I got the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this last weekend. I was happy to get it. I decided to write a quick blog post because I think the current debate needs some real-world counter-balance. I’m happy to report no side-effects and a quick and easy experience, and I wanted to share the details with all of you.
Actually, I saw getting the vaccine as a relative non-event. I’ve gotten lots of vaccines. So normally, no, this isn’t a topic worth a post. I’ve done a lot of traveling, including in areas off the beaten path for many, like Mongolia, the jungles of Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam), and East Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, to the border of the PRC). (Read more on Josh Melick's travels) To prepare for that travel, I’ve had the vaccines for Yellow Fever and Hepatitis, amongst others (seems like I’ve had 100). I seem to regularly injure myself with rusty metal, so I get my tetanus shot regularly as well (see photo below -- hold your laughter or cringe -- and insert joke about how the vaccine is the least of my worries compared to the things I’ve been stabbed with).
All that travel was pre-COVID times -- but I very much plan to pick up my travel habits as soon as it’s safe to do so. I am hoping to get to Europe later this summer and have a tentative trip planned to South Africa in the fall. I bring those details up because travel is part of my calculus regarding the vaccine.
I believe that vaccines are safe and important. I believe that the medical profession is generally doing the right things. There are good intentions for most. Public good is important, and so, generally speaking, vaccines or masks or speed limits are appropriate. I will say, however, that I don’t think anything is without “side effects”. And sometimes we don’t have the historical data required to understand what might be good or bad -- or what the longer term side effects may be -- so we have to make current decisions based upon whatever data we have available today. Today the data is clear -- vaccines are safe, COVID is deadly, and humanity is suffering because of it.
I did a bit of research into the different versions of the vaccine. At this point, depending on if I had strong preferences, I probably could have gotten my first choice. In some ways I liked the single-shot option being offered by Johnson & Johnson, but I’ll admit that preference was 99% driven by convenience. The story of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are incredible. I’m an entrepreneur and a startup person. The success of Moderna is a beautiful story of the innovation that comes from startups, small businesses, and immigrants. To me it’s a very American story -- so I’m glad to participate in a small way and support their business by getting the Moderna version of the vaccine. The Pfizer story is similar. Pfizer is a very big name in pharma, yet the vaccine wasn’t developed by them: they also relied on a startup. Again, a great story.
I think over the next few months travel and events may ask for proof of vaccination. I think that’s reasonable, or at least on a surface level. Keeping higher-risk activities limited to those with vaccines makes sense. We want to get to herd immunity, and limiting “who joins” the herd works for a time. I’m glad to have my vaccine and plan to participate in such travel or events. But I hope that’s not a long term trend.
Just because I got the vaccine, however, I think we should be careful on what is “required.” As you dig deeper into these questions, this debate gets increasingly fuzzy and problematic. Here’s some examples. If vaccines show some amount of immunity, we should also let those who have had COVID and are now recovered participate as well. Okay, also reasonable, they presumably have that same immunity, although perhaps harder to prove or track. Well, what about international visitors? And how long does any of this last, anyway? What about those with more difficult access issues? Or other health issues that may preclude a vaccine? In a year, will any of this even be relevant? Should the government track and confirm who’s been vaccinated or not? Will COVID be just a memory in a year or two? Or will new variants keep coming? Then what -- another round of vaccinations? More documentation and tracking? I think we’ll see some private events require a vaccine. Some countries. Especially for smaller, more unstable, and financially at risk populations. All of this is expensive. Tracking is expensive. Health care is expensive. But I think any solutions have other costs along with longer-term consequences, including the vast potential for personal liberty infringement. I don’t think we want this long term. I don’t think the government should require it. It’s too early for big and long term impact decisions like this. Let’s aim at strong success from our current efforts and current vaccines, and then hope that a lot of this debate becomes fairly moot over the next year.
So -- in summary -- if you are an adult and healthy, I suggest getting the vaccine. If you are in a high risk COVID category, get the vaccine. If you think travel, events, or social contact is a priority, get the vaccine. With enough of us vaccinated, we can get back to business. Let’s get our kids back in school. It’s important that these things happen. And perhaps over the long term, we debate and learn from what worked / what didn’t. Let’s save long term policy for clearer heads and minds. I do believe we’ll need those learnings, as I think pandemics like this will become a more common issue for humanity with our ever increasing global economy.