In recent months, a number of high-profile anti-vaxxers have contracted COVID-19, some of whom have gone on to die of it. Dick Farrel – who was a right-wing radio and TV host in Florida, US, and a fierce critic of the COVID vaccines and of Dr Anthony Fauci, often urging his listeners not to get the vaccines – contracted and died of COVID last month.
A Cambridge educated solicitor in the UK, Leslie Lawrenson, who told his social media followers to “trust” in their own immune systems and not get the vaccines, died of COVID at his home. There have been many others and each one is a sad case.
As doctors, we are taught to treat the patient in front of us, that we must not withhold treatment based on a patient’s beliefs or inclinations, and that this is a vital part of being a healthcare professional. If someone who is strongly opposed to masks or COVID vaccines becomes sick with the coronavirus, I would like to think that all healthcare professionals would offer them the same treatment and care given to those who are vaccinated and wore masks.
When I hear stories of people opposed to vaccines dying from COVID-19, my overwhelming emotion is sadness. These people are, in a way, victims themselves. They have bought into the many conspiracy theories online and have surrounded themselves with people who genuinely believe the misinformation out there is true. Once you are in that deep, I can imagine it is a difficult place to escape from.
COVID-19 can be a horrible disease to endure and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
My job as a healthcare professional is to pore over robust data and trials and ensure people have the correct information about COVID vaccines and ways to reduce the spread of the virus – this includes talking about the rare but serious side effects that can occur, and I have often written about these. But it is important to balance these out with the benefits of the vaccines and the treatments available – and in my opinion, the benefits certainly outweigh any risks.
Good news: Moderna vaccine effective against breakthrough infections
A new study that is awaiting peer review suggests that the risk of suffering a breakthrough COVID infection with the Delta variant after being fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine may be much lower than the risk for those who received the Pfizer vaccine.
Breakthrough infections refer to people who contract COVID despite being fully vaccinated.
The study looked at fully vaccinated people across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and Iowa. Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and are effective in preventing serious illness from coronavirus, even against the Delta variant, but the study suggests that Moderna offers more effective protection from getting COVID after being fully vaccinated.
Overall, the researchers found the Moderna vaccine conferred a twofold risk reduction against breakthrough infection compared with the Pfizer vaccine. They concluded, “Our observational study highlights that while both mRNA COVID-19 vaccines strongly protect against infection and severe disease, further evaluation of mechanisms underlying differences in their effectiveness such as dosing regimens and vaccine composition are warranted.”
Reader’s question: Isn’t it time we learned to live with COVID?
This is a question I get asked all the time, usually from people who are understandably fed up with how COVID has affected their lives and some of their freedoms, people who just want to go back to life pre-pandemic. I understand their frustrations – COVID has adversely affected my life in a number of ways too – but I do not think we are at a point where we can rest on our laurels and decide to live with the disease.
Wealthy countries have done well with vaccines, but poorer countries remain largely unvaccinated, and the risk of new variants emerging remains high – we must do all we can to get vaccines over to them so they too can protect themselves. Even those countries that have done well with vaccines are still seeing high numbers of COVID cases, mainly driven by the highly infectious Delta variant and groups of adults who are yet to be fully vaccinated. These people remain at risk of significant illness – both short- and long-term – so now is not the time to stop pushing for the uptake of vaccines and actions that help reduce the spread of the disease.
Children remain a big uncertainty – although less likely to get seriously sick, this is not a given and some of them will get very unwell and suffer from long COVID. We have seen large numbers of children in the US, many of whom were previously well, admitted to hospital with COVID; schools need better systems in place to reduce the spread of the disease and, in my opinion, we need to get on vaccinating children aged 12-15.
Of course, there is the clinically extremely vulnerable to think of, those people who through no fault of their own have an underlying condition that makes them prone to serious illness from coronavirus or who may have a compromised immune system that means the vaccines are not as effective for them – we cannot simply ignore their risk.
Whether we reach a point in time where COVID becomes endemic and is a disease we learn to live with is certainly possible, but the time for that is not now. There are still huge numbers of the world’s population at risk and we must continue to work hard to drive infection numbers down while increasing the numbers of people taking up vaccines.