Maybe you’ve taken a calculated risk, putting off getting the COVID-19 vaccine because you’re healthy and don’t know anyone who got too sick from the virus. Maybe you’re concerned about the vaccine’s side effects or worried that the vaccine was rushed. Whatever your reason for not getting vaccinated, it’s time to reconsider.

Unlike last year when one person with COVID-19 typically passed the virus to two others, each person with the now-common delta variant infects eight or nine people. Now a spike in cases is once again putting stress on our hospitals and health care workers.

With the school year starting amid a surge, we can expect a rolling tide of cases and outbreaks. Vaccination doesn’t just protect your family’s health, it reduces the chances of missing school or work this fall. If your child is too young to be vaccinated, then “cocooning”— vaccinating all eligible household members — is a time-honored public health approach also used with pertussis and flu.

Vaccines work. Of 164 million people vaccinated in the U.S., around 7,000 were hospitalized for COVID-19. That’s a vanishingly small percentage. In Bexar County, 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths are among unvaccinated people.

So let’s take rationalizations against vaccination, one by one: 

I’m young and healthy.

Even a mild case of COVID-19 can: 1) be passed on to someone you love, who might not be as lucky, 2) ruin your sense of taste and smell for days or months, like for these people 3) cost you time away from important people and events, and 4) cost you financially, in medical bills and lost work.

A vaccine is free and will take about a half-hour of your day. If you have side effects, they pass in 1-2 days. Not everyone has side effects, and side effects are not COVID-19 — you won’t lose taste and smell, or have trouble breathing — instead, they are proof that your body’s immune system is revving up.

Finally, youth doesn’t guarantee you’ll be untouched. The youngest COVID-19 patient at University Health System right now is under 1 year old, and the average age of a UHS COVID-19 patient is 48, down from 64 previously, according to CEO George Hernandez.

The vaccine was developed too fast.

Scientists have been creating mRNA vaccines since the first SARS outbreak in 2003. National Institutes of Health immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead the development of the Moderna vaccine, said “we worked our butts off for the last six years” on vaccines for other coronaviruses — work that provided a head start when developing a vaccine for COVID-19.

I can’t take time off work if I have side effects.

If you work for a business with less than 500 employees, until Sept. 30 your employer can claim a tax credit for giving you paid leave to be vaccinated, recover from vaccination, or help a family member get vaccinated. Or maybe take the vaccine before your next day off.

Free vaccines are now widely available on a walk-in basis at H-E-B pharmacies, drugstores, clinics, urgent care centers, pop-up sites, Saturdays at the Robert B. Green Pharmacy of University Health System, and the Alamodome 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays. 

What if the vaccines affect fertility?

Fertility is affected by aging, weight, smoking, medical conditions — not vaccines. False rumors about fertility are practically an antivaccine cliché and also arose with vaccines against human papillomavirus, hepatitis B, and polio. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine both recommend the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy.  

I already had COVID-19, so I’m protected.

Partly true, especially if it was a severe case, and especially for the first 90 days afterward. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends vaccination, in part because we lack a reliable antibody test to measure your level of protection. New data show the vaccine provides twice as much protection from reinfection as illness.

If vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19, what’s the point?

Vaccines are not a magic bubble or force field, but they are a great way to avoid hospitalization and death. If you do get infected, it will be mild, and you’ll be contagious for less time than someone who is unvaccinated.

I don’t have a reason to trust the government/health care/pharmaceutical companies.

We absolutely must acknowledge shameful biases, especially medical racism, that have harmed and killed people, and expand antiracism efforts in health care. It’s important to know our history, but we can’t let our history stop us from moving forward.

I urge people to check out vaccine myth-busting videos by Black and Latino doctors here. Without vaccination, Native American, Hispanic, and Black communities will continue to bear a disproportionate share of COVID-19 illness and death.

There’s so much we don’t know yet.

Early trials on mRNA vaccines started in March 2020, more than a year ago. The CDC now has data on more than 346 million doses. Waiting for more data comes at a potentially large cost during this surge. A local infectious disease doctor, Barbara Seaworth, says she tells patients, “you can have an experimental vaccine now, or an experimental COVID treatment later.” 

I worry that this surge will break our robust local health care system. In January, we had an extra 1,600 nurses and other health care workers in town, borrowed from around the state and the nation. We have no extra resources anymore and are likely to hit or exceed June 2020 patient levels in the next week.

One hospital CEO told a visiting White House official last week, “it’s tighter than I’ve ever seen it. We’re just trying to get to the next day.” He described administrators coming in on weekends to pass out meal trays to patients, to augment staff. Nurse and physician colleagues are angry and burned out at a level I have not seen. Similarly, our public health case investigators are beyond weary. 

If you have not been vaccinated, do it for yourself, for your family, and for the health care workers of our community. If you were vaccinated, thank you. Please share your experiences with friends and family members who are still reluctant. Hear them out with empathy, keep a conversation going, assist with logistics if needed. We have the tools to fight the spread of COVID-19, we just need to remember we’re in this fight together.

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Dr. Junda Woo

Dr. Junda Woo, MPH, is Local Health Authority for San Antonio and Bexar County and has been the Medical Director at Metro Health since 2015.