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Home / Commentary / Idaho COVID vaccinations — separating fact from fiction

Idaho COVID vaccinations — separating fact from fiction

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across Idaho. Hardest hit? Vulnerable older adults, children, families struggling to juggle work and caregiving and people with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  

Decades of research has proven that vaccinations are literally our best shot at corralling COVID-19. Ask anyone over 80 years old about living with measles, mumps and polio. My 84-year-old mother had two sisters who spent months at Elk’s Rehab Hospital due to polio. She recalls being extremely ill with mumps and measles as a child; and being kept at home by her parents all summer for fear of her contracting polio. Vaccines work and the data supporting their effectiveness is overwhelming. 

Dr. Carolyn Bridges

Some try to convince people that the “natural immunity” (immune response from infection) gained from getting COVID-19 is better than getting vaccinated. Not true. Immune responses from infection can help prevent illness in the short term, but getting COVID-19 risks severe illness, death, long-term post-COVID symptoms and spreading COVID-19 to people at high risk of severe disease. Additionally, not everyone who gets COVID-19 has a good immune response. 

As someone who worked at the CDC for 21 years, as an expert in vaccine preventable diseases, I can tell you that following the proven science of vaccinations is our best path out of the pandemic. The COVID vaccines have been thoroughly tested, meeting strict FDA and CDC criteria, and safety is being closely monitored.  

Here are some facts to consider: 

COVID-19 is deadly serious. About 1 in 10 people hospitalized for COVID-19 have died. For every 10 people with COVID-19 admitted to an intensive care unit, two or more will die. Families of these severely ill people also suffer significant hardship and heartbreak, especially children who lose beloved caregivers.  

Idaho’s hospitals have been overwhelmed for months with unvaccinated patients with COVID-19, causing delays in routine care.  Another wave, which is likely, will again stress our hospitals without better vaccination rates, including booster vaccinations. 

Vaccines work. Dozens of scientific studies show vaccines work to reduce community outbreaks, deaths and hospitalizations. Unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 are 11 times more likely to die and six times more likely to be hospitalized compared to vaccinated people. 

Idaho ranks the lowest of all 50 states with a population vaccination rate of 50% as of Nov. 18.  

Vaccination works better at preventing future COVID-19 and severe COVID-19 than “natural immunity.”  Among people who had a prior COVID-19 infection, people who later got vaccinated cut their risk of a second COVID-19 illness by more than half. Furthermore, the level of protective immunity that people get with a COVID-19 infection varies — in general, protection is lower after milder disease and in people who are older. In addition, vaccination boosts the immune response after infection, and we know that higher antibody levels are important for preventing illness. 

Vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, but vaccination greatly lowers the risk of severe illness. Even with circulation of the Delta variant, COVID-19 vaccines were still more than 60% effective in preventing illness and highly effective in preventing severe illness or death. Research also shows that getting a booster dose helps restore higher vaccine effectiveness, including efficacy against the Delta variant.  

COVID-19 vaccine boosters are now recommended for all adults to help boost antibody levels and increase protection.  

The risk of a severe complication from vaccination is rare. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.  

People 6 months and older are recommended to get a Flu vaccine. But, be aware that a Flu vaccine does not prevent COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent influenza.  

Vaccine misinformation and disinformation is killing Idahoans. Please talk with your doctor or pharmacist, someone who knows and cares about you, and who is knowledgeable about COVID-19 vaccines, to get the facts. You wouldn’t go to your doctor about car transmission problems; don’t go to Facebook for your medical questions.  

Help stop the heartbreak of families losing loved ones to COVID-19 by getting the facts and getting vaccinated.  

  Dr. Carolyn Bridges is a Boise resident, member of the Idaho Immunization Coalition and a retired immunization expert who spent 21 years working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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