Should I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Headlines about vaccines are splattered all over the media these days. We, all of us, are on our toes with expectation, waiting for one to work. But we may be reaching. And even if one works, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

When I was younger, before this pandemic, I never thought about vaccines. When my doctor told me they needed to shoot something into my body, I quietly submitted to the demigods of science and medicine and let them medicate me, even though I hate needles (and still do).

Be Cautious With Medicine

But now that I have kids, I’ve developed a newfound caution towards medicine. I don’t believe everything I hear from institutions, especially when they haven’t been thoroughly tested. Before I make a decision when it comes to medication or healthcare, I thoroughly research it.

I became more cautious after researching home births. I discovered that a woman’s body is, more often than not, perfectly capable of, and designed for, giving birth without medical intervention. Yet, healthcare systems would have you believe that babies are only best born in a hospital, without telling you that they are revenue-centers for healthcare systems.

I’m not saying medicine is nefarious or that the people who work in the field mean to hurt or take advantage of their patients. I don’t think they do. I think they mean the best.

Nor am I saying that vaccines are bad. They’re not. Clearly, they save lives and have been incredible innovations for humanity. I’m supremely grateful that I didn’t have to worry about contracting polio when I was a kid on those sweltering summer days when I dove and splashed in the neighborhood pool. But just because vaccines are good doesn’t mean there isn’t risk here. There is, especially for new ones.

History of Vaccine Failures

You see, there have been problems in the past. Not just little hiccups. I’m talking about people getting the disease from a vaccine that it was supposed to keep them from getting, like polio. True story: in 1955, The Cutter Incident happened.

Cutter Laboratories developed a vaccine for polio and 250 people, instead of getting inoculated from the disease, got infected. So hundreds were crippled for life when they thought they were getting a preventative measure. Some even died.

Yes, that “incident” led to some reform. Additional protocols like better regulatory measures and a way to get compensated for being harmed by a vaccine were created. But still. People died—kids died.

But even with those improvements from the Cutter Incident, problems with other vaccines still occurred, even as recent as 2013. Here are some of them.

  1. Simian Virus 40 (SV40) – 1955–1963, 10-30% vaccinated with this polio vaccination got this virus, which looks high.
  2. Swine Flu Vaccine and Guillain-Barré Syndrome – 1976, where a “small” fraction one out of one hundred thousand got this serious condition .
  3. The latest one occurred in 2013, where the manufacturer was concerned that there might have been “glass particles” in the vials for their HPV vaccine. I’m not exactly sure what all of that means, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want glass particles shot into my bloodstream.

I’m not saying that there’s a conspiracy with all of the vaccines that had issues listed above. That’s not the point. I’m sure they were meant to help people, solve the problem of some sickness whatever it was. But not all shots are silver bullets.

What Does This Mean for the Covid-19 Vaccine?

These days, many seem to think that once someone pops out a vaccine for Covid-19, we will be dandy, all good—saved. And the multitudes will rush to get injected with it.

But I wouldn’t.

And now, we have a vaccine-race.

This week I read that Russia has developed a vaccine and that President Putin is even ready to inject his daughter with it. But does anyone really believe that?

And all of this is going so fast, maybe too fast. It’s been predicted that the vaccine will take at least a year to develop. But if history proves anything, it shows us that we have no idea how long it takes to make a vaccine. This website says historically it has taken 10-15 years. And HIV/AIDS still doesn’t have a vaccine even though researchers have been working on one since the early 1980’s. In 1984 it was declared that a vaccine would be available in two years. That declaration didn’t quite pan out.

But let’s say scientists beat the odds for this new crisis, and the Russians or some other country or company makes a working vaccine. My question is, Can it be trusted? Humans err. Especially when they rush things. I mean, when I rush a blog post like this and publish it without being thorough, it will have typos and errors. Even when I am super careful, there are often still issues. And they might hurt your wordsmithing sensibilities, but not your body, your well-being. But the Cutter Incident proves that errors with vaccines can cause significant damage.

