An Open Letter To The Vaccine-Hesitant

There are many reasons why someone might be vaccine-hesitant

Vaccines are a contentious topic right now, and many people are vaccine-hesitant. What does it mean to be vaccine-hesitant? For many people, it means just that. You are hesitant to get a vaccine, in this case, the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to recognize the wide variations in hesitancy. Some of us would just like to see some more research. Others are more staunchly opposed to the vaccine.

This post is an open letter to those who are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I will not go over the science behind it – there are countless resources available to you. My goal is not to reiterate existing debates or to place any blame. If you have specific questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, I suggest reaching out to one of the many comprehensive resources on the topic, such as this one.

So why exactly am I writing this letter?

In short, because I get it.

Disclaimer: This article does not apply to those who cannot be vaccinated because of a medical concern, or those who have not been vaccinated due to lack of access. I still encourage you to do your best to follow public health safety guidelines, such as washing your hands, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing. If you are comfortable, do your part to raise awareness about why vaccines are critical!

A Little Bit About My Blog

For those of you who are new to my blog, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Danielle, and I am an advocate for a holistic pursuit of health. I am also a public health student. Previously, I have worked in various areas of community and mental health, and I have seen how drastically different perspectives can work together and tear things apart.

I started this blog a little over 8 months ago. In it, I explore everything from different forms of exercise, to mindfulness, to holistic or herbal remedies.

I hope that with my writing, I can empower people to take their health into their own hands!

For a long time, I debated whether I wanted to talk about vaccines. It is a contentious issue. Many people are set in their viewpoints, and there is nothing I can say to convince them otherwise. I was, frankly, scared of alienating a large portion of my readers.

However, COVID-19 is a different scenario. Whereas vaccine hesitancy before 2019 was largely based around shoddy science and ableist perspectives, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy does make sense. To a point.

These are pretty much brand new works of science, from Big Pharma companies that many people do not trust (and for good reason). We don’t have years of long-term data. In reality, we’re all flying by the seat of our pants here!

Regardless of our (very valid) fears, getting vaccinated is important. I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine this past June, and aside from feeling icky for a day, I have had no problems since. Moreover, I feel good about getting the vaccine.

I ask you to please keep reading with an open mind as I explain why.

I Am Vaccine-Hesitant Because…

Vaccine-hesitant individuals often have a variety of reasons that they may not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Photo from the CDC

There are countless reasons why people may not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine right now (or ever). I probably won’t touch on them all.

Hopefully, you will take the time to read these points from someone who gets the hesitancy but got vaccinated anyways.

I Don’t Trust Big Pharma

“Big Pharma” is an issue.

The ability to patent life-saving medicines, and charge an arm and a leg for something that people require to live is horrible. It makes me livid that there are people dying or creating Go-Fund-Me pages for something as essential as insulin!

Pharmaceutical companies also do a lot of shady stuff (like re-label Prozac as a PMS drug because their patent was ending and they wanted to make more money – spoiler alert: there was no evidence that it had any value and a lot of women suffered).

So I totally understand why people don’t trust pharmaceutical companies.

But, in a way, there is something really cool about COVID-19. It affects everyone, everywhere, in some way or another. No one gains anything from lying about it. No one is gaining massive benefits from it. We, as people, are not required to pay for the vaccines. For the first time in who knows how long, these pharmaceutical companies are actually working together.

Even discussions about making vaccine formulas “open-source” is a HUGE DEAL. Why? Because it is a testament to the fact that COVID-19 is a massive issue that requires a massive response and a change of norms. The greater good is overriding intellectual property and patents.

I, for one, think that’s very cool. I also trust these vaccines because why would they try to give everyone on earth something that is dangerous or ineffective? There is no benefit to that.

I’m Scared Of The Long-Term Effects

When the vaccines were first being discussed, I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about how the COVID-19 vaccine might impact my health in the long term.

One of the downfalls of social media is that it is a pit of rumors and misinformation. What if the vaccine makes me infertile? Could the vaccine cause cancer?

The reality is that there is no evidence supporting these rumors. Doctors have repeatedly debunked social media myths and advocated for vaccine safety.

Moreover, while the COVID-19 vaccine itself is new, the technology behind it is not. Researchers have proven this technology is safe, which is why the vaccine made it to human trials in the first place.

