September 7, I passed a long line of cars parked along the roadside near Cache Valley Hospital on my way to the pharmacy. I didn’t think anything of it until I came back the same way about an hour later and the cars were still there. Was there a meeting happening? A procession of some kind? I turned around to find out and counted the cars as I drove past this time.
Fourty-eight cars later, I found the head of the line: a COVID-19 testing module in the parking lot with “COVID line” signs leading to it.
Ironically, at the pharmacy, there had also been a COVID line — one for vaccines. There was not one person was in that line.
It made me wonder what was holding people back from taking the coronavirus vaccine. I called my friend John Bailey to talk it over.
Dr. John C. Bailey was the director for Bear River Health Department for over 30 years. The last time we talked about COVID-19 was in April of 2020. At that time, he had said we could expect 200,000 deaths or more in the U.S. due to the pandemic and I balked at that number. In hindsight, I wish the death toll had stopped at 200,000. Bailey’s prediction proved to me that he knows his communicable diseases.
He and I agree completely about vaccination.
My family history with polio leads me to believe that vaccines are effective in preventing disease outbreaks. I asked Bailey if we could vaccinate our way out of this pandemic.
“Yes,” Bailey said, “vaccination is the way to get through this. While effective, social distancing, masking, hand washing, none of those things hold a candle to being immunized. Immunization is the clear pathway to getting out of this pandemic. Nothing else comes close to it. Doing nothing, as many are inclined to do, is resulting in unnecessary illness and death.”
Yet in Cache Valley, I observe that many people, particularly conservatives, are hesitant to be vaccinated. Conspiracy theories aside, vaccination should not be a political issue. Vaccines have been used by both political parties for decades and are even required by our schools. In my opinion, the biggest problem with the current vaccine is a lack of public trust in the CDC, as guidelines seem to flip-flop constantly.
To that, Bailey responded, “The fact that the advice we are getting from government agencies is evolving isn’t surprising. My view is that with COVID, we are only a year and a half into this disease. There’s still so much we don’t know. As we learn more, we sometimes come up with things that cause us to change our recommendations. The CDC is still a credible source, having studied thousands of people, and have the best current information at any point in time.”
He continued, “If you’ve got a private physician or pharmacist, you can trust them to advise you on whether you should get the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Personally, I understand why people are hesitant about the newness of the vaccine. Most vaccines took decades to develop. The fact that this one was developed so quickly does give reason to pause. Yet Bailey says the FDA trials have been carefully and scientifically conducted.
“The trial process demonstrates the vaccine’s benefits against risks of the disease,” he said. “You put all the risks on one side of the scale and all the benefits on the other side, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Yet, with any vaccine, almost all adverse effects take place within days or weeks, rarely later. These vaccines are overwhelmingly low-risk. I recommend them highly.”
“Currently, only about one in 100 unvaccinated people have yet to get COVID,” Bailey said. “Nevertheless, the numbers don’t lie. Unvaccinated people are 10 to 20 times higher risk of getting the disease, being hospitalized, suffering severe complications, or dying. It is that one in 100 that are overwhelming our hospitals and exhausting our doctors and nurses again.”
As with any communicable disease, achieving herd immunity against sickness is a population’s best defense. That means nearly every person in the community will have to either contract the disease or become immunized in order for the pandemic to end. But because of variants and unknown longevity of antibodies, contracting the disease may not provide lasting protection. Bailey said the key to snuffing out COVID-19 is for as many people as possible to be vaccinated as soon as they can be and then keep up to date with repeat vaccinations as needed.
He said, “I can say with certainty that having half of our population still unvaccinated is the single reason we are still in this pandemic. Getting everyone immunized is the quickest and best way out of it.”
Though neither Dr. Bailey nor I will be popular for this opinion piece, I decided to share it in hopes that Cache Valley conservatives might think twice about vaccinating after they speak to their trusted doctor. I hope this piece doesn’t inspire guilt or fear but that it helps someone who is hesitating to make an appointment or a phone call and get the best information possible. Of course, everyone has to come to that decision in their own time. I just hope that as a community we reach herd immunity before another COVID wave hits Cache Valley. Judging from the length of the testing line, it might already be too late.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at email@example.com.