Photo of Gretchen Arnoczy, M.D., being pro-coffee.
Gretchen Arnoczy, M.D., is an infectious diseases physician who has helped lead FirstHealth's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are her thoughts on the vaccine and how members of the community should feel about its safety.
Many people have been asking me for my thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine. If you don't know, I'm an infectious diseases physician and I've been caring for COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. Medicine is all about risks and benefits, right? Here's how I'm looking at the situation:
I think my risk of getting COVID-19 is high. Not necessarily from work (despite seeing COVID-19 patients almost daily since March). PPE works. It's wonderful! I haven't gotten COVID-19 yet but I feel like I'm surrounded. I wear a mask and wash my hands and socially distance, but I know plenty of people who've been REALLY careful and still gotten it. I've been lucky. A little smart, a little careful, but mostly lucky.
The two main vaccines coming up for approval each showed around a 95% reduction in the risk of getting COVID. About 20,000 people got the Pfizer vaccine, and only eight got COVID-19. More than 20,000 people in the same study received a placebo, and more than 160 of them got COVID-19. Pfizer didn’t see major safety concerns in the 20,000 people who got the vaccine, and they didn’t see major safety concerns in the animal studies, or in the hundreds of thousands of people who have enrolled in other COVID-19 vaccine trials around the world.
So, it seems like a pretty safe vaccine. One of the people in those studies was my amazing pharmacist. Another was my Aunt. They are both fine. Many people had mild pain in their arm, some had low-grade temperatures that lasted a day or less. We don't have long-term data on the vaccine, but we don't have long-term data on COVID-19 infection either. Short-term data on the vaccine looks pretty darn good.
Among my friends and colleagues who have gotten COVID-19, most have gotten completely better (thank God). But some died, some have lingering symptoms, and one friend still doesn't have her full sense of taste or smell back after 5 months – particularly the taste of coffee. THE TASTE OF COFFEE. I am not OK with losing the taste of coffee.
As I stare down the barrel of these two risks, I consider my options. On one side is the risks of COVID-19 (some known, some unknown) and on the other, the risks of the vaccine (some known, some unknown). With the information I have, the patients I've seen, and the data I've reviewed I will be rolling up my sleeve the second the vaccine is offered to me.
Remember those funny videos where bridesmaids shove each other out of the way to catch a brides' bouquet? That's me with this vaccine, OK?
I'm not going to coerce anyone into taking the shot. Take it or don't. If you're in the first round and you don't want it there are literally MILLIONS of people behind you in line who would love the jump the turnstile and get the shot ahead of you.
I am getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it's available and I'm really excited about it!
Learn more about FirstHealth's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ways you can stay safe and how to get tested.