If you have received one of the three FDA-approved vaccines against the worst effects of COVID-19, congratulations – and thank you.

Thank you for taking your health seriously. Thank you for trusting the scientists who worked hard over the past six years or more to develop vaccines like these. Thank you for wanting our society to get back to normal, and realizing this is a key step in that direction.

But you’re not off the hook. Chances are you know at least one person who so far hasn’t received a vaccine, even though they are now widely available to everyone 12 and older. If so, we need you to help convince those folks to get vaccinated.

And if you’re among the unvaccinated at this point, we’re not here to condemn you. We’re just hoping you’re open-minded enough to consider the pros and cons as we lay them out for you, attempt to debunk some myths and set a vision for the future we can all get behind.

How the vaccines were developed

First, because some people are concerned that the vaccines were approved so quickly, let’s talk about how they were developed. Although SARS-CoV-2 is a new form of coronavirus we call COVID-19, a lot of research was done before its arrival on similar coronaviruses called SARS and MERS. Also, scientists at Moderna and other companies had been developing the mRNA and adenovirus technologies for decades.

When COVID-19 was detected, researchers were able to quickly determine the genetic sequence of the new virus, put it on the internet and make it widely available to researchers worldwide so they could get to work developing a vaccine. And because government officials saw how deadly the virus was and how quickly it was spreading, they, too, moved quickly to remove government red tape that otherwise would have slowed down the process of developing the vaccine (hence former President Trump’s ability to brag about the success of Operation Warp Speed).

Then, once scientists thought they had a vaccine that would work, tens of thousands of people willingly stepped up to be part of the extensive vaccine trials that led to the eventual emergency authorization. And since the vaccine’s rollout, those tests and observations have been ongoing – hence the brief pause in use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine a few weeks ago when blood clots were detected in a small number of people.

Effectiveness and side effects

So, the vaccine’s safety shouldn’t be in question. But what about its effectiveness and side effects?

Again, extensive studies were done before it was approved, and those studies are ongoing, especially as new variants have emerged in the United States and other parts of the world. Just this past week, scientists published the results of an extensive, ongoing study of how well the existing vaccines work at fighting off the variants that are killing thousands in India. The good news is they seem to be working just as well.

Of course, there are some side effects from the shots, and they can vary in severity, depending on the individual. These include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, as well as fatigue, muscle pain, headache, chills, fever and nausea, usually after the second injection of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. But for most people, these symptoms are minor, last 24 hours or less, and they’re a heck of a lot better than even a mild case of COVID-19.

OK, but what about long-term side effects? Nothing is ever certain, of course, but mRNA vaccines like those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna have been used on people to try to prevent HIV, rabies, Zika and influenza. Because mRNA is made and used in protein production in all of our body’s cells, those cells have a way to make sure they don’t make too much protein and the mRNA doesn’t stay around too long. (The same holds true for the adenovirus-based vaccines like the one made by Johnson and Johnson.)

Debunking myths, finding trusted sources

Next, we need to debunk some of the widely spread myths and flat-out lies about the vaccines.

No, the government’s not trying to inject all of us with microchips so they can track us (that’s what cellphones are for). And mRNA isn’t some kind of “experimental gene therapy” that’s modifying our genomes or trying to “hypercharge” our immune systems, which will make it more difficult for our bodies to fight off future viruses (when did our vaccine manufacturers all supposedly turn into Dr. Frankenstein?).

Sure, it’s natural to be skeptical of new medications, and it’s important to do the proper research before allowing people to inject things into your body. But overcoming misinformation online and in other media is an uphill battle if people are inclined to be skeptical already.

That’s why it’s important to point people to trusted, reliable sources of information, such as the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department (laramiecountycovid.com), the Wyoming Department of Health (https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/immunization/wyoming-covid-19-vaccine-information/) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ vaccines/index.html).

Main reasons to get vaccinated now

Now that six months have passed since the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered, we would hope to see even the most skeptical people realize they are making a positive difference.

But we still have work to do. Which is why we offer the following list of reasons why everyone 12 and older should get the vaccine:

The more we develop immunity to the virus, the less likely future restrictions will be required, including face coverings indoors, seating capacity at larger events and limitations on the number of customers in local businesses. In fact, on Thursday, the CDC said that in most situations, people who have been fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks indoors at all.

Although case numbers are down dramatically, passive transmission of the virus is still happening here in Laramie County. As of Thursday afternoon, there were 82 active case of COVID-19 in the county, and nine people were hospitalized here. Statewide, there were 516 active cases and 34 hospitalizations.

Cheyenne Frontier Days begins in less than 10 weeks, bringing with it tens of thousands of people from all over the country. Odds are good that some of them will be bringing COVID-19 with them. That tight timeframe means the window is closing for people to get vaccinated twice and have it be fully effective (a five- to six-week process, depending on which vaccine you get) before the 125th anniversary celebration begins.

To achieve “herd immunity,” we need about 70% of Americans to be immune to the virus. As of Thursday, an estimated 47.1% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, but that number was just 35% in Wyoming. Only 36% nationwide were fully protected. The reason herd immunity is important is that it helps keep the virus from finding the most vulnerable among us – especially those who, for medical reasons, cannot take the vaccine.

All of these are good reasons why you or your family member, friend or neighbor should get vaccinated as soon as possible. But ultimately, the choice is a personal one.

Please, for yourself and the good of your community, get the shot(s).

WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK: Contact us via email at opinion@wyoming

news.com.

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