As a long term survivor of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, who deals with a lot of issues related to late developing side effects from my treatments, as well as a key issue of immunocompromise status, there could be no more important news to me currently than the approval of a vaccine for Covid19. Of all my co-morbidities (issues that complicate my health if I get Covid19), my heart, my lungs, being diabetic, the one thing that will stand out above all others because it is what leaves me more susceptible in the first place to contracting Covid19, not having a spleen, or being asplenic.
At one time, it was believed that people could do without their spleen, an organ that basically filters the blood, but now believed to be quite important when it comes to fighting infections.
Back in 1988, when my spleen was removed as part of a staging procedure (to see how bad my cancer was), I had to take certain vaccines to boost my immunity. These were not lifetime like the ones we got in school, measles/mumps/rubella and others. One vaccine was for the flu, another pneumonia, and the other meningitis. I was told, the flu would need to be done every year, but the other two would be good for life. Spoiler alert, not true. I won’t get into that here, but I have gotten multiple boosters of both, since not having a spleen, I cannot build up immunity against those two issues.
I want to state very clearly, I am not an anti-vaxxer. I also do not buy into any conspiracies about vaccines. And I object to vaccines being made political. Decisions I have made about getting vaccinated for anything have been personal, and made pending on status of mandatory or necessary, medically, or legally.
But in my lifetime, Covid19 is the most lethal contagion I have ever witnessed. And I used to work in medical research, so that says a lot. With all my co-morbidities, and access to the doctors that know my medical history, I am someone who should get a vaccine for Covid19… when it is not only available, but safe.
Having worked in medical research, I know the process takes time, a long time. Having been cured of one of the most fatal illnesses, cancer, I know all too well about treatments and therapies that are not studied at length enough to be aware of all the risks.
Here is what I do know. I know that scientists were able to build on the knowledge that they already previously had on other Corona viruses and SARS viruses of the past. That would be the starting block for the vaccine for Covid19. Then it should be just a matter of the scientists doing their job, that they are good at, and finding something that will work, as safely as possible. Then there is the testing, eventually testing on humans in three stages. Besides the actual research, this is a step that takes time, and a lot of volunteers. And then there is the bureaucratic process of approval.
If you think that is a long paragraph, then you have to know, vaccine development is a long process. In the world, we are recognized as the leader in vaccine development, especially when it comes to safety. That is how science works.
Have you ever heard of the expression, “putting your thumb on a scale”, or perhaps, even been a practical joker like me, sneaking up behind someone standing on a scale to weigh themselves, and then stealthily sneaking the tip of my foot onto the scale to make the weight a little heavier?
In 2020, that is unfortunately what has happened, intentional or not, to impact the develop a vaccine for Covid19. Under extreme pressure from a horrifying strategic decision on how to handle the Coronavirus pandemic, the President instead was forced to get to the solution much quicker than time would allow. The result is like trying to use water to put out a fire fueled by gasoline.
In all honestly, from all things considered, early knowledge of Corona and SARS viruses, the best scientists in the world, the top vaccines currently up for consideration might just be what we need to finally get a grip on this pandemic. But for a majority of the country, who rely on facts and science to make their decisions, find it much harder to make the decision to get this vaccine, because a “thumb was placed on a scale” of time, to make the process go faster, likely for a combination of political gain as well as humanity.
As I write this, the FDA is holding a meeting to decide on emergency use authorization. If approved, it is potentially a big deal to the possible end of the pandemic. Prioritization of vaccines has already been recognized. Once approved, the vaccines will get shipped out, and into the arms.
But not so fast. Like I said, there is a three-step process of human trials taking many months to study for side effects. These trials are tested on healthy, non-compromised subjects. What does that mean? That means that the person has no issues that might skew the results. Someone, like me. I have all the co-morbidities that make Covid19 lethal to me. I would not have been approved for that study, even if I had paid to do it.
We are told, the vaccine from Pfizer will have a 95% success. As many vaccines have, there could be side effects that make it somewhat unpleasant for up to a day. But the tradeoff, immunity to Covid19, and the lingering effects the virus causes, makes that temporary feeling worth it.
Here is the problem. There is not data yet released, meaning, it likely has not even been studied, on certain groups of patients. For instance, there is no data on:
- pregnant and nursing mothers
- children under 16
- people with compromised immune systems (like me)
- those with a history of reactions or allergies to vaccines
Look at those four groups. That is a serious segment of our population who will have a difficult decision to make, weighing the risk or benefit of getting the vaccine or not.
And that is not the only factor to consider. As a thirty year survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I deal with late side effects from the treatments used to treat me, side effects that medicine was unaware of at the time. Cancer patients were not expected to live longer than five years, according to statistics, so we were not studied.
Rushing the process of the vaccine, while good for stopping the spread of the pandemic, does not allow for science to study the potential risks, short or long term. Even now, science is talking about not knowing the late effects of contracting the virus, because they do not know.
Look, there is a reason we have not seen Polio in decades. A process worked. I am too young to recall what it was like to watch someone with Polio, but my mother is old enough to remember, and she said it was horrific. I am hoping in my lifetime I never see another virus outbreak like this, and definitely not handled the way that this has been handled.
I am not letting the media or any politician tell me what to do. I am in contact with my doctors (science) who will recommend if I should get the vaccine or not. For now, a combination of the unknown data, my doctors have recommended a “wait and see” approach of one to two months before consideration. This is a difficult spot, because, being vulnerable, I am one who needs the vaccine.
The main thing that can do the most damage, is misinformation. Stop reading it. Stop sharing it. Get your information from your doctor for your specific situation if you should get the vaccine or not. You will be the one to decide if you are one of the lucky ones to ride it out without the vaccine and having exposure, or one of the 300,000 Americans who have died from it.