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Vaccines are safe, effective and essential

I would like to respond to the guest opinion titled “Vaccine passports would unleash hell,” in the May 16 Sunday paper. The opinion was written by Lynn Barton, a board member of the Children’s Health Defense, a group that questions the legitimacy of vaccination as a strategy for public health.

The opinion piece utilizes a tactic well known during this devastating pandemic, to dredge up obscure or dated “studies” and “experts” and give them legitimacy to justify a predetermined opinion. That is not how science works. Those truly searching for the truth start with a question (e.g., “how can we reduce COVID disease?”) and scrutinize all the data to determine the most likely answer. Then we keep studying it to see if the facts still stand. The Children’s Health Defense seems to start with a belief and then searches for data to support that belief.

Here are some facts to consider:

Vaccines have rarely been a big money-maker for the pharmaceutical industry. You give them once, twice or at most yearly, unlike drugs for chronic conditions where you make sales for a lifetime. Establishing a review board, VAERS, to receive all possible adverse effects from vaccinations, was a way to shield manufacturers from liability while providing a means to examine ongoing vaccine safety and appropriate patient compensation. I am not an apologist for Pharma by any means, but we do need them to create safe and effective vaccines and the creation of VAERS was one way to achieve that.

The current COVID-19 vaccines were not rushed. They represent a wartime equivalent effort to get a safe and effective vaccine to the public in time to save lives. In an unprecedented action, the federal government took financial risk away from some manufacturers by paying them to enlist tens of thousands of volunteers in well-structured, double-blind studies while simultaneously supporting the creation of a vaccine manufacturing and delivery infrastructure. What a gamble! No vaccine manufacturer would take the risk to build a factory to make a product before it was proven effective, and yet that is what they did, with federal support. The vaccines proved remarkably safe and effective, and we reduced the time from concept to shots in arms to less than a year. No corners were cut!

To say that vaccines carry risk is of course true. However, let’s compare the known risks from vaccination (extremely small as determined by legitimate epidemiologists working in respected public health institutions) to the risks from COVID-19 disease. You are much more likely to die or have continued disability from a complication from the disease than you are from the vaccine. As we learn more about how safe the vaccines are, we are also learning more about COVID disease, the true mortality, as well as the long-term consequences (long-COVID) for some individuals. 586,000 are dead from COVID in the U.S. alone and 3.38 million dead world-wide, and the numbers are increasing.

Who are you going to trust to sort all this out? I do not know of a single public health official who is working to deceive people, trying to enhance their ego or wield power over others, all the while informing the public about what we know about COVID. I see professionals working long hours over the past 15 months trying to protect their communities and save lives. These are for the most part compassionate, questioning, scientifically trained public servants who want to get it right, sometimes get the messaging wrong, but always seek the truth.

Please listen to the public health professionals who are on your side, and are in the best position to analyze the information on COVID. We say:

The disease is real, and serious.

It is highly contagious even from those without symptoms.

The vaccine has been well studied and is safe and very effective.

Vaccination is the best way to protect ourselves and return to our way of life.

No one is trying to take away your rights. We are freedom-loving Americans just like you.

Jim Shames, M.D., is health officer for Jackson County. He wrote this as a private citizen, not in his official capacity or as a representative of the county.