does not make people test positive for the virus.
3. There’s historical context for vaccination hesitation among some groups of people.
Many minority groups have some distrust for the health care system because of past tragedies like the U.S. government’s long-running Tuskegee syphilis experiment involving Black males, early forms of birth control being tested on Puerto Rican women, and slaves being purchased or rented for medical experimentation, to name a few. The wounds from these events are still deep. However, I think we should use lessons learned from those tragedies and be intentional about educating ourselves on the vaccine data to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.
4 things to consider when weighing the pros and cons
When it comes to decisions about your health, it’s important to look at the data and be informed. I’ve done that myself, and here’s what helped me make my decision:
1. Many of us take medications.
Every medication, whether prescription or over the counter, can have side effects or adverse reactions, but we accept the risk when the pros outweigh the cons. It’s similar for vaccines. When I weigh the pros and cons for vaccines, the pros of vaccination win.
If you’re on any medications and have questions about these vaccines, speak to a provider who knows your medical history.
2. People are experiencing long-term complications from the virus, (even those who experience a mild case).
Lingering signs and symptoms include:
- fatigue and shortness of breath
- pain in joints, chest, and/or muscles
- fast or pounding heartbeat
- loss of smell or taste
- memory, concentration or sleep problems
- rash or hair loss
3. People continue to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19.
We recently surpassed 500,000 deaths nationwide. People in minority communities have been disproportionately impacted and are dying at higher rates. While the numbers are dropping, they’re still a very real concern, and demonstrate the need for herd immunity, which requires that everyone who can get vaccinated, do so as soon as possible.
4. We’re already seeing that these vaccines work.
Millions of Americans have already received the vaccines, and they’ve proven to be effective at preventing severe illness. A recent study in the U.K. found that Pfizer’s vaccine can even reduce asymptomatic infections after just the first dose. Plus, if people who have been vaccinated are exposed to COVID-19, they no longer have to quarantine.
Where can you get vaccinated?
The Tennessee Department of Health’s website has a tool to help you determine your vaccine eligibility and where you can get one. In the meantime, for the good of all, continue to practice social distancing measures and wear a mask.
We all have a part to play in this fight. I hope you’ll join me in getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you’re eligible, so that we can all see each other again soon.
Need more advice?
If you have questions about these vaccines, speak to a provider who knows your medical history and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Your friends and family may have good intentions, but they may not know your body like you and your doctor, so it’s important to speak to a provider who knows you well.
If you do decide to go online to learn more about vaccines, do seek reputable sources like the CDC, FDA or World Health Organization (WHO). Visit BCBSTupdates.com to get the latest news and learn about our support for COVID-19 treatment and prevention.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.