This Worries Me

So that doesn’t just make me cautious. I’m concerned. What concerns me is our willing acceptance of a new vaccine. This worries me for you, your family, your kids, your friends, and for mine and me. This whole vaccine business is not risk-free, and it certainly isn’t guaranteed. Yes, it’s a worthwhile venture. But it’s venturing into unknown territory. And just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice my loved ones for it by jumping into line to get pricked right after they open the gates to everyone.

Now there are risks on either side. If you don’t get vaccinated, there are risks for getting the disease. But if you do, there will be a risk of getting the disease, too. Neither is certain. And there isn’t enough data to know for sure which way is best. I’ll admit I’m not a statistician. So if you’re playing the odds, don’t go by my words. I’m merely pointing out that there’s risk.

Closing Suggestions

I suggest that we need to temper our expectations for this vaccine and not allow our emotions to be swayed back and forth by the headlines. And if, by some miracle, a vaccine gets developed and passes clinical trials, be cautious. Just because it passes trials doesn’t make it completely safe.

But I do know this. I can’t control the vaccine nor the pandemic, but I can control how careful I am. I can wear a mask, socially distance, quarantine as much as possible. I can hope, and pray.

You can too.

Stay well, friends.

Lots of love,
John

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Cleft repair surgery and coronavirus—a story

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Our baby right after birth

It was a beautiful morning in the city, with spring in the air and magic around every corner.

But for me, New York didn’t blossom in my eyes; it was different for us. I was taking our nine-month-old baby in for surgery. 

He had a cleft palate (and lip, but that was already repaired). A cleft lip and palate is a birth defect where the child’s face doesn’t fully close up on the upper jaw and lip and nose while in the womb. For birth defects, it is the best kind to have because it’s repairable. 

So that seemed manageable—scary—but doable. We could stomach it. But that wasn’t the only issue. 

There was another one. 

COVID-19. 

Our family has taken this very seriously. The two weeks before the surgery, we kept our six-year-old out of school and don’t know when he’ll go back. We canceled all meetings, lunches, get-togethers, everything—except the surgery. The only time we leave the apartment is to take a walk, only outdoors, in the fresh air. We have been on lockdown and, while we are locked in, we wash our hands every five minutes, literally. 

So then, on that beautiful morning, I was venturing out with our baby to go to a hospital—A HOSPITAL—where the sick go, which was something major for us. People who are infected might be there. But we thought it best to get the surgery done since the surgeon is one of the best at this repair, so we plunged into the great unknown. 

But I was prepared. I had a few face masks, gloves, and a will to get us out of there without getting infected. 

When I was there, I was the only one wearing a mask. I was that guy: The weirdo. Being Asian might have made the whole scene that I was look worse, but I carried on. There were a few people who reacted. A nurse asked me if there was a reason why I wore the mask. I said, “There’s a pandemic going on.” And a young kid sneezed and then made an exaggerated sneezing and coughing noise as if to imply my mask was unnecessary. And I got a strange look here or there but, for the most part, it was business as usual. 

The staff was kind and courteous and understanding, but there was a feeling that I shouldn’t have been wearing the mask. One nurse even mentioned that there was a shortage of them. (But I kept on thinking about the two countries—Taiwan and Singapore—who have effectively stopped the spread of the virus, and one of the measures they used was getting everyone to use face masks.) Doctors and nurses washed their hands and used hand sanitizer. But no one washed their hands for twenty seconds as the CDC has recommended. (No one; except me; ok, I do it for more like fifteen seconds.) It was odd to have such a prestigious institution as that hospital not be more vigilant and take this more seriously, especially since this unit was only for children. 

I asked the nurses and doctors what they thought about the Coronavirus. They said that it was an issue. But it almost sounded more like a nuisance than a real problem. 

And they might be right. 

But I kept on thinking “What if it’s not just a nuisance? Why not practice more precautions? Why not wash your hands more, for longer, thoroughly? Why not wear face masks? Why not work harder to stop the spread?”

One conversation I had with a nurse concluded on this idea, “We have to live our lives.” 

That seems to be the pervasive thought that I see: “I won’t let some stupid virus stop me from living my life.”

