It’s been a difficult year. Whether you contracted COVID-19 yourself, lost a loved one, faced a financial crisis, or just had to cope with restrictions, social isolation, and unrelenting anxiety, it’s safe to say we’ve all been through a lot.
Now, after 15 months of shutdowns and fear, we’re beginning to enjoy a summer filled with social gatherings, beach time, cookouts, and travel. As more and more Americans are vaccinated, infection rates are dropping. Last month, the CDC announced that those who are fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks, releasing them from the daily nuisance of face coverings and providing a sense of normalcy and hope.
Still, many Americans continue to harbor doubts about the shots and are hesitating to get vaccinated.
Dr. Tracy Scheller, medical director of the Graf Center, says although most of the people she sees in both her gynecology practice and at the Graf Center have been vaccinated, some patients still have concerns. She approaches that hesitancy with understanding, inviting patients to share their concerns and have a discussion.
Some of the most common concerns Dr. Scheller hears include how new the vaccine is, the possibility of having side effects, and whether it’s safe for pregnant women. Some younger women also worry about fertility issues. And some individuals wonder if they can boost their immunity enough through stress management and a healthy lifestyle to avoid the shots altogether.
Here’s what we know. First, the vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of people since last December. This means that, in addition to the data from rigorous testing on tens of thousands of volunteers during the pre-approval period, we now know the experience of a much larger population over a longer period of time. Based on this additional data, public health officials have confirmed—with even greater confidence—that the shots are both safe and effective.
As for side effects, not everyone gets them. Many feel nothing at all. Others generally experience relatively minor symptoms, such as body aches or a moderate fever, for a day or two—a small price to pay for health and peace of mind.
Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Women
On June 1st, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) blog announced that recently published research showed the vaccines are both safe and effective for pregnant women. This was especially good news, as COVID-19 is especially hard on pregnant people with many suffering severe disease.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, wrote: “I’m pleased to report results from two new studies showing that the two COVID-19 mRNA vaccines…appear to be completely safe for pregnant women….The research also indicates that the vaccines might offer protection to infants born to vaccinated mothers.”
For those concerned that the vaccines might affect fertility, Dr. Scheller says there is no evidence of this. But “what if it turns out that getting COVID could affect fertility?” she asks. We don’t know that it does, she says, but we’re still learning about all the damage this virus can do.
The Role of Stress Management and Living a Healthy Lifestyle
And while managing stress and embracing a healthy lifestyle can improve many aspects of our health and well-being, there is no evidence these actions can strengthen immunity enough to protect us from COVID-19. It might help with recovery, says Dr. Scheller, but “it does not protect people from getting COVID if they were exposed and not vaccinated.”
To those who still have concerns, Dr. Scheller suggests they weigh their fears of the vaccine against how COVID-19 itself might affect them. We “don’t know how you’re going to respond to getting COVID”—a disease she has seen put even generally healthy people in the hospital. Some patients end up with permanent damage to their lungs or other vital organs, or suffer from so-called “long COVID,” a condition that produces a wide variety of symptoms, including profound fatigue, headaches, and other problems that may linger for weeks or even months. When people consider these options, Dr. Scheller says, most decide they’d rather get the vaccine than end up in an ICU or suffer with long-term effects of the virus.
After more than a year of devastating physical, emotional, social, and economic damage caused by the pandemic, vaccines now offer us a way out, an almost miraculous opportunity to re-enter the world, begin our lives anew, and regain the peace of mind we’ve all been craving.
Englewood Health offers vaccines to Graf Center clients and all members of the community. Learn more
Posted June 28, 2021