I’m a doctor and one of my best friends doesn’t believe in vaccines. This is what I want to tell her

It’s a sunny morning here in the Austrian Alps. There is half a metre of snow in our garden, with one half-finished igloo in the middle of it, abandoned by my three kids when the temperature hit minus-10.

There’s a cup of English Breakfast tea and a piece of Vegemite toast beside me. And my left upper arm is, I’ll admit it, a little bit sore. Why? I thought you’d never ask…

Thanks to my job as a doctor in a small regional hospital in Tirol, yesterday I received the Pfizer COVID vaccine. And although you might think that I resent the residual muscle ache (just a normal post-vaccination tenderness, no other symptoms), I actually kind of love it. My fingers keep finding it and pressing it, like a kid with a bruise.

Because it reminds me of what it means.

It means that my body’s cells are ingesting the genetic material (called mRNA) from the vaccine, decoding it and making the COVID spike proteins on their surfaces.

It means that my body’s immune system is, as I type these very words, encountering those spike proteins for the first time, recognising them as foreign intruders, and mounting an attack on them.

It means my body is actively creating custom-made antibodies which will stick to the spike proteins and help disable and eliminate those infected cells.

And best of all, it means any future invasions of real virus particles won’t stand a chance, because my body will remember those spike proteins from the vaccination and — like flicking a switch — simply pump out floods of the same antibodies it made last time, resulting in a coordinated and speedy attack.

Science is just so bloody cool.

A woman in a mask receives an injection from a man in a maskA woman in a mask receives an injection from a man in a mask
Rebecca Schoepf received her COVID vaccine in Austria this week.(Supplied: Rebecca Schoepf)

Vaccinating isn’t a personal decision

One of my best friends here in Austria is a musician with four kids. She is one of the kindest souls I know.

She also doesn’t believe in vaccination. For the sake of social harmony, we always avoid the topic when it arises (we are both big believers in the general principle, “live and let live”).

However, I want to say to her that when her husband has sudden-onset chest pain, it’s me who she brings him to in the emergency department. It’s me and my medical knowledge she is putting her trust in when she asks me to find out what’s wrong and treat him. So why doesn’t she trust that same medical knowledge when he’s healthy?

I want to tell her that I love her soul. That she is more patient and kind than I could ever be. But that her anti-vax views are contradicting that entirely. Because to not vaccinate is not just a personal decision: it’s a big F-YOU to all the people in your community.

Sure, you might not care about getting measles or the flu or COVID (even though you should; have I told you about the otherwise very fit and healthy 46-year-old from my ward, who has been on the ICU with COVID since November and is currently awaiting a lung transplant if he doesn’t die first?).

But you’re right, chances are that if you’re healthy, and get COVID, you will barely feel it. Hold up, though — your argument also applies to getting a vaccine: you are healthy, so in all likelihood you will barely feel it.

The problem is that we humans are suckers for the status quo. When life is good, we’re hardwired to coast along, and not do anything to disrupt that. It’s only when shit (like our health) hits the fan, that we suddenly desperately want someone to DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, to make it better again.

A moth poses with her three children in snow gear with sledsA moth poses with her three children in snow gear with sleds
Rebecca Schoepf with her three children.(Supplied: Rebecca Schoepf)

Look to history — and the future

So why get the vaccine when we’re all pictures of health? Let me count the reasons.

Even though I may not know all of the ins and outs of this particular vaccine, or the big-business pressures and deals undoubtedly going on behind closed doors, I know that there is a well-established and rigorous independent regulatory system in place to make sure the experts are held accountable and deliver a safe and effective product.

History has shown us, time and time again, that vaccines are the single most effective way to stop pandemics. Have you ever wondered why anti-vaxxers are rarely over the age of 70? Because most of our grandparents remember the devastation of infectious diseases like polio and how massively vaccination helped.

Selfishly, I don’t want to get as sick as the man trying to outpace death waiting a set of new lungs. And because I don’t want my grandparents to either, by me inadvertently giving the virus to them.

On purely practical level, I want our lives to return to normal. We are on our third hard lockdown here (the 23rd week of home schooling since last March) and I can tell you, the days I work on the COVID ward are a holiday compared to home schooling two primary schoolers with a toddler in tow. I want restaurants and hotels and shops to open up and make jobs again.

I want to fly back to Australia and see my family.

Above all, I will do it because of 6-year-old Sophie. She’s on the leukaemia ward, locked up in there for months with only her mum to visit. She is still waiting on chemotherapy that hasn’t been able to be administered due to COVID delays.

I don’t know Sophie personally — I’ve only heard about her through my colleagues on that ward — but I don’t want to be the type of person who ignores her just because I don’t know her. There are thousands of Sophies.

So yep. Even though my arm is admittedly a little bit sore today, I will be getting my booster in three weeks. And even though I hate doctors’ waiting rooms, and even though my toddler (and probably his older sisters too) will definitely scream at the jab in the arm, it’s way more important to me to put Sophie’s needs before my own kids’ comfort.

That’s just the kind of person I want to be.

Article source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-04/vaccine-message-to-anti-vaxxers/13114344