Let me tell you a secret about scientists. Academic integrity is a BIG ISSUE. Scientists have a shared goal of finding objective truths about the world. For the truth to be objective, they follow countless guidelines, procedures, and codes of ethics. They have to replicate their data. You can’t do one experiment and be done.

They have to conduct the experiment again. And again. And again. So on, and so forth.

This process is doubly true for anything impacting humans.

It is extremely HARD for researchers to lie about the safety of a product, especially on this scale. And again, I ask you, where is the benefit of giving the whole world a vaccine that is potentially dangerous?

In Reality, We Do Things That Impact Our Long-Term Health Every Day

Alternatively, I do a lot of things that I KNOW impact my long-term health. I drink. Sometimes, I short myself on sleep. I expose myself to chronically stressful situations (and chronic stress is a dangerous thing). I tan without wearing any sunscreen.

We do things all the time that negatively impact our long-term health, and we don’t bat an eye. We take the risk.

I personally believe that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any potential long-term risks we may find.

On another note, when a vaccine did have rare side effects (Astrazeneca, looking at you) how quickly did they stop giving it to people? I was all set to get the Astrazeneca when my time came, but the government took it out of circulation before I had the chance!

So yes, sometimes people have adverse reactions to a vaccine. People also have adverse reactions to peanuts, bananas, penicillin, dog dandruff, and countless allergens around the world.

Therefore, you don’t have to be scared of the vaccine unless you know you are allergic to one of its components (in which case, discuss the matter with your doctor).

Fear can often be a factor for those who are vaccine-hesitant
Photo by Etienne Girarde

COVID-19 Is Just A Flu. Why Vaccinate?

Many people do not think COVID-19 isn’t that serious. And for many people, they are right (and lucky).

As someone, who is physically healthy and young, I could argue that I don’t need the vaccine. My immune system is strong enough to fight off a virus. And I’d probably be right.

However, one of my core values as a human being is to think about other people than myself.

Therefore, even though I may not need the vaccine, I got it. Why? Because several of my loved ones fall into groups that are at a higher risk. I know cancer survivors, people struggling with a compromised immune system, and others with pre-existing health conditions. Which, a side note, is also why I get the flu vaccine every year.

I don’t want to be the person, who accidentally gives them COVID-19 resulting in their death. Thus, any chance I can take to lower my risk of getting the virus, the better.

This line of thought does not stop with my loved ones, though.

What about children who cannot get vaccinated? If my grocery store clerk got sick, would she be able to support her family with the time off she had to take? When there is an outbreak at a restaurant, do I really want to be responsible for bringing COVID-19 to an already struggling business?

Virus Evolution

There is also another factor I want to highlight. COVID-19, as a virus, is evolving. The delta variant is a little scary. I definitely don’t want to risk organ damage, chronic fatigue, or other results of “long COVID”. Who knows what the next strain could bring?

Additionally, with every person who gets infected with COVID-19 (even asymptomatically), that is another opportunity for the virus to evolve into a more dangerous strain. Humans are basically Petri dishes for virus evolution. We are the perfect environment for viruses to replicate, and every time they replicate, there is a chance they could mutate. Viral mutations are the driving force behind different strains. Some are less scary than others, but do you really want to give COVID-19 more opportunities to get scarier?

When we get vaccinated, we disrupt COVID-19’s ability to get worse. We protect those around us. A vaccine protects us from the dangerous effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19: Worth Being Scared Of?

So yes, COVID-19 is not a terrifying illness in many ways. It isn’t Ebola. We aren’t bleeding out of our eyes. There are no pockmarks, scabs, or scars like smallpox.

But, while we don’t have to be terrified, we should be wary. And we should have a healthy respect for the virus’ ability to be unpredictable and to get worse.

When COVID-19 first entered Canada, I didn’t think it was a huge issue. I convinced my partner to book a flight to Croatia while Italy was shutting down (I still haven’t gotten that flight money back, RIP).

And I have been eating my words ever since.

Because the past year and a half have made it pretty clear that COVID-19 is not just another flu. Maybe we don’t have to be scared. Most of us, again, would probably be alright. But do you really want to take the chance?

