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  • Writer's pictureMichael Goettler

The Great COVID-19 Vaccine Debate


covid-19

Yesterday the FDA approved updated vaccine booster shots, but despite the scientific evidence, some individuals continue to deny the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Ironically, several anti-vaccine media personalities who had discouraged COVID-19 vaccination decrying it as a form of government control, and referring to the pandemic as a "Scamdemic," unfortunately died from COVID-19 complications.


How many of their listeners suffered the same fate or were unnecessarily ill because they didn’t trust medical experts or the best scientific evidence? Sadly, it is unlikely any of them changed their minds after learning about the unnecessary fate of the people they trusted. Several COVID-19 vaccine skeptics realized the true value of the vaccine only after catching the disease and battling its symptoms.


Still, the debate isn’t over yet. Recently, a well-known online talk show host offered $100,000 to be donated to charity for a leading vaccine expert to debate a US presidential candidate over the benefits of vaccines. That amount quickly grew to $2 million after going viral on X, formerly known as Twitter, prompting online harassment, death threats, and even physical stalking directed at the scientist. The platform also stopped enforcing its COVID-19 misinformation policy in November 2022, which inevitably has led to more misinformation spreading even faster.


I am surprised that we are still skeptical of the merits of vaccines, especially the COVID-19 vaccines. However, with the spread of false information amplified by social media and people with heavy influence, it is difficult to put a lid on the lies. We must do what we can to mitigate the damaging effects of nonsensical anti-vaccine debates.


Pandemic Data and Insights


The graph below shows the cumulative deaths per 100,000 US citizens from October 9, 2021, to April 1, 2023. This chart is easily interpretable and demonstrates that vaccinations dramatically reduce the risk of dying from COVID-19.


The flattening of the slopes of all curves after early 2022 is likely evidence of the “herd effect.” In other words, even unvaccinated people have a lower risk of death because they are now surrounded by people who are protected by vaccination and are also less likely to infect others, including the unvaccinated. One can only speculate how much higher the red curve would go had it not been for the many people who listened to sound medical advice and got vaccinated.


covid-19 deaths

Vaccine skeptics may criticize the data and argue that the cause of death in this statistic may be misreported and that the red line reflects deaths that would have occurred with or without COVID-19.


Therefore, let’s look at all-cause mortality, a statistic few can argue with and that can be easily verified by data reported from morgues, funeral homes, and other sources. Notice the clear excess of deaths in 2020 and 2021 (top two grey lines) compared to previous years and how that line drops rapidly in early 2022, right after the broad roll-out of FDA-approved anti-COVID-19 vaccines. The 2023 curve is almost back to normal levels compared to the years before the pandemic. How can these excess deaths be explained if not by COVID?


Excess mortality: Raw number of deaths from all causes compared by year in the United States [Source]


Excess mortality: Raw number of deaths from all causes compared by year in the United States [Source]



No vaccine is without side effects, which are mostly injection site pain, headache, fatigue, and fever. The COVID-19 vaccination has, in rare cases, been linked to an increased risk of myocarditis and other cardiac events in young people, although a link to higher mortality has not been established. Overall, the risk-benefit of vaccination is about as good as it gets.


Getting Vaccinated


Getting vaccinated is a personal decision everyone should be making fully informed and in discussion with their healthcare professional, not on the advice of misinformation peddlers.


This is not to say that there should be no debate. Debate is crucial to scientific progress. Science, which is based on verifiable evidence, can only progress through challenging scientific discoveries, debate, and argumentation. This kind of discourse benefits humankind. The emphasis is on “verifiable evidence.” Vaccine myths have been repeatedly debunked based on transparent and verifiable data, but that doesn’t stop some from spreading the same falsehoods repeatedly.


Just like the debate unfortunately isn’t over, neither is the danger from COVID-19. As the virus learns to adapt, hospitalizations and deaths have been on the rise again, and new variants are beginning to circulate.


Look out for upcoming CDC guidelines. The EMA and the FDA have already approved the updated vaccines targeting the XBB.1.5 virus variant. CDC will issue its recommendations in time for the Fall/Winter season.


It would be wise to listen to those evidence-based recommendations.


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