Here's your decision: Get vaccinated first or be infected first

Here's your decision: Get vaccinated first or be infected first
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From the onset of the SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been hope that “herd immunity” will eventually protect those who forgo vaccination. Herd immunity is the concept that when enough people have acquired immunity to a virus, virus transmission will be reduced to negligible levels. You might be among the herd of hopefuls, banking on having made it this far already, bolstered perhaps by the knowledge none of your friends or family has gotten seriously ill with COVID-19.

If this is your strategy, I am sorry to tell you that science and history show that this won’t work. I have studied immune recognition of respiratory viruses and how viruses avoid immunity for 40 years. There are two things that I can relate with complete confidence.

First, SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, if ever. COVID-19 is similar in many ways to the devastating 1918 pandemic, which was caused by the introduction of a new influenza (flu) virus into the human population.

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The 1918 flu virus and its mutant descendants (variants, think delta variant) infected nearly everyone in the world over the next few years. It is still morphing into new variants, 103 years later as it continues to circulate around the world. Herd immunity has slowed transmission, but everyone has been infected and reinfected multiple times with the descendants of the 1918 flu. And reinfections are not limited to flu: other coronaviruses and many other human respiratory viruses can reinfect you multiple times.

Second, when it is your turn to be infected with SARS-CoV2, your body will be in a far better position to defend itself if vaccination has educated your immune system to fight SARS-CoV-2. At this point, approximately 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths occur in the unvaccinated. In other words, full vaccination reduces your chances of dying from COVID-19 by nearly 100-fold.  Fortunately, the COVID-19 vaccines are among the most effective vaccines ever developed and are far more effective than influenza vaccines.

However, they are not perfect, particularly in the face of variants like the delta variant, which can evade some of the immune response. Nevertheless, while vaccinated people might be infected, they are far less likely to become symptomatic or hospitalized than non-vaccinated people.

While the COVID-19 vaccines do have side effects, serious reactions are exceedingly rare. Vaccination is, in fact far safer than infection (at least a thousand times safer). Vaccination not only protects you but those around you since even if you are infected, you will be less infectious to others, including millions in the U.S. alone who cannot be effectively vaccinated due to health issues and age.

Importantly, every day you wait to be vaccinated, your chances increase of getting a serious, even lethal, case of COVID-19 or “long COVID” since age is the major risk factor for these outcomes.

Your decision comes down to this: Be vaccinated first or infected first. It’s that simple, given the certainty that SARS-CoV2 will eventually infect you.

It might be easy to dismiss my advice as yet another opinion by a random “expert.” But why risk getting COVID-19? Why risk being the next headline patient pleading for vaccination as they are intubated? Why risk being eulogized? COVID-19 hospitalization and deaths, even from the delta variant, are almost entirely prevented by vaccination. Prepare your body for battle and get vaccinated today.

Here are three ways to find a COVID-19 vaccine today in the U.S.:

  1. Search vaccines.gov
  2. Text your ZIP code to 438829
  3. Call 1-800-232-0233

Jonathan Yewdell, M.D., Ph.D., is a senior investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, NIH). His laboratory studies antibody and T cell immunity to viruses and how viruses evolve to evade immunity. Yewdell’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services or the United States government.