By Nicholas Pasion
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
As high amounts of COVID-19 cases remain constant, intensive care units remain full and vaccination campaigns stagnate, doctors say getting vaccinated has become a “civic responsibility.”
Three doctors met over a Zoom panel hosted by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) on Sept. 23 to discuss vaccine misinformation and the importance of getting vaccinated
Larry Corey, the president and director emeritus at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, said remaining unvaccinated can harm people around you, as they risk infecting at-risk individuals with the virus.
The Delta variant accounts for 100% of new COVID-19 cases in Washington state, according to the DOH. Corey said the Delta variant is eight times as transmissible as previous coronavirus strains, and the U.S. is seeing about 1,900 COVID-19 related deaths a day, which means preventing serious illness with the vaccine is more important than ever.
“This is preventable death, vaccine preventable death,” he said. “And we have an incredible tool and we’re not using it, and it’s an individual tragedy to see this happen.”
Corey said mRNA vaccines, which teach your immune system how to better identify and fight the virus, are no longer “experimental” and have been given to hundreds of millions of individuals who are now better equipped to fight the virus. He added a common myth about the vaccine is that it can alter an individual’s DNA, he said this myth is false and the immune response the vaccine produces does not enter cells’ DNA.
Corey also said no vaccine is not “infallible,” and breakthrough infections are inevitable, but he said the COVID-19 vaccines offer historically high levels of immunity, which help individuals fight a deadly virus. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective at preventing symptomatic illness from the Delta variant.
“Against Delta, it is the best tool that we have,” Corey said.
Daniel Getz, the chief medical officer at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, said individuals should verify articles they see online by looking at the citations to see if they are drawn from trustworthy sources, like the New England Journal of Medicine or Lansing.
“I’ve had patients bring the articles that were very anti-vaccine and I read them first, and I’m like wait, this is kind of convincing, and then you start digging into the details and it’s entirely false. There’s nothing accurate about it or true,” he said. “I think it’s really important that when you try and read something critically, follow the citations.”
According to the New York Times, as of Sept. 27, 67% of Washington state residents are fully vaccinated, but high vaccination rates are disproportionately concentrated in the urban areas of Western Washington. In the eastern part of the state, vaccination rates remain low.
Getz said it’s unfortunate that vaccines, a life saving medicine, have been politicized.
“The vaccine is vastly safer than getting COVID,” he said. “One thing that we’ve seen in our hospital—and this is a general myth about COVID—is that COVID doesn’t affect people that are young and healthy. COVID is only a disease of people that have medical comorbidities. That’s entirely false.”
Anisa Ibrahim, a medical doctor at Harborview Pediatrics Clinic, said marginalized communities, who have been damaged by vaccines in the past, may feel hesitant about getting vaccinated because of their traumatic history. She said she has tried education campaigns to help communities make “informed decisions” and encourage vaccination.
“As we were getting to different segments of the population the concerns changed, so therefore our messaging, and our partnerships, and our strategies also had to change to make sure that we were answering the questions that needed to be answered,” she said.
Ibrahim added that another common misconception is that the vaccine is unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. She said all vaccines have been proven to be safe for new parents.
Ibrahim also said the best way to encourage vaccination to a hesitant individual is to have conversations with patients and answer any vaccination questions, which will increase trust between a doctor and someone who is vaccine hesitant.
“The first step is really building that trusting relationship and knowing that we are here to answer questions, we’re here to have a conversation, it is not a…place of judgment or alienating people who have not yet chosen to get vaccinated,” she said. “We’re coming from a place of wanting to truly answer questions because we truly do believe that getting vaccinated is safe, it’s effective, and this is one of the best ways to keep our communities safe.”
This health series is made possible by funding from the Washington Department of Health, which has no editorial input or oversight of this content.