As a health professional, my primary orientation is to help people. The war on COVID-19 compels us to serve in any way we can to defeat this disease. If this were a war between nations, those who are able would volunteer for the armed services. In my case, I volunteered for a vaccine trial.
Many debates on vaccine distribution focus on the efficacy of a vaccine developed so quickly and whether it would achieve the end of COVID. On the surface, administering the vaccine to the most vulnerable first makes sense, followed by health care workers. Who’s next? Teachers, retail workers ... dentists?
While dental professionals do work in one of the more consistently dangerous occupations for an airborne disease, we’ve done a great job with screening, infection control and respiratory precautions. There have been no cases attributed to a dental practice; dental professionals have contracted COVID-19 but likely contracted it outside of the office. As a result, dental professionals may not be included with other health care professionals in the first wave of vaccines.
An article in the November 2020 issue of Wired, “The Vulnerable Can Wait. Vaccinate the Super-Spreaders First,” made a strong argument for vaccinating young people before the elderly and infirm. The experts quoted in this article are network theorists that study how a variety of networks operate. If you identify the social butterflies and vaccinate them with your limited supply of vaccine, you will greatly reduce the number of COVID cases; in turn, this may better prevent the more vulnerable in our population from contracting the disease. It is the most efficient way to use a limited resource and would mathematically provide the most benefit to our population. But it’s unlikely to win over any states because it is a concept with the warmth of Spock. Instead, we’ll likely have an approach where the most vulnerable are first, followed by front-line workers, first responders and other essential workers.
In a fast poll I conducted on Dentaltown, 63% of respondents indicated they are willing to get the vaccine now, but only half of that group believes that dental professionals will be first in line. Another 24% will wait to see what happens. (This group also isn’t the first to buy new technology for their practices. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, because waiting may avoid future suffering.) Only 9% won’t get this vaccine under any circumstance.
I did account for people who already had COVID and therefore may not need a vaccination (3%). A recent Gallup poll of the broader population showed 58% willing to get the vaccine and 42% against. The subgroup of people with a college degree is 63%, right in line with my mini-poll on Dentaltown.
Back to my vaccine trial: Joining this research group started as you would expect, with some screening questions. Once you pass that test, you can choose to participate in the trial. When I arrived for the first visit, I had the mother of all informed consents, some 25 pages long, to sign. I took a COVID-19 test, had blood drawn and then the first injection was administered. Because this is a double-blind study, nobody in the room knows what I got.
I went home waiting to develop super strength or X-ray vision, to no avail. I felt nothing. Each day for a week, I would complete a questionnaire in a special app and report my condition and any symptoms. I didn’t know if I should be relieved that I didn’t get this experimental vaccine or frustrated I went through all that for nothing. A few weeks later I received the second dose, and that evening and all the next day I felt achy. I had a bit of a headache and took a couple of Tylenol; the following day I was back to normal and have had no other side effects since then. Is my body filled with mRNA activity? I do turn green with bulging muscles when I’m stressed at work, but I was like that before.
The decision seems simple enough: Risk getting COVID-19 and not know if or when it will happen or how sick you will get, possibly infecting others unwittingly, or take a vaccine developed in a lab by a bunch of smart scientists and tested on people like me.
What are your thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine? Have you signed up for any trials or know someone who has? I’d love to hear what you think. Leave your comment under this column on dentaltown.com/magazine or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.