Adam Goodman is a lawyer in Toronto.
A common refrain heard from the vaccine hesitant is that because COVID-19 vaccines are so new, we don’t know yet if there are negative effects. This belief is false. We do know the negative effects of the vaccines. I am living those effects.
After receiving my second dose of Pfizer, I developed what I thought was muscle pain that started in my neck and spread to my chest. After consulting with my personal doctor, I learned that I had developed one of the two potential significant side effects associated with the mRNA vaccines – pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining that surrounds the heart. The other side effect, myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart itself. Other typical side effects associated with viral-vector vaccines include syndromes causing blood clots.
Because I thought I was experiencing muscle pain, I let the pericarditis go too long without treatment. As a result, I experienced a dangerous squeezing of the heart called tamponade. I spent five days in hospital recovering with the help of a crack team of cardiologists, nurses and pharmacists at Toronto’s University Health Network and a heavy dose of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Health Canada reports that there have been 7,126 serious adverse events following vaccination for COVID-19 and 25,388 non-serious adverse events, a tiny number considering that more than 68 million shots have been given. Most adverse events were mild, such as a fever or pain at the injection site. In any case, the percentage of doses administered that have led to reports of serious adverse reactions is just 0.010 per cent.
Perhaps reflecting the relative rarity of side effects, our stories are mostly absent from the public discourse surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccines. Although COVID-19 has taken up an inordinate amount of time and space in the news, I recall seeing only one story in the news dealing with instances of myocarditis in younger, healthier adults. The time has come to be frank with the vaccine hesitant – there are indeed negative side effects that come with the vaccine. I am living proof of that. But these side effects are very rare and most are treatable. Some wonder if longer-term effects will emerge from COVID-19 vaccines, but it’s rare for any vaccine to have side effects after the first month or two.
Furthermore, I accept my role as collateral damage of the vaccine rollout. Before the current Omicron wave, vaccines helped us get back to some degree of normality. They protect society and our public-health system. Previous generations were asked to undertake far greater risks for the protection of society, including being drafted for war. The vaccines are our civic duty.
And, on a personal note, it is not clear that I would have fared much better without the vaccine. Indeed, as my cardiologist has advised me, in most cases of pericarditis, the underlying trigger is never determined and can be caused by any virus or infection. And COVID-19 itself causes pericarditis, as noted in a World Health Organization statement regarding incidence of pericarditis and myocarditis following vaccination.
So side effects are very rare, but they do exist. By being clear with the vaccine hesitant about this fact, we do ourselves a favour and permit truth to be used to counter the absolutely false, conspiracy-theory laden arguments advanced by those opposed to vaccines. And maybe, just maybe, knowing the truth about side effects will convince the few remaining vaccine hesitant to finally get vaccinated. The vaccine opposed are more clearly a lost cause, embracing an anti-science and anti-truth ideology with a fervour rarely seen since the advent of the Enlightenment.
As for me, despite my experience, I truly believe that the positives of the vaccines greatly outweigh the negatives. My children are fully vaccinated. And despite a recent flare-up, controlled again by anti-inflammatory drugs, I received a booster shot a few days ago. So far, I’m feeling okay. Instead of an mRNA vaccine, I took the Johnson & Johnson shot, which is a viral-vector vaccine less associated with pericarditis. It took me a while to find somewhere to get this shot, as it isn’t widely available. This is clearly a reflection of how few of us outliers require such accommodation.
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