Opinion: We will get vaccinated; you should, too

By  and , Guest Columnist Updated: December 10, 2020 11:37 AM CT | Published: December 10, 2020 8:39 AM CT
Scott Strome
Guest Columnist

Scott Strome

Dr. Scott Strome is the Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine and vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Jon McCullers
Guest Columnist

Jon McCullers

Dr. Jon McCullers is the senior associate dean for clinical affairs for the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and pediatrician in chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Today, there are more than 500 people in our local hospitals ill with COVID-19. While many of them will get better, some will suffer long periods of illness and some will die. COVID-19 vaccines provide hope for a better tomorrow — hope that is proportional to the number of us willing to be vaccinated. How do we, as individuals and as a community, balance the risks of vaccination, including those that are unknown, with the likely benefits?

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COVID-19 vaccines train the immune system to recognize and eradicate the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. While these vaccines stimulate a variety of different lines of immune defense, anti-coronavirus antibodies are the most relevant for protection against infection. The most common type of protective antibodies can only be detected in our blood for a matter of months. While these antibodies may not be particularly durable in some people, the cells that make these antibodies can persist for far longer, offering the potential for sustainable immunity – likely for a year or two, and perhaps for a lifetime. Furthermore, these antibodies attach to the virus in many different spots, limiting the potential for it to escape the immune response through mutation of any one location.

The data available on the first two COVID-19 vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, provide a basis for optimism. Both vaccines were evaluated in large randomized clinical trials. Both vaccines appear to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. Both vaccines are associated with limited local and systemic (whole body) side effects.

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Both vaccines reduce the chances of experiencing the most severe forms of COVID-19 when infection does develop. Both vaccines, if taken by an adequate number of individuals, will limit the circulation of the SARS-2-coronavirus in humans, reducing the possibility that individuals who lack immunity to the virus will get sick with COVID-19.

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The potential downsides of these vaccines can be summed up in one word – uncertainty. As physicians, we have not yet seen the final clinical trial data on these vaccines, limiting our knowledge to what can be gleaned from company press releases, earlier clinical studies, and a rich history of data with similar viruses and vaccines.

We have no data on the potential long-term protective capacity or side effects of these vaccines. We do not know how these vaccines will perform in certain subsets of the population, such as those who have previously been infected with COVID-19 and have circulating antibodies, or those with immune compromise. We will have to wait for more data to answer these uncertainties.

Throughout history, we have mitigated the societal effects of serious infectious illnesses through the combined use of public health initiatives and vaccines. These preventive approaches to infection are arguably medicine’s greatest success. Based on the data available, in our opinion, the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 far outweigh the associated uncertainties.

With this in mind, we will be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as one of these vaccines is available to us. We hope that this will protect us from infection. More importantly, we hope that they will protect our families, our friends, and our communities – particularly those from our most vulnerable populations. We hope you will join us.


coronavirus vaccine


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