The Truth: Vaccines Have Saved Millions of Lives, but That Doesn't Mean They're All Perfect
It’s absolutely undeniable: Traditional vaccination has saved hundreds of millions of lives.
In the late 18th century, English scientist Edward Jenner discovered that contracting cowpox, a disease that can affect bovines and humans, could provide human beings immunity against the similar, but much more deadly, disease of smallpox.
In 1796, he published his findings, calling the procedure “vaccination,” from “vacca,” the Latin word for “cow,” as documented by Red Cross historian Mehzebin Adam.
Thanks to the spread of smallpox vaccination, the disease — which killed roughly 300 million people in the 20th century alone, according to Adam — was finally declared extinct in 1980.
Vaccines for diphtheria, polio and various other diseases have saved countless lives throughout history as well.
Intense political divisions have formed, however, over the COVID-19 vaccination systems.
Many fear contracting dangerous side effects from the treatments. Conversely, those in favor of the vaccines say such views are dangerous and ill-informed.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are “safe and effective” despite rare occurrences of myocarditis in teens and young adults (most of which are mild cases that resolve themselves, it says).
Despite this, many mysterious stories of young, healthy individuals suddenly dying — along with understandably intense political mistrust — have caused many people to remain hesitant to take the COVID vaccines.
This, in turn, has prompted many politicians, establishment media outlets and others — primarily liberals — to insultingly label such individuals as “conspiracy theorists” and “antivaxxers” (a word that was redefined to include those who oppose vaccine mandates).
However, while the views of some longtime “antivaxxers” could certainly be characterized as extreme, baseless and conspiratorial, many concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are more than reasonable.
This is for two reasons: First, various “scientific consensuses” regarding the vaccine have changed dramatically in the past two years, and second, many Americans are at incredibly low risk of suffering a serious reaction to COVID-19.
When it comes to shifting consensuses, take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for example. In December 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration changed their minds about recommending the J&J vaccine, instead saying Americans would be better off taking either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
The move came after it was discovered that the J&J vaccine was associated with a greater risk of users suffering “rare but potentially life-threatening” syndrome associated with blood clots.
Another “conspiracy theory” related to the vaccines was in regard to its effects on female hormone cycles. According to Science, numerous women voiced their suspicions that the vaccine had affected their periods.
A July 2022 study published in Science Advances pointed out that medical experts were dismissive of these women’s concerns despite the fact that they were true. According to the study, 42 percent of respondents with regular menstrual cycles experienced excessive bleeding after taking the vaccine.
That isn’t the only example of a shifting scientific consensus pertaining to the vaccine.
At one point, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky went as far as declaring that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky: “Our data from the CDC today suggest that vaccinated people do not carry the virus.” pic.twitter.com/9W1SHecSEm
— The Recount (@therecount) March 30, 2021
As a result of such rhetoric, healthy individuals were presumably led to believe that taking the vaccine would prevent them from spreading the disease to more at-risk individuals. This turned out to be untrue.
“Breakthrough infections” — infections of those who have received a vaccine — were seen in 1 in 100 fully vaccinated individuals in late 2021, John Hopkins Medicine reported.
According to the New York State Department of Health, nearly 18 percent of fully vaccinated people in the state ages 5 and up had laboratory-confirmed breakthrough cases of COVID-19 as of Jan. 9.
The vaccine might reduce your risk of transmission but it does not eliminate your chance of getting the disease and spreading it to others.
In addition to shifting consensuses, it is also true that young, healthy individuals, especially children, are at an incredibly low risk of suffering severe symptoms from the disease.
According to the CDC, from Jan. 1, 2020, to Jan. 11, 2023, more U.S. children ages 0-17 suffered deaths involving pneumonia (2,229) than COVID-19 (1,433).
On Nov. 30, The Washington Post reported that nine of every 10 COVID-19 deaths were people 65 and older.
It may very well be the case that for most or even all people, COVID-19 vaccine side effects are a safer bet than COVID-19 itself. However, shifting scientific opinions and the low risks associated with most individuals, especially young people who have already caught the disease and developed antibodies, informed many personal decisions to not take the vaccine.
These weren’t crazed conspiracy theorists.
Jonathan Isaac, a professional basketball player known for voicing more conservative opinions than many of his peers, explained his own vaccine hesitancy quite eloquently during a 2021 news conference.
“I understand that the vaccine would help, if you catch COVID, and you’ll be able to have less symptoms from contracting it,” said Isaac, who was with the NBA’s Orlando Magic at the time. “But with me having COVID in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group and fitness, physical fitness level, it’s not necessarily a fear of mine.
“Taking the vaccine, like I said, it would decrease my chances of having a severe reaction, but it does open me up to the albeit rare chance with the possibility of having an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself. I don’t believe that being unvaccinated means infected or being vaccinated means uninfected. You can still catch COVID with or with not having the vaccine.”
Jonathan Isaac shares that he’s had Covid in the past when answering a question on vaccine hesitancy. pic.twitter.com/acwqXgjhEA
— Beyond the RK (@beyondtheRK) September 27, 2021
Isaac and many others have made personal health decisions on whether to take the vaccines. Some of these decisions might have been formed on baseless information or “conspiracy theories.”
However, there is a case to be made in either direction.
By some estimates, the COVID-19 vaccine systems, developed at an incredibly fast pace, saved an estimated 20 million lives in only one year. But the tradeoff is that because of such fast pacing, the vaccines simply were not able to undergo long-term testing. It is wholly reasonable to be concerned about what side effects could manifest later (and perhaps already are).
In the end, two things are abundantly clear. First, historically, vaccines have saved countless lives. But, second, that does not mean the decision to vaccinate should be forced upon individuals by mob rule or government decree.
Our institutions have a responsibility to provide as much information as possible so that all Americans can weigh out the risks of each option and then make an informed decision for themselves.
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