Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three-part series on COVID-19 and its vaccine. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Today we still have a huge danger from this COVID-19 virus. I believe the vaccine is our best hope right now.
As a primary care physician for 40 years, I consider myself both a man of science and a man of faith. You could say that I wear bifocals; I have a faith goal and a science goal and I try to look at it both ways.
In his recent opinion piece, Pastor Mike Hayes spoke about fear. I don’t blame people for being afraid. But fear is a terrible master.
I pray with patients often, respecting the faith and beliefs of the people. I also believe that God communicated information to this generation, which has accumulated over many centuries. The scientific method provides a useful and constructive way to examine nature, biology, and evidence. Science has led to many advancements and better results for people around the world.
Sometimes my patients have doubts about medical science, and I work with them to help them resolve those feelings. I can understand people who are afraid of science, because in the past decades horrible things have been done supposedly from a scientific basis.
We can even look at the Holocaust, where there was a wave of hatred and anti-Semitism based on a supposed theory of science – eugenics and the desire to “make a perfect race.” It was completely wrong and based on false information. Horrible and unethical things have been done in the name of “science” when not guided by a moral compass.
I believe the role of church and faith includes developing a moral compass. Western civilization is based on the Bible and the tradition of faith. My wife Virginia and I set out to show and teach our 11 children that faith is the most important part of your life.
And I saw faith conquer fear. As a doctor, I try to go to where people are, take them by the hand and accompany them on this journey.
Often young mothers come to my office with the little baby that God gave them in their arms. When they are resistant to vaccines, I ask them to look at the big picture.
In 1900, the average life expectancy in America was around 47 years. In 2000, it was 77. We have gained 30 years of life expectancy in a century, which is unheard of in human history. Half of these gains can be assigned vaccines against smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and rotavirus, among others.
When I was in medical school and then as a resident, we often had three or four people who died every year in our local hospital from Haemophilus influenza. Many people don’t even remember this name. A vaccine developed in the 1980s mainly eliminated this disease of society.
Vaccine development has improved although it is not perfect. For example, the influenza vaccine that we give changes from year to year due to mutations in the influenza virus, and it is usually only about 40 to 50 percent effective in reducing severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Today, the evidence indicates that the vaccines we currently have against this coronavirus are over 90% effective. Last summer, before vaccines were available, I contracted COVID-19 although I had no symptoms. As a result of this asymptomatic corona case, I had antibodies for a brief period. Now I have received both doses of one of the mRNA vaccines and had no reaction to either hit.
For a few people, COVID vaccines have had minimal side effects, quite low compared to other vaccines developed for rare diseases. When you get vaccinated against yellow fever, for example, you can get very sick. This is not the case with these COVID vaccines for most people.
I have met very few of my patients where we seriously consider whether an adverse reaction from the COVID vaccine would be a greater risk than the virus. Usually they are immunocompromised. One of my patients suffers from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease, and a previous vaccination resulted in an adverse reaction from which she recovered.
In these rare cases, for those who cannot receive the COVID vaccine, it helps protect them from this deadly coronavirus when the rest of us are vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is truly miraculous that in a short time medical science has been able to develop these vaccines and that they are so effective in this situation. The side effects were very minimal. We must try to stop this deadly coronavirus. Our hope is that we get to a place where virus levels are drastically dropping. These vaccines have become our best tool in this fight.
In my medical opinion, getting the vaccine is the safest route.
Tim Shepherd, MD, was a Family doctor in the Dallas area for over 40 years.