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I’m Over 55 – Should I Get the Covid-19 Vaccine?

By Kent Sasse February 27, 2021 Health and Fitness

At this stage, most of what we’re hearing is frustration about the slow pace of the vaccine rollout. But gradually, the effort is picking up steam, and we are moving toward delivering one to one and a half and possibly one day soon to two million vaccine administrations per day. This will quickly make an enormous difference and lead us to herd immunity and a dramatic reduction in Covid cases.

This is all well and good. But many of us are wondering, “Should I personally get the vaccine?”Many seniors are hearing conflicting stories and advice, so let us look at the decision from each important angle.

What Is My Personal Risk?

To be sure, there is still a significant risk associated with Covid-19. More than half a million Americans have lost their lives to this new virus, and it has not even been one full year yet.To put that in perspective, more Americans have died from this virus than were killed during the entirety of World War II.

It is significantly more deadly and more transmissible than the annual flu, which we used to think was a bad virus, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. Let us look at only the personal risks to an individual considering the vaccine.

The Risk Is Primarily Borne by Seniors

A disproportionate number of people killed by Covid-19 are senior citizens over the age of 55. Over 400,000 of the total United States deaths so far have occurred in people over 55 years of age. The risk increases with every decade of life.

But Death Isn’t the Only Thing

Increasingly, research is shining a light on long-term disabilities and complications from the virus among survivors. In the years and decades to come, it will become clearer the total devastation wrought by this virus.

Already it is clear that there are many people who are experiencing long-term impairments in brain function, heart function, and lung function. The number of people who may have some long-term cognitive impairment, difficulty breathing, and heart trouble that limits their lives is probably several times the number of people who have died from the virus.

But Aren’t There Serious Side Effects or Bad Reactions from the Vaccine?

In short, no. Now that tens of millions of people have received both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, we have a good handle on the risk of getting vaccinated.And it is minimal.

Side effects include a sore arm, fevers, muscle aches, fatigue, and headache. About one in four people will experience this kind of reaction which lasts a day or two.

About five people out of every million vaccinated will experience anaphylaxis, a very serious allergic reaction. Usually, this occurs within the first 15 minutes of getting a vaccine, which is why vaccine centers make you hang around and wait for at least 15 minutes before driving off somewhere else.

The risk of death from the vaccine itself so far? 0.0%.On January 27, 2021, a study examining all the vaccinations given and all the reactions and deaths among the population showed that the risk of death among the vaccinated people was lower than the non-vaccinated people.

While all deaths that occur after a vaccination are investigated, as of this writing, none of the deaths are believed to be due to the vaccine. This is remarkable because of the rapid rollout and the large numbers of people getting the vaccine.

Humans Are Lousy at Judging Risk

You might already be aware of the phenomenon whereby most humans are very afraid of sharks, but not very afraid of driving on the freeway. Driving on the freeway poses over a million times more risk to the individual than sharks, but our evolutionary wiring means that we misjudge risks to our own detriment.

In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, some individuals are persuaded by anecdotal reports of reactions to the vaccine, or unsubstantiated theories about contaminants, bad motives, unreported side effects, and any number of other “risks.”

But at the same time, that same individual vastly underestimates the risk of dying or developing a serious health problem from the virus.

Survivorship Bias Influences Our Thinking

Individuals who fear the vaccine and think there may be some problem with it may have been influenced by individuals telling an anecdotal story or hearing about an adverse event online. These people all have something in common: they are alive.

What we do not hear is the cacophony of personal tragedy of falling victim and dying of Covid-19 from the person who suffered it.No amount of media coverage or hearing from relatives of the lost can make up for this statistical phenomenon.

Worse still, there is additional bias that those individuals who develop severe cases of Covid-19 endure their illness within the hospital and not at the shopping mall or the restaurant. So, our exposure to the unaffected is magnified, while our exposure to those severely afflicted with the virus is greatly diminished.

And It Is Not Just About Us, Personally

If one can think beyond oneself and consider how this personal decision affects one’s circle of friends, family and neighbors, then the case for obtaining a vaccine becomes even more compelling.

Any individual may be the asymptomatic carrier who infects a vulnerable friend, family member, or neighbor, who then suffers the serious effects of the virus.

In health and medical circles, those who refuse vaccinations are rightly viewed as the most selfish and uncaring citizens of the community because more often than not, the death and disease will happen to another person, not the individual who refuses to help the wider community avoid disease.

Putting a real stop to Covid-19 will be greatly facilitated by everyone getting vaccinated, leaving fewer pockets of society where the virus can still run rampant and kill people.

Why the Vaccine Is Important for Humanity

From an individual personal risk perspective, the case for getting vaccinated if you are over 55 years old is overwhelming. Doing this one simple thing (well two – getting both shots) is an enormous reduction of personal health risk. The numbers are striking, there is almost no serious risk of the vaccine, and there is a very significant risk of remaining unvaccinated.

Let us say there are 70 million Americans or so over the age of 55, and 400,000 deaths from Covid-19 in this group in less than one year’s time.

Choosing to remain unvaccinated is about the same risk as going swimming at the shark-infested waters of your favorite beach every single day of the year – for the next 5,000 years.

Have you gotten your vaccine yet? What was the experience like? Did you have second thoughts before going? What do you think about it now? Please share your before/after story.

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The Author

Dr. Kent Sasse, an Alpha Omega Alpha top medical school graduate of UCSF, earned fellowship at the prestigious Lahey Clinic in Boston and published research on pelvic floor therapy and metabolic surgery. He founded and directs The Continence Center and the nationally accredited Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program in Reno, Nevada. His most recent book is Outpatient Weight-Loss Surgery.

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