Why Do We Need a COVID-19 Vaccine? A Plea From a Polio Survivor

      As of March 2, 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has cost over 500,000 Americans’ lives and approximately 2,500,000 deaths across the world. This ongoing pandemic has not spared any nation or people. It is wiping out older adults and people with complex medical conditions. Almost everyone has a friend, family member, or colleague who has faced challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and its deadly consequences. Amid this crisis, many have questions: Are we fighting this fight the right way? Are we moving in the right direction to end this pandemic? Most importantly, are we all in this mission together? Are we making every effort to bring this pandemic to an end?
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      “Yes, I believe in vaccination,” writes an LTC resident who was diagnosed with poliomyelitis in the 1950s, one month before vaccination became available.
      The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has clearly, objectively addressed many of these doubts and myths. The vaccine trials have shown the RNA vaccines are more than 90% effective two weeks after the second dose for healthy individuals. Yet as of today, the acceptance rate is around 60% among health care workers, and higher rates of vaccination are likely needed to achieve herd immunity.
      So the question remains: How can we ensure a better understanding of the importance of COVID-19 vaccination?
      Sometimes it is loss that teaches us a greater lesson and consequently guides us with better prioritization to a clearer path. I often wonder how the family members who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and its complications would respond to these hesitancies. If they could turn back the clock, would they receive the vaccine for future prevention? Even knowing it might have side effects, how many of them would refuse the vaccine? How many would still choose to face the menace of COVID-19 pandemic?
      One of my patients wrote about the serious consequences she faced from a polio virus outbreak in the 1950s. The polio vaccine came out one month after she was stricken with polio. Today she has assisted numerous people — including medical staff — to form a better understanding of the benefits of vaccination despite potential adverse side effects:
      In the summer of 1955, polio ravaged the United States. Parents and grandparents lived in fear of this disease. In fact, polio was known as infantile paralysis. In October 1955, this virus invaded my body; I was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. The Salk vaccine arrived in New York in November ’55. I missed getting vaccinated by one month!
      Often, I wonder how different my life would have been if I had been vaccinated prior to catching this virus.
      First of all, I would not have had to have two surgeries, one minor and the other a serious, major surgery. Secondly, I would not have had to walk with braces and crutches during my childhood. I wanted to run and play like other children, but I could only go a little far and with a slower speed. I hardly felt like a normal child due to my challenges from the polio virus. For most of my adult life I would not have had to endure 24 months of hospital stay and almost two years of separation from my family, or long hours of painful occupational and physical therapy.
      I am 71 years young, and every vaccine that my doctor has recommended, I have gotten it. Yes, I believe in vaccination.
      It is true that the vaccination may pose a few manageable adverse effects in some cases. The symptoms vary from discomfort at the injection site, fatigue, headache, body aches, and a feverish feeling to nasal congestion, lasting for 48 to 72 hours. However, the benefits of the vaccine undoubtedly outweigh the risk of COVID-19 and its deleterious effects.
      As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We have to overcome our fears and keep going with grit. It is only through vaccination, appropriate face masking, hygiene, and social distancing this pandemic will end. We must march forward together to end this pandemic.
      Dr. Naqvi is a Medical Director of Brooke Grove Nursing and Rehab Center and Vice-Chair MoCo MedStar CSA-Geriatrics.