Rozeman: Freedom with Ending the Pandemic

I saw a billboard on a trip to Texas to see my grandchildren with the word “freedom” beside a picture of someone taking off their mask. It certainly is a thought shared by many. However, the most accurate picture depicting freedom in this pandemic is a picture of someone receiving the vaccine.

Freedom comes with the vaccination effort of Ochsner LSU Health Sciences Center, Willis-Knighton, and Christus at the Fairgrounds to pool community resources to offer COVID vaccinations to thousands in our community. This ambitious effort organized by Dr. John Vancheiere and LSUHSC exceeds anything else done in our state and is the equivalent of mass vaccination efforts just now being set up by the federal government in larger cities.

Because of this effort, people who live in our area have tremendous access to vaccines in a very user friendly atmosphere. I can’t tell you how many of my patients and friends eligible for the vaccine told me they went to the Fairgrounds without calling, scheduling, or registration and finished in 15-30 minutes – leaving with effective future protection from the complications of COVID-19.

The immunity provided by the safe and effective vaccines or the natural immunity from being sick with COVID are the only ways out of this viral pandemic. The recipients of the vaccine will significantly decrease the risk of complications or death from COVID, hospitalizations, or transmitting the virus to others.  On a community level, a successful vaccination effort will again open Northwest Louisiana for commerce, in-school learning, and just being with others.

The analysis of benefit and risk is how physicians make all medical decisions. The same is true for individuals in making personal health decisions. The tremendous benefits noted above can be weighed against the relative paucity of risk with the vaccine.

Those known negative consequences of the vaccine are common side effects of arm pain, fatigue, and headache and less frequent fever and chills lasting a couple of days. The most severe risk is an extremely rare severe allergic reactions to the vaccine.   The vaccine is not a live virus and thus it is impossible to get COVID from the vaccine.  

We know from other vaccines that the vast majority of negative consequences of any vaccine occur in the first four to six weeks and nearly all within six months. After a year of studies in more than 100,000 vaccinated people and observation of millions worldwide who have received the vaccine, there have been no long-term negative complications of the vaccine identified thus far. The COVID pandemic is so thoroughly covered by print and visual media that the presence of any significant consequences would be front page news. Nothing significant has been identified yet.

The risk-benefit analysis of the vaccine tilts strongly in favor of benefit in middle and older adults and those with pre-existing conditions. The greater the age, the greater the benefit of the vaccine.

However, for any adult the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk.  The reduction of risk of illness of illness and return to life, work, and school and a world without ongoing COVID statistic milestones, business closures, stay at home orders, lockdowns, and worry about overwhelming hospitals will be well worth the effort.

We have had millions of people vaccinated and followed long enough without serious complications to allay the concern about the vaccine being experimental. Those now considering the vaccine have had very sufficient experience to evaluate (up to 12 months) and that experience has been very positive.

Worry about the rapid development of the vaccine is not a reason for staying away from the Fairgrounds. The process of rapid time to development and roll out is not because of compromise, but because pharmaceutical companies could work with each other on all elements of the vaccine because of available government resources.

There is no reason to deny taking the vaccine because of concern about mutation of the virus. Thus far, current COVID vaccines are effective against the viral mutations. In fact, it makes more sense than ever to get a COVID vaccine as soon as possible ahead of these and future mutations. If this becomes an issue in the future, reformulating the vaccine every one to three years will be a relatively straightforward process.

We can all wear masks and avoid large gatherings for the next two to three years and we will still have a COVID pandemic. We can shut schools down and give everybody laptops and broadband and we will still be in a pandemic with children far behind academically, socially, and emotionally.  Nothing but the vaccine and widespread immunity will end this pandemic. All Americas seek freedom, opportunity, and security.  An effective vaccine gets us all three.

The vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel we all prayed for one year ago. Now they are here and they are readily available in a user friendly format in our region. This is our way out of the pandemic.  The COVID Virus will be with us for years, but the pandemic can end very soon.

Last week, I heard an interview with Dr. Vancheiere.  He noted there were extra vaccines when volunteers were idle at the Fairgrounds.  If we all think carefully about benefits and risks of the vaccines, this should not happen.

Dr. Rozeman is a practicing physician. He is past chair of the NWLA Medical Society and past Chief of Staff of the Willis-Knighton Health System.