This week marked a turning point in our battle against the coronavirus.
For the first time, Utah’s most populous county, Salt Lake County, has widely available vaccination appointments for this same week. In surrounding counties, anyone 16 and older can go get vaccinated, usually on the same day.
Getting people vaccinated, and therefore building herd immunity, is no longer about limited supply. It’s about limited demand.
[Read more: Thousands of Utah’s coronavirus vaccine doses are waiting to be claimed]
So with that in mind, I wanted to talk to Utahns about the reasons they hadn’t yet been vaccinated. As much as possible, I wanted to divorce vaccination from the politics and bluster and just ask people what they think about the shot. Then, we could figure out how — or if — to overcome those objections. I straight-up asked my nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter: If you haven’t been vaccinated, why?
I ended up getting over 100 responses from Utahns, with reasons that probably sound pretty familiar to you by now. I sorted them into these 10 categories, and thought I’d respond to each.
‘I already had COVID, I already have the antibodies’
For a while, getting the vaccine was not suggested for people who had been infected with COVID-19 within the last 90 days, saving valuable doses for those who didn’t have antibodies. Now, though, with more doses available, doctors recommend that people who have had COVID-19 at any time go get vaccinated.
Why? Being vaccinated after having COVID-19 essentially acts as a booster shot for your immune system, telling your body that the virus is going to be a consistent threat and to maintain those antibodies. Natural immunity likely isn’t as strong as vaccination immunity.
Immune responses to a natural infection can vastly vary, while the vaccine generally provides a consistent and safe immune response. Especially if you had only mild symptoms — or no symptoms — the antibodies may not develop quite as well as they do for those who had significant disease.
In fact, here’s the cool news about getting immunized after an infection: Those who are vaccinated after a natural infection have six times more antibodies than those who got the vaccine without ever getting COVID-19. Consider vaccination after infection your opportunity to get outstanding levels of protection.
“I just don’t know how to get it”
We’re here to help!
The first place I’d go to get the vaccine is coronavirus.Utah.gov’s vaccine distribution page, which I linked just right there. Click there, and click on the health department of the county you live in. You’ll immediately go to their page to sign up for an appointment.
Don’t want to go through your county? No biggie. VaccineFinder.org links all of the grocery stores, pharmacies and other stores that are vaccinating people. Type in your zip code, and they find all of the places nearby that have the vaccine in stock. Pick your favorite, and sign up for an appointment.
One respondent didn’t have good internet at home — even though they managed to respond on Twitter. No worries! You can call 1-800-456-7707 for the Utah Coronavirus help line. If you live in Salt Lake County, 385-468-7468 will get you right to the vaccine scheduling folks.
‘My doctor told me to wait’
The vast majority of the medical community is on board for immunizing nearly everyone. However, there are legitimate reasons certain people shouldn’t get vaccinated.
For example, one respondent’s doctor told him not to be vaccinated around the same time he gets a corticosteroid injection in his back. That makes some sense, because those steroid injections can be known to interfere with immune system function, making the vaccine perhaps not work as well as would if it were given two weeks before or two weeks after.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise patients who need to get other vaccinations to also wait for their COVID-19 vaccine for 14 days. One friend was bitten by a dog in a local park, prompting vaccinations for other bite-related concerns. But that delayed his COVID-19 shot, too.
All in all, taking advice from a trustworthy doctor who best knows your specific situation and suggests a delay is the best possible reason to wait on the vaccine.
Man, do I ever feel this. I 100% understand the feeling of knowing you should do something, and yet just not really putting it at the top of your list. Napping is so tempting! Video games are too! Instagram is right there, ready to be scrolled through at a moment’s notice!
Here’s the thing, though: It turns out that procrastinating instead of getting the vaccine — or really, anything — turns out to be pretty mentally taxing. You always know that you’re supposed to do the thing, and that sticks in the back of your brain. It, scientifically, has been proven to give you feelings of dejection, stress and just plain ‘ol hassle.
So look, you’re already here, reading this article. Click the VaccineFinder.org link right here, and you’re going to find somewhere you can get vaccinated super soon. It’ll be like a nap for your brain — and nothing’s better than napping.
‘I’m young and healthy, I’ll be fine if I get COVID-19′
You’re right! You probably will survive getting COVID-19. You’re also very, very unlikely to go to a hospital as a result of the disease.
The other side effects, though ... well, they can be way more likely in young people.
Researchers at the University of Washington looked at a group of 177 people who had tested positive for the disease, about 91% of whom didn’t go to a hospital. Their average age was 48. About 32% reported some long-term symptom. Most common was a tie between fatigue (13.6%) and loss of sense of smell or taste (13.6%).
The CDC’s survey of previously healthy 18-to-34-year-olds who had gotten COVID-19 found that 20% of them had not returned to full health after two weeks of the disease.