My Choice Doesn’t Impact Other People

Some of us think that vaccination isn’t important because we are confident in our body’s ability to fight the virus off (if we even get it). As I said above, you’re probably right.

I also mentioned that vaccines are not just about one person.

When we get vaccinated, we are protecting those around us. A vaccine helps keep our loved ones safe, the economy running, and the virus under control.

And let’s say that you choose not to get vaccinated. The rest of your family is already vaccinated, so they’re fine. You shop online, so you don’t have to worry about the service staff or grocery store clerk.

But you went to a party with some friends. And somehow, you got COVID-19.

Let’s say, in this hypothetical scenario, you get sick enough that you require hospitalization. You take the last bed in the hospital.

There is someone who was getting an important (but elective) surgery, and it has been postponed again because there are no beds.

Another person is t-boned at an intersection, and they die because all the hospital beds are taken up.

You get better, and feel great! COVID-19 isn’t so bad, you say. Meanwhile, how many people died or were made to suffer because you were in a valuable hospital bed for the duration of your recovery?

A pattern we’ve seen in Alberta and other parts of the world is lockdowns happening when hospitals become overloaded. We can stop that. If we get vaccinated, we can keep things open and services available to the people who need them.

The vast majority of people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Your choice does impact others, no matter which way you try to spin it.

You Can’t Tell Me What To Do

Did you know that the anti-vaccination movement began not because of the belief that vaccines cause autism (they don’t), but because of individualism and rights?

Saying “I won’t get a vaccine and you can’t make me” is not a new stance. It’s as old as the USA and was a huge problem in American history as well.

A lot of us believe that the government cannot force us to do things. We have these things called rights after all! Isn’t that what they say makes Canada so great?

Of all the arguments against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I struggle to understand this one the most. Is it spite? Childishness? Stubbornness? I honestly can’t tell, but this mindset is a huge problem right now.

I am sure there are underlying reasons behind this (such as fear or ambivalence). Oftentimes, people say this when they don’t actually have access to vaccines. Sometimes, this perspective is a result of not feeling heard. Moreover, if the government forces people, this is “Communism” and a “Nazi Germany”.

I can’t not answer these accusations.

In Canada’s Constitution, we have many wonderful rights and freedoms! People have been exercising an awful lot of these rights in the past two years. There is also a little portion of the Constitution that does talk about overriding individual rights when the greater good is concerned.

Economically, socially, communally, and individually, the world agrees that the COVID-19 vaccine is for the greater good. If the government wanted to, they could tell you what to do. But they haven’t, because public health understands the value of personal choice.

Alternatively, if it is your individual choice to not get vaccinated, it is also the choice of institutions, businesses, and organizations to set boundaries or refuse service. You cannot have it both ways.

I Am Vaccine-Hesitant Because I Care

Ultimately, vaccine hesitancy does not make you a bad person. If anything, it is important to think critically about different decisions we make in our lives! It is good to be wary of new things, and it’s to our evolutionary advantage to watch and wait.

Everyone has a different reason for not getting vaccinated (yet). At the end of the day, vaccination is a personal choice.

But do not confuse personal choice with a choice that only affects you.

I choose the volume to play my music. But it still affects my neighbor when I blast the bass too loudly.

I choose which grocery store I shop at. But when I shop at the local, independent store, I know it helps a family in the community.

You can choose not to get vaccinated. But please consider the fact that it is not just about you. In fact, when you decide not to get vaccinated, you are coming from a place of privilege! You are confident in your own health, and you believe that your immune system can fight off this disease. And that’s great! But not everyone is as lucky as you.

Moving From Vaccine-Hesitant To Vaccine Positive

Not getting vaccinated can impact the economy, it can get other people sick, and it can contribute to the evolution of a virus that has already wreaked enough havoc. Some people cannot get vaccinated because of a medical concern, and therefore, they are at an even higher risk. Children cannot be vaccinated yet, and new variants are increasingly infecting younger generations. Many populations have their vaccines but are still at greater risk of severe COVID-19 impacts because of age or pre-existing health conditions.

We are all exhausted. That’s why it is so difficult to have these emotionally charged conversations without getting angry. And I do, honestly, understand where some hesitancy may come from.

But I urge you, please, get vaccinated. Make a difference. Help end this pandemic once and for all.

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