So as I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I’ve now had my first coronavirus vaccine dose (Pfizer/BioNTech). Since I’ve been writing about the mRNA vaccines for months here and cheering on the vaccine efforts in general, I can tell you that I’m very, very happy to be able to follow through and actually take one. So far, the only signs are a sore upper arm – we’ll see later this month what the effects of the second shot are.
I wondered if I should even mention this, to be honest, because with the vaccine supplies continuing to ramp up, it’s (fortunately) no longer such a rare event to get vaccinated. States all over the country are opening their programs up, in many cases to anyone who wants to come in, which is excellent news. But I decided to make the public statement, in light of the continued emails and comments I get about the vaccinations in general. There are a lot of people out there still worrying about a lot of things: antibody-dependent enhancement, short-term immune reactions, possible long-term side effects, CNS penetration, and more. And those are just the worries that are founded in actual medical science – beyond those, you have the Bill-Gates-George Soros-microchip crowd, the 5G activists, the mark-of-the-beast fringe, and who knows what else. Fortunately, we don’t get too many of those folks around this site, but I know that they’re out there.
For people who are honestly wondering about real immunological issues, though, I wanted to say that as someone who’s been doing drug discovery work for over 30 years now, and who has been covering the vaccine developments in detail with great interest during the entire pandemic, that I had no hesitation about rolling up my sleeve. I weighed the risks and benefits as thoroughly as I could, with all the medical knowledge that I could bring to bear on the decision, and my decision was clear: get the vaccine. My wife has been vaccinated, my college-aged children are getting vaccinated (my son a few days ago in another state, my daughter tomorrow), and my wife’s mother is way out ahead of us with both her shots done some time ago. In short, I am very, very willing to take this step and have my closest family members do likewise – and I take their health and safety very seriously indeed (not to mention my own). If this can be of any use in helping to persuade someone who’s worried and on the fence about this decision, I’m happy to offer it.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is not available in the US, so I didn’t have to make that call. My first choice was either of the mRNA vaccines, because I have been very encouraged by the real-world data (both safety and efficacy) coming out of the Israeli rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech one, and I believe it and the Moderna vaccine are functionally equivalent. But I agree with this thread by Angela Rasmussen, who got the J&J vaccine: the differences (if there are differences) between that one and the mRNA ones is nothing compared to the difference between getting a shot and not getting one at all.
I will have no immune protection from this shot for at least another ten days. That’s the minimum time it takes to raise a protective adaptive immune response, and the clinical trial data have shown this effect very clearly. And I still have another shot coming up in three weeks, of course. I am continuing to wear masks when I’m out in public, except when I’m walking around outdoors without any other people close by (and I’m fortunate enough to live in an area where that’s not hard to do). But even after the second vaccination, I’m still not yet going to be hopping into crowded stores, going to the movies, or hanging out in any airports or train stations just yet. I’ll make those decisions on the basis of the case numbers where I live – the more they drop, the happier I will be about doing those things and more. It will be a great relief during this transition to know that I have more protection than just a mask and some physical space on my side, for sure – but we need to keep that behavior up until a much higher percentage of the population gets vaccinated and we can see clear signs of the pandemic receding. The more careless we all are, the better the chance of raising a variant form of the virus that could erode the advantages that we’re getting by vaccinating in the first place, and we have got to avoid that.
And that means that we have to get the rest of the world vaccinated as soon as we can, too. I’m very glad to see J&J setting up a deal with the African Union for 400 million doses, and I’m cheering on countries like Bhutan and others that are doing serious mass vaccination campaigns with their entire populations. South America needs a lot more help than it’s getting, though, and India and other countries are in vaccination races against the variant strains as well. The supplies of existing vaccines have been ramping up spectacularly, and more are coming – I think that the timetable for worldwide vaccination can and should advance in front of current estimates, and the faster that happens, the better. We – the human species – have our chance right now, and we need to take it.