Health officials are concerned that vaccine activists will seize Powell’s death to claim that vaccines do not work. If you can still die after getting vaccinated against Covid-19, what is the point of the vaccine?
What is the answer to this question? I discussed this with Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst, emergency physician, and professor of health management and policy at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also the author of a new book, “Lines of Life: A Doctor’s Journey in the Struggle for Public Health.”
CNN: When we see vaccinated people die of Covid-19, how do you explain that vaccines are still worth taking?
This means that if you are vaccinated, you are six times less likely to get Covid-19 than someone who is not vaccinated. And you are 11 times less likely to die from Covid-19 compared to an unvaccinated person. This is really great.
However, Covid-19 vaccines do not protect you 100%. There is no vaccine, it is likely that virtually no medical treatment is 100% effective. This does not mean that the vaccine does not work or that you do not get it.
CNN: He has are some people more likely to have serious results from Covid-19, despite vaccination?
Wen: Yes, and from what I’ve learned, General Powell fell into that category. We know that older people with underlying medical conditions are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses and die after advanced infections. People at particular risk are immunocompromised people. Having multiple myeloma would put General Powell in that category and, in addition to his advanced age, would increase the level of risk.
Keep in mind that this is one of the reasons why booster intake is recommended. In August, federal health officials recommended that people with moderate or severe immunocompromised, who had the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, receive a third dose of the vaccine. They warned that even with the extra dose, immunocompromised individuals should take extra precautions. This is because this is a category of people who are particularly susceptible to serious outcomes.
CNN: You’ve already said that vaccines work best when everyone takes them, right?
Wen: Exactly. Think of the Covid-19 vaccine as a very good raincoat. It works great for protecting you in a drizzle. But if you have a storm and then a hurricane appears, there is a good chance of getting wet. This does not mean that the raincoat is defective. It means that the weather is bad and that the raincoat alone will not always protect you.
If you have a lot of viruses, this increases your chances of getting infected. The problem is not the vaccine, it’s that there are too many viruses around you.
Therefore, the key is to vaccinate as many people as possible. This reduces the overall rate of infection and ends up protecting everyone. And, if you are in an area with a lot of viruses, wearing a mask indoors with a lot of people will add an extra level of protection.
And let’s not forget that we also get vaccinated to protect the most vulnerable of us, who are at the highest risk of suffering serious outcomes.
According to the CDC study, unvaccinated people are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized for coronavirus than fully vaccinated adults. Those who end up having advanced cases that result in hospitalization are more likely to be of legal age and have multiple underlying medical conditions, as we have discussed.
CNN: What other things would you say to those who don’t believe the vaccine is effective?
Wen: I would ask them to think about other aspects of medicine. Let’s say someone has heart disease. There are medications to treat heart disease, but they are not 100% effective, nothing is. The fact that someone ends up with an exacerbation of their illness and in the hospital does not mean that it is not worth taking the medication.
Or let’s take an example of prevention. Let’s say someone who eats a healthy diet and does a lot of exercise still ends up having high blood pressure and diabetes. That’s not to say that diet and exercise aren’t good to do. It just means that you can take all the right steps to prevent a disease, but sometimes you could get it.
One of the main public health issues is that the work we do is on prevention. Even though you see the end result if and when prevention fails, you don’t see all the lives saved because of prevention.
A modeling study supported by the National Institutes of Health found that Covid-19 vaccines prevented more than 139,000 deaths in the first five months that were available. As of May 9, about 570,000 deaths from Covid-19 had occurred in the United States. Without vaccines, 709,000 could have died.
The bottom line is that vaccines work. They reduce the likelihood of contracting disease and suffering from serious illness and death. They are not 100% because nothing is.
CNN: Can vaccines also prevent a resurgence of the virus this winter?
Ultimately, the key to reducing everyone’s risk of Covid-19 and ending the pandemic is that we all get vaccinated. This protects us and those around us.
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