I have engaged in vaccination discussions more times than I care to admit, most of the time with family. And, inevitably, I get the question: “How many of those you see in the ICU are vaccinated?” The implication is, “the vaccines are not foolproof, and therefore, why should I get vaccinated?”
No, vaccines are not foolproof. We never said they were foolproof (although, truly, a perfect vaccine would prevent infection itself). Lord knows: I have suffered through influenza so many times, after being vaccinated against it. That said, a good vaccine against Covid would prevent the absolute worst effects of the disease: severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.
The vaccines we currently have, including the FDA-approved Pfizer mRNA vaccine, are very good, and there are very good data to support this.
The CDC, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reported the data of 1,228,664 adults in 465 U.S. healthcare facilities who completed primary vaccination during December 2020–October 2021. Of the more than 1.2 million vaccinated individuals, 2,246 acquired COVID-19. Of those, 327 were hospitalized, 189 had a severe COVID-19 outcome, which was defined as “a diagnosis of acute respiratory failure, need for [CPAP or BiPAP], ICU admission, or death” and 36 people died.
As far as percentages are concerned, 0.18% of these individuals acquired COVID-19, 0.015% had severe COVID-19, and 0.0033% died. This is exceedingly rare.
Everyone with severe outcomes had at least one risk factor, which included: age ≥65 years, immunosuppression, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiac disease, pulmonary disease, neurologic disease, and liver disease. Of those who died, 78% of people had at least four of these risk factors.
This mirrors my experience in the ICU. Yes, I have had vaccinated people who have died in my ICU from COVID-19. They all had comorbid conditions. The vast, vast, vast majority of patients admitted to my hospital and ICU have been unvaccinated. This has been consistently true throughout 2021 and now in our current tidal wave of cases.
Now, of course, this is one data set, albeit a quite large data set. I cannot say that these same percentages will be true of every single person who is vaccinated. At the same time, these data do seem to support the clinical experience of many of my colleagues and me, who are seeing continued devastation from this illness, by and large, in the unvaccinated.
I can hear someone saying, “Well, who cares? If someone wants to take that risk and ends up dying, then who cares?”
First of all, I care. I have watched the devastation of this illness up close. I have seen countless family members watch in agony as their fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters die of this disease. These are losses that cannot be restored. These are people who are gone forever, leaving a trail of sadness and misery in their wake.
There are countless children who have been orphaned by COVID-19. Yes, the shut down of schools has had a very deleterious effect on children, and this should not be minimized. At the same time, there are thousands upon thousands of children who now do not have their mother or father (or both) due to COVID-19. This is as devastating, if not more so, for those children. And, I am not going to even go into the effect these surges are having on hospitals, healthcare professionals, and the healthcare system overall.
And the vaccines are so very effective at preventing death, as this data and other real world data show. If for no other reason, think of your children if you have them. Think about how horribly affected they will be if you die – even if it is exceedingly rare that you will die – from COVID. Aren’t they worth the sacrifice?
Yes, vaccinated people do die from COVID-19. Those numbers are dwarfed by the numbers of unvaccinated people who die from COVID. The evidence is overwhelming. Please, just get the vaccine.