More than 70 percent of adults in the United States have now received at least one dose of one of the many vaccines to prevent COVID19 and at least 50 percent are fully vaccinated. At this same moment, COVID infections and hospitalization rates are starting to spike to some of their highest levels. When looking at the data, while there are certainly plenty of vaccinated Americans who are still catching some variant of COVID19, nearly all of the current deaths related to COVID are among those who were never vaccinated.
I think the question to vaccinate is a deeply personal one, especially considering how new the vaccine is. As someone who is relatively young and in good health and who was never really afraid of COVID19 or its health effects, I was not sure I wanted to get the vaccine right away. I am not an “anti-vax” person. I probably have more vaccines in me than the average American – most of which I have gotten prior to preparing to travel to some foreign land (as of this date, I have visited 23 countries).
In 2019, before a trip to Peru, I was vaccinated with the yellow fever vaccine simply because I planned to spend two days in the Amazon region of Peru. I was told ahead of time that I might even need my yellow fever vaccination card to enter one way or the other (sounds like a vaccine passport!) No one ever checked. But I would have gotten the vaccine anyway (which lasts for a lifetime). No one wants to get yellow fever!
Most of this year, I have been living in Guatemala and I have traveled back to the United States once already and will do so at least one or two more times before the year is out. I took my first COVID test back in late February, shortly before coming to Guatemala. That test was not pleasurable at all and I had a really bad experience with it. After that, I was ready to sign up for the COVID vaccine if it was going to prevent me from having to take more COVID tests to cross borders.
And so, when I came back to visit the United States in late May (for a 7-week stay), I received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, provided at Walgreens. Three weeks later, I went back for my second dose. I had absolutely zero side effects. Some hours after the second one, my arm had a little soreness for a short period but almost barely noticeable. That was it. Some people definitely have more side effects. I’ve heard a mix of stories, as I’m sure most of us have by now.
In the past week, I learned of two friends in Florida who have had really bad bouts of COVID infections. Both of them had chosen not to get the vaccine up to this point.
One of them is in his early 50s, is slightly overweight, and also has diabetes. He has been in the hospital for the past week. Last week, he was in the ICU with out-of-control blood sugar due to COVID, while also suffering from pneumonia, dehydration, and oxygen levels that were moving in the wrong direction. As of this writing, his situation has greatly improved – except for those blood sugar levels, which are spiking both because of COVID and the treatment needed for COVID. We are still unsure of how long this will last or what his long-term side effects will be.
My friend is a very conservative Republican, and from his hospital bed, he wrote on his page, “Friends, regardless of what you think politically, this is no joking matter. Given my age, weight, and diabetes, I should have taken the vaccine. If you are in a high-risk demographic, go today and get it. Any side effect for me would have been much easier than what I’m experiencing now.” He added, “Please evaluate your health and Covid risk.” He posted a photo of himself (he looked horrible) and noted, “I’ve never had a total of three IVs or the countless injections from arteries. Weigh your risk accordingly.”
Another friend in Florida this week informed me he has been battling the symptoms of COVID for over 9 days. He is in his early 40s and in more than perfect shape. He frequently runs marathons and competes in triathlons and Iron Mans. He hasn’t been hospitalized, but he did tell me that he has “basically slept for 9 days.” He had to cancel all his Zoom meetings (he is a very high-level entrepreneur) and told me he “struggled to walk a mile today.” A mile walk for him is usually nothing. He then added, “I’m sure I’ll be fine, but it’s really starting to mess with my head.”
Now let me add one more perspective: one from here where I’m at in Guatemala. I haven’t met anyone here who will not get the vaccine when the opportunity arises. To date, only about 2 percent of adults in Guatemala have been fully vaccinated, while about 12 percent have received at least one dose. As of a few months ago, the only people in Guatemala that had received the vaccine either worked in health care or were well off enough to have the opportunity to fly to the United States to get it. I can’t tell you the amount of people I know or have met that have flown to the United States just to get the vaccine. Some even stayed 3 weeks for a second dose, while others took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson.
Two weeks ago, the United States government announced they were sending 3 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Guatemala (that means 1.5 million people can each get two doses). Within two days of that announcement, the vaccines arrived on a plane, and within a day or so of that, they were already being administered into the arms of Guatemalans across the country. At the universities, including the one I teach at, they had “vaccine drives” for all students and professors who wanted one. I imagine within the next month, that 2 percent number of fully vaccinated will get up to about 20 percent – mostly thanks to the generosity of the United States and the advanced level of our medical system and drug companies.
In a country like Guatemala where few people have access to good health care, vaccines like this one are super important. It’s basically a no-brainer to get it.
Another big issue I see in this debate is whether we are going to force people to get vaccinated (that’s a big no) or whether we are going to shame people to get vaccinated. I think this is wrong too. Everyone’s health decisions are their own.
The vaccines work. That is clear. Are they perfect? No. Few things in life are. But they have certainly allowed for businesses and schools to reopen, sporting events and concerts to return, and a sense of normalcy is in the air. During my seven weeks in the United States, I spent most of my time in the Free State of Florida, but I also visited New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. It was nice to see things pretty much back to normal in all of these places.
At this point, people in the United States who are not vaccinated, have made a choice. It is their free choice. They have considered the risks.
As for those of us who have chosen to get vaccinated, what do we have to fear from the unvaccinated? The whole point of the vaccine (for ourselves) is to prevent getting COVID19. We don’t need to mask up and we don’t need to require anyone to mask up. And our government needs to stay out of the mask mandate business.
If you want to wear a mask, you are welcome to. But at this point, trying to force someone else to wear a mask or get vaccinated or prohibit them from engaging in any public activity, from eating at restaurants or attending events, is simply un-American. We Americans stand out amongst the rest of the world because we truly believe in freedom. This freedom has also led to economic prosperity which has given us the greatest medical care in the world. If we choose to limit the freedoms of some of our fellow Americans, are we prepared to go down the road of economic ruin, which will only lower the standard of medical care in the future?
We each also have a sense of personal responsibility. At this point, everyone knows how and where to get the vaccine, at no additional cost to them. Let us not continue to use this moment to divide ourselves. Rather, we should be using this moment to all choose healthier lifestyles and get outdoors more often to get more Vitamin D. Those two things are much more helpful than wearing a mask. And yet, I have seen no single government in the world use this moment to educate their citizens on choosing healthier lifestyles.
I’m not into mandating anything, but if I were forced to choose between a mask mandate or a mandate to get off your ass and get some exercise almost every day, I’d choose the latter instead. Let us set our priorities right. Let us trust the science – all while continuing to secure the freedom of every American for generations to come.
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