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Published: 07/26/2023

Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy – A balance to be understood 

As we enter our second year with COVID 19 much has changed. But in many ways, we still have more to go. 

According to the CDC, the US has had over 30 million cases of COVID diagnosed with over 555,000 deaths associated. To date, 64 million people are fully vaccinated and another 109 million have had at least one dose of vaccine. 

The 3 COVID vaccines currently available represent an incredible breakthrough in vaccine development. Never before have so many people received a new vaccine or medication with such ongoing, robust monitoring for safety concerns.  And with that surveillance, no major issues have been identified.  The 3 vaccines were tested on over 100,000 test patients without significant side effects noted initially or in follow-up to date. More importantly, with over 170 million doses already given, the national experience has proven the vaccines to be safe and effective.  

It is true, however, that long term side effects are not known. The vaccines have only been out for a year. Some people are very concerned and want to take a “wait and see” approach to vaccination. Others feel that the vaccines are not safe and even a small percentage of side effects is too high. It is very important to balance these concerns with the facts known so far. The death rate from COVID is 10 times that of influenza. 

The new UK strain is more contagious and more aggressive than the normal community strains first noted in Massachusetts. The UK strain is now the dominant strain in Massachusetts. The UK strain has been shown to more likely infect younger adults and children. Our recent hospitalized patients are younger and have less high risk co-morbid conditions. The UK strain is fully covered by the current vaccines. With current admissions being likely due to the UK strain, we are not seeing hospital admissions with all those seniors (age 65 and older) who were the first group of community patients vaccinated. 

We now also know more about the side effects and complications of getting even mild infection with COVID. A recent study of 200,000 Americans with COVID infection demonstrated that within 6 months after infection 1/3 of all patients had depression, anxiety or brain associated side effects diagnosed. A new syndrome known as the “Long Haulers Syndrome” is being seen in patients who have had COVID infection and either have persistent symptoms of extreme  fatigue and tiredness, confusion, joint and muscle aches, and cough or get well and then relapse with these same symptoms. While we may not know about long term side effects of the vaccine , we DO know about how severe and significant the infection is in both the acute phase AND in the long term. 

Vaccination remains our most effective way to protect ourselves, our patients,  our family, and our community. The only way to return to normal is to have high rates of fully vaccinated communities. If there are no unvaccinated individuals in our communities, there is no spread possible within those communities. Until high levels of vaccination are achieved, we must continue to use masking, distancing and good cleaning and hand hygiene. 

I encourage all Berkshire County residents to learn as much as you can about the infection, complications of infection and long term effects of infection when you are weighing taking your chances going unvaccinated. Talk to your vaccinated friends and learn how they have now appreciated being protected and can also now protect their loved ones. The decision to decline vaccination based on unknown possible long term issues must be balanced with the very real possibility of getting infected and experiencing severe complications, long term complications, and even death. We want all community members to be protected , safe, and hopeful to the future. 

James W. Lederer Jr. MD
Chief Medical Officer, Chief Quality Officer
Berkshire Health Systems