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Young people vaccines Feature image

SocietySeptember 16, 2021

Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris: Do I really need a Covid-19 vaccine, even if I’m fit and healthy?

Young people vaccines Feature image

Vaccination is our most powerful defence against Covid-19. Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris address recent concerns, and explain how it works like a real-life cheat code.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing lots of webinars, talking to all sorts of different people about the Covid vaccines, and answering people’s questions. One question that’s come up a few times is this: why should I get vaccinated if I’m young and healthy? 

I wondered whether this question might be impacting vaccination rates in countries that are further ahead in their vaccine rollout than New Zealand, so went and took a look at the data. You can check it out here, just scroll down to the Fully vaccinated by age graph. You can then choose from the list of countries. Not all countries on the list have made Covid vaccines available to everyone, so I just focused on those that have, like the Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

The percentages vary by country, but the pattern is the same. Stratifying the data by age, the older the age band, the higher the percentage of people who are vaccinated. In fairness, it looks like all these countries have had a similar rollout to New Zealand, vaccinating the oldest and those most likely to have a severe infection first, alongside people like healthcare workers. But even so, each age band seems to reach a plateau. Here’s a couple of examples, from Denmark and Iceland.

Why the plateau?

So why might this be happening? Well, for most of the pandemic, Covid has been portrayed as mostly a disease of the old and those with underlying health conditions. So if you don’t fall into one of those categories, then you might not feel there is any urgency to get vaccinated. And when people have busy lives, things that aren’t urgent can easily fall off the to-do list. 

Another reason is probably a concern about the vaccines themselves. I’ve had lots of emails from people worried about getting a blood clot or having heart inflammation after being vaccinated. And I know a lot of people are worried about their fertility. I’ve also heard from people breast-feeding who have concerns. So, let’s look at these things, because I also know these are concerns that are being targeted and fed on by people who create and spread all manner of harmful disinformation and misinformation. I’ve explained before the research suggests it is not a good idea to go about debunking example after example of disinformation and misinformation so I’m not going to repeat any of that crap.

If you are worried about your future fertility, get vaccinated

Let’s start with fertility. There is no reason to think vaccines are going to affect our fertility. And all evidence to date is showing they don’t. No impact on ovarian follicles. No impact on sperm. And no impact on couples undergoing IVF to have a baby. In terms of breast-feeding, the only thing you’ll be transferring to your baby are protective antibodies. Not the vaccine

Do you know what is likely to affect your fertility? Covid-19. Firstly, there’s Long Covid. This recent review lists more than FIFTY long term effects of infection. They include fatigue, shortness of breath, and an increased heart rate that makes vigorous exercise dangerous. All of those are somewhat problematic when it comes to making a baby. You know what else is problematic? Erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and not being able to ejaculate, all of which have been reported in people who have had Covid-19. For more details go read some of the studies. Start here, here, and here. For a less jargon-filled read, Dr Ranjith Ramasamy, an associate Professor of urology at the University of Miami is one of the people doing research in this area and he wrote a really good lay summary of his work here.

If you are worried about your heart and blood clots, get vaccinated

According to publicly available data, as of four days ago more than 216 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine had been given to people. On top of that, more than 148 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have also been administered. That’s more than 360 million mRNA vaccine doses in total. In New Zealand alone, we’ve administered over 4 million doses.

With numbers like these we are starting to see the very rare events that can happen to people who get vaccinated. These are inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) and blood clots. Here in New Zealand, we’ve had one confirmed death from myocarditis. Usually when myocarditis happens, it is mild and treatable. Here are the signs to look out for: new onset chest pain, shortness of breath, or an abnormal heartbeat. Most cases have happened within four days of someone being vaccinated, but in a few instances, it’s been up to 14 days. Please if you have any of the symptoms of myocarditis in the days after being vaccinated, immediately get medical attention. You can also log your symptoms here. If you don’t do that, your medical practitioner will.

Globally, the rate for myocarditis appears to be highest in younger men aged 18-24, and after the second dose of vaccine. The rate is estimated at about eight per million for 12 to 39-year-olds after that second dose. What’s really important is that reports from all around the world are showing that the majority of cases are considered mild. Dr Jonathan Howard has pulled together lots of the data on this here

Another important consideration, though, is what are the risks of myocarditis from getting Covid-19? Much higher. So much so, that the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics joined forces with other medical organisations and released a statement supporting vaccination. In their words: “The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination. Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get Covid-19, and the risks to the heart from Covid-19 infection can be more severe.”

What about blood clots? It’s exactly the same. A study of over 29 million people in the UK, showed there was a very small risk of getting a certain type of blood clot and the risk was much higher if you got Covid-19. 

So, in summary, if you are worried about getting an inflamed heart or blood clot, get vaccinated. 

Covid is a multiplayer game and we need every player on the field

Toby Morris has come up with a great analogy for the pandemic and vaccination. Think of it like we are all playing a multiplayer computer game. If computer games aren’t your thing, then I highly recommend you watch the Jumanji reboot and you’ll get the idea.

Imagine it like a computer game, with levels which get harder and harder as you progress through the game. You have to win each level to get to the next, something known as levelling up. With each level you get closer and closer to the hardest obstacle, aka the Boss, which you need to overcome in order to win the game. Because it would be really, really hard to face the Boss without knowing any of its weaknesses, these sorts of games come with cheat codes that allow a player to learn how to defeat the Boss without taking any damage. Then when you’ve figured out the best strategy, you can play the game in normal mode and try to get the job done. 

Think of Covid-19 and delta as the Boss, and the vaccine as the cheat code. That vaccine is letting your body learn all the right moves for when you meet the Boss for real. And just like practising can leave you pretty tired for a short time, so too can getting vaccinated. But that’s just because you got a workout. It’s nothing in comparison to fighting the Boss without the cheat code. 

The other really crucial thing to remember is that our best strategy for beating the pandemic is to treat it like a multiplayer game. Some people don’t have access to the cheat code so it’s important that those of us that do have access, use it. In other words, get vaccinated as it will not just protect us as individuals but will also protect those around us too. I can’t emphasise how important this is for us moving forward with our response to Covid-19. Once enough of us are vaccinated, the hope is that we won’t need to rely on really tight restrictions like we have at alert level four to keep delta and any other variants of the virus at bay.  

So please, get vaccinated. If you’ve friends and loved ones who have concerns about the vaccine, talk to them. We need them on board with us. Help them understand how disinformation and misinformation is being used to stop them from getting protected and playing their role in protecting all of us. Check out all the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. They’ve done some amazing work on some of those who are profiteering from the pandemic. Hell, even I’ve found myself caught up in a disinformation campaign. Help your friends and loved ones figure out how to spot disinformation and misinformation when they see it. You won’t always be successful, but you are the best chance we have. 

Keep going!