And I’ve got to say that I agree with that in most crisis situations. In WWII, the motto, “Keep calm and carry on” is inspiring especially when you think about Londoners keeping their lives going even when the Nazis bombed the hell out of their city. That mindset of never letting fear stop the way we do life is beautiful. That’s courage. That’s good. Don’t live in fear. Hoorah!

But this is different.

Our bodies betray us. Anyone can be a carrier. All the virus needs is a warm body: yours, mine, your buddies. And our common behaviors spread the very thing that hurt our neighbors, friends, parents, people. With each handshake, kiss, cough, sneeze, we can advance illness, and even death, unbeknownst to us, and them. 

That’s how this virus works: it’s stealthy. People can be contagious even if they don’t feel bad—or asymptomatic. That means you don’t have to feel like death curled up next to you with some doctor in a hazmat suit hovering over you, laboring to keep you alive, to be infectious. No. You can just feel a little off, or nothing at all, and sneeze and give it to someone else. Just like that.

This virus grows exponentially. One person on average gives it to two. That’s crazy and freaky. So one becomes two, and two becomes four, then eight, and before you know it you have a hockey stick on a chart of people all with the virus. That’s scary.

We should all be scared. Because people die from this. Our parents, friends, loved ones, they can all get it and it can possibly be fatal.

If we don’t stop how we live our lives this virus can stop it for us, for our loved ones.

Eventually I walked our precious son into the unnaturally bright OR to have people cut our son open in order to heal him, but I feared less the knife and more the invisible enemy that was too small to see. 

After leaving him there, I waited in the waiting room. There were other parents and families. 

I did what I could to fill the time, making some phone calls, praying, and reading with my face mask on, with people looking at me, as they coughed and sneezed around me, as the hair on my neck pricked up, with fear. Dread filled me. 

The operation was supposed to take two hours, but it was solidly passed that. I was panicking. You know when you start thinking those irrationally dreadful thoughts? You know, the bad ones, really bad ones. That’s what I was doing. 

After two and a half hours the surgeon came out and greeted me with a smile. Relief washed over me. I smiled back. But he couldn’t see it under my face mask. I stood up and he told me my baby was well. I was so grateful.  

“They’ll call you back in a bit to see him,” he told me as he held out his soft, supple, well-manicured hand, only the way a world-class surgeon, with seven-figure hands, could. I clasped it. It felt good. It felt bad. And as he walked away, I followed him a few feet away and thrusted my hand under the huge hand sanitizer dispenser that hospitals have everywhere. And a white foamy cloud of liquid gold fell into my palm, with that distinct mechanical dispensing sound that they all make. Then I smeared it all around my hands, covering them over and over, not just removing any danger from them, but also washing away my fears. 

After a much longer time than I had expected, they finally welcomed me back. And when I saw him all I wanted to do was hold him and love him and be grateful all was well and hope that he was. 

After a few hours they discharged us even though we were supposed to stay the night. Before the surgery I told the doctor my concerns about staying overnight with the virus ramping up. He understood my concerns and put in the order to release us if our baby ate well enough. A baby not feeding is a real worry after they’ve had the roof of their mouth worked over. But he ate. And we were released. 

That was kind. Very kind. The doctor took some risk to let us out so that we could have some peace of mind. It was health care at its best, making caring for the patient the protocol, even if he had to break the protocols to do that. 

The fact is we don’t know if our baby, or I, have the virus or not. Before I left that morning I told my wife and our six-year-old son not to touch me when I returned: no hugging, kissing, etc. 

When I walked back home, they were both up, waiting for us. My firstborn drew a sign out of crayons to welcome us back. I felt loved even though we didn’t touch. We used words to express the feelings we felt to wrap one another with love and cover each other with the affection we carried in our hearts. 

We don’t know if we are carrying anything else in our bodies, but we will see. 

Regardless, it was good to be home. 

It still is. 

Did our five-day old baby really need three spinal taps?

My wife just gave birth to our second son at home (on purpose).

And five days later, our pediatrician pushed us into the ER because our baby had a low temperature.

We thought he was just jaundiced (something a lot of newborns get but can be easily treated with special lights). But we weren’t prepared for what happened next.

Continue reading “Did our five-day old baby really need three spinal taps?”