COVID-19 – stop the next variant | My opinion
The main reason for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is not to protect yourself or your family or neighbors, although the vaccination certainly does. Instead, the main reason is to stop mutations in the virus, like the one that produced the deadly delta variant.
Viruses can only mutate when they are in an infected cell. They have to appropriate the apparatus of human cells in order to reproduce. Otherwise, they are completely inert, not even alive. So a virus sitting on your kitchen counter is nothing at all until it gets into your cells.
Viruses reproduce wildly in the cells they infect, and copying errors are inevitable. With each such mutation, there is a risk that the virus will become more transmissible or more deadly. In the case of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the greatest danger is that a mutation will allow the virus to become resistant to vaccines. Call it the omega variant. We must therefore do everything possible to prevent the virus from replicating endlessly.
The only answer is for everyone to be vaccinated. Vaccination is not a perfect solution, but it is a very, very good solution. Even people who have been vaccinated are sometimes able to infect others, but this is unusual. Although we may not be able to eliminate infections completely, we can eliminate serious illnesses almost entirely. And we can drastically reduce the human reservoir of mutant virus that serves as a petri dish to grow the next dangerous variant.
Vaccination is needed not only in the United States but around the world. It is no longer possible to assume that viruses will be contained by national borders. If COVID-19 outbreaks occur anywhere, they will be found everywhere. Thus, rich countries must subsidize vaccine production in poor countries, not only out of generosity but out of self-interest. To make this possible, the property rights of vaccine manufacturers would have to be relinquished during the pandemic so that vaccines can be copied and manufactured in any part of the world.
Why so much resistance to vaccines? Several reasons are often cited.
The first is the risk of side effects from the vaccine. It is true that there may be discomfort in the arm after vaccination, perhaps headache, fatigue or even a mild fever. But these symptoms are transient. In contrast, the side effects of COVID-19 can last indefinitely.
The second is the argument that vaccines have been developed so quickly (Operation Warp Speed, after all) that they cannot be trusted. But that argument confuses vaccine production with the scientific work of finding out how a coronavirus vaccine might work. The innovative research that led to the Pfizer / BioNtech and Moderna vaccines had been ongoing for over 15 years. Once companies figured out how to produce such a vaccine, it was just a matter of getting the resources to do it, and then conducting the clinical trials. The factories simply had to get carried away, and they received very generous public support to do so.
Third, the view that forcing COVID-19 vaccination is somehow a violation of freedom. But that wouldn’t be any different from the many mandates to receive other vaccines. For example, children in all states must be immunized against measles, polio, rubella, diphtheria, and tetanus before they can enter public school. Many hospital workers need to be vaccinated against hepatitis. Travelers to parts of the world should be vaccinated against yellow fever and other tropical diseases.
Moreover, this argument is supremely selfish. Whatever freedom you claim for yourself not to be vaccinated, the freedom of everyone around you not to expose them to COVID-19 far outweighs it.
I heard it was a “personal choice”. No it isn’t, nor is how fast you drive is a personal choice. We are now in the midst of a global resurgence of COVID-19 due to the delta variant. Other worse variants could follow, including the worst of all – the omega variant. For this reason, anyone of full age should be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, entering school, and being in public spaces such as restaurants and concerts. It is not a personal choice; it is a moral obligation.
Dr Marcia Angell is a Corresponding Fellow of the Faculty of Harvard Medical School and was the former Editor-in-Chief of New England Journal of Medicine. She lives in Santa Fe.