This is probably just because I’m a basketball writer, but I always think of NBA All-Star Jayson Tatum: a 23-year-old guard for the Boston Celtics who caught the disease months ago, but now has to use an inhaler before every game because he’s still dealing with the lingering effects of the virus.
That would be a bummer, in my personal opinion. There are NBA All-Stars who got coronavirus and are fine now — see Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. And yet, I’d rather not play with the odds. I’d get the shot.
‘I have a huge fear of needles’
Needles are legitimately scary. We learn from a young age to stay away from pointy things, and here’s this pointy thing someone is going to come at us with? Nope, nope, nope, don’t like it.
But here’s the cool thing about the coronavirus vaccine: because it’s such a comparatively small volume of liquid, you only need the tiniest needle in order to inject it. The Pfizer vaccine is 0.3 milliliters, while the Moderna vaccine is 0.5 milliliters: that’s about four times smaller than the amount of volume of water you can fit in a medium-sized thimble.
What that means is that they use a super skinny needle, not the big ones used while giving blood or some other injections. It’s about as big as a 0.5 mm mechanical pencil lead, if you remember those from school. Personally, I didn’t even feel the injection.
And let’s move on. I’d be happy if I didn’t have to talk about needles anymore.
‘I’m worried about long-term side effects’
I think there are a substantial percentage of vaccine skeptics who are worried about the long-term side effects of the vaccine. We’ve only used it for about a year now, but what happens if the bad stuff comes after that?
Here’s why that’s not really a concern:
• In the history of vaccines, there have been unexpected side effects, yes. And yet, essentially, nearly all of those have been discovered within two months of vaccine injection. We’re well beyond that for the mRNA vaccines, which have been given to tens of millions of people.
• Even though the mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna is new, it’s actually been trialed years ago in smaller groups, in diseases like HIV and rabies. Those thousands of people aren’t dropping like flies.
• Adenovirus vaccines, like the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, have been approved before — the Ebola vaccine being a key example.
• The body just doesn’t really work this way. Introducing viral lookalikes through either mRNA or vaccines won’t cause your body to fundamentally change the way it operates — and the injected material gets washed away pretty quickly.
There’s no more reason to be skeptical of the vaccines than anything else, basically.
‘It’s only an emergency authorization’
A couple of respondents said they were concerned that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval was categorized as an “Emergency Use Authorization,” rather than the normal approval given after the process typically used to assess the safety of drugs. So what’s the difference?
Essentially, the EUA path allows for speedier manufacturing and administrative processes. In the normal process, vaccines and drugs are tested, then approved, then manufactured, then distributed. The various drugs have to wait their turn in the process, which can take months or years for the FDA to complete.
In a public health emergency like a pandemic, though, the FDA prioritizes some steps and runs others in parallel. So, for example, Pfizer and Moderna could begin manufacturing vaccines while they were being tested. Those vaccines still went through a rigorous three-phase process, but in the meantime, those companies could scale up their processing plants and distribution plans.
And then, in those emergencies, the FDA is on it. While drug companies have to wait in line, getting a coronavirus vaccine out quickly was of obvious importance, so FDA officials met quickly, analyzed the data quickly (but thoroughly), worked overtime, and generally just cut some of the red tape out. The result? The Emergency Use Authorization you see on the vaccines today.
Given the huge success of the vaccines so far, standard approval could come relatively soon.
‘I was worried I’d test positive after the vaccine’
One respondent had a unique concern: She had a trip to Hawaii scheduled, but knew she couldn’t fly to the state if she tested positive for COVID-19. She had heard rumors that the vaccine could cause false-positives, so she put off vaccination until after her trip.
Here’s the thing: those rumors are false. Essentially, the vaccine causes your body to make only the trademark spike protein of the coronavirus, the part that your immune system can recognize and then shut down.
But those spike proteins wouldn’t be created in your nose or throat, where the test swabs occur; they’d mostly be created in your muscle tissue around the injection site. Not only that, but most PCR tests don’t look for the spike protein, but another part of the virus entirely.
Essentially, if you get a positive test after getting vaccinated — especially in the first few weeks — it’s most likely that you’ve been actually infected, rather than it being a vaccine-caused false-positive.
‘Don’t want to deal with the crowd.’
People. Lots of them. Blech.
The good news is that there are even drive-thru vaccination centers in Utah, providing vaccinations for people who don’t want to leave the comfort of their vehicles. In particular, West Valley City’s Maverik Center is a drive-thru site, available for anyone in the state of Utah to come in and get vaccinated — with an appointment.
To set that appointment up, visit the Salt Lake County vaccine website or call 385-468-7468.
If you can’t get to the Maverik Center, there are usually no or small crowds at the small pharmacies that give out the vaccine. Walgreens and CVS outlets and grocery stores aren’t super packed, compared to what they would normally be. To find an appointment in one of those familiar spots, visit VaccineFinder.org.