We're ‘Supposed to Follow the Science’ on COVID-19 ... So Why Aren't We Doing It?

THE DOCTOR IS IN--Human beings are both the most rational and most irrational beings on this planet.

We're both smart enough to vaccinate our nation and world, but dumb enough to not do it, anyway. We're selfless enough to risk our lives, and even lose our lives, in war and to fight pandemics such as COVID-19...but selfish enough to exploit the pandemic for own personal gain or agenda.

First, a correction to my last piece, because "following the science" means making blunt and honest corrections where they are needed: 

1) I accidentally misstated in my last piece that "natural exposure and vaccination both lasts 5-6 months". That is NOT true! What I meant to say was the "natural vaccination" FROM the virus only lasts 5-6 months, and it does NOT allow protection against newer COVID-19 variants. 

So, getting the virus (remember the "COVID parties"?) isn't like getting and surviving smallpox. Anyone who got COVID-19 is entirely susceptible to getting it again. 

2) However, getting vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines will give you at least a year of protection...even against the new variants. 

3) So, what on earth are we to do until the nation and world get immunized? Take advantage of those who still DO have antibodies from natural infection and use them in our hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.! 

There is always risk, but with using those who survived the virus, and who remain temporarily protected (and who MUST be vaccinated later), we can use them in our hospitals and schools. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that hospital workers with antibodies to the COVID-19 spike proteins had significantly reduced reinfection for 6 months.

Right now we're sending uninfected, antibody-negative health care workers, teachers, and others into dangerous settings...and needlessly dangerous, at that. "Follow the science" means using testing and using those with antibodies (with masks, face shields, and social distancing) to reopen our schools and economy right NOW.

4) The survival rate for those vaccinated, and the "experimental" nature of those vaccines? Virtually 100% of those vaccinated with the three vaccines now approved (Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J) in the U.S. are doing fine! 

The same cannot be said for contracting COVID-19, where a few die (remember, it's Russian Roulette!) and many have long-lasting if not permanent pulmonary symptoms.

And of those scores or even hundreds of potential vaccines who don't get past Phase 2 and 3 testing, and of which we have learned very little or heard about? Billions of dollars and months of work thrown away for each failed attempt because they're just...NOT...proven to be safe or effective. 

Interestingly enough, the British/Oxford vaccine from AstraZeneca is being rolled out, but more than a few nations are REJECTING it because of concerns about effectiveness (however, desperation will see its use in the short-term, and arguably that's needed). 

And Russia's Sputnik V vaccine? Doing pretty well, and better than anticipated despite the rushed effort from Putin et al and it appears that protection is often achieved after only one dose.

5) Are there side effects from vaccination--yes, but almost all temporary, and if you've ever had a tough cold for a few days, you've had worse! But here's another side effect: not needing to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure, according to the CDC.

Although the amount of viral shedding after a person's been vaccinated, and then exposed unknowingly to COVID-19, is not exactly known...it's certainly and significantly much less after vaccination as demonstrated in an Israeli study

(Israel, for what it's worth, has vaccinated virtually all its citizens and will undoubtedly be a nation measured against others for future study.)

So not only does vaccination protect YOU, it has a protective effect on OTHERS, and if enough people vaccinated, then we can avoid or minimize all the quarantines and lockdowns that have devastated our lives. And if you hang out with a bunch of other vaccinated individuals, you probably don't even need a mask, anymore.

6) So why aren't health care workers not getting the vaccine, and will we have enough of our population vaccinated some day?

Good questions, and certainly the lack of vaccination of many health care workers is a sore point in our nation getting over the pandemic. Up to over one-third of nursing home and other workers fear the side effects and "experimental" nature of the vaccine, and some surveys show over 10% of Americans state they will never get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Yet nearly half of American adults want the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.  Teachers, grocery store workers, restaurant owners, small business owners and workers want their lives BACK, and their incomes BACK.

It is very likely, therefore, that with time there will be more and more Americans who take the plunge and deal with the side effects (anecdotally, my elderly patients--who can't get the vaccine fast enough--appear to have fewer side effects than younger individuals to the vaccines) with each passing month. 

This is particularly true for those who witness the rapid recovery of those vaccinated, and while some have experiences more unpleasant than others, they're the exceptions to the rule. Furthermore, although some reading this will be very unhappy, if you want to remain employed in health care, education, supermarkets, etc. you might HAVE to be vaccinated.

7) The consequences of not reopening our schools and economy is leading to societal and physical havoc in American children and young adults.

I've heard from infuriated parents who've seen their children's mental health get destroyed, and I've heard infuriated teachers who've seen children knowingly infected with COVID-19 sent to school by callous and selfish parents, so there are many considerations to reopening our schools. Yet the student suicides are very, very real. 

And young adults are overdosing with narcotics at record rates...that's also very, very real.  Lack of employment, lack of social interactions, and lack of intimacy and similar needs between young adults are all destroying their brains, bodies, and lives.

Hence the aforementioned use of healthy, antibody-positive and/or young, low-risk individuals used for in-person/hybrid classrooms (see bulletpoint #3 above) is more critical than ever to keep older teachers at home while the teacher "Zooms away" remotely to his/her students, and to keep as many businesses open as possible until we can get enough people vaccinated. 

Accordingly, the consideration of expediting teacher vaccinations is paramount (as is the need to fire or retire any teacher who refuses vaccination). And I am quite aware of medical groups and hospitals that will not allow hiring or any continued employment of unvaccinated individuals. 

There are unlucky doctors, teachers, and others who've suffered awful allergies in past vaccinations (like being sick for 1-2 weeks with a flu shot), and no medical professional would reasonably demand their vaccination (medically, it's contraindicated and entirely inappropriate)...but for the rest of us, it should be remembered that employment is NOT a right.

8) But to end on a positive note, there is a wonderful list of rights we'll all get back if we each get vaccinated as soon as possible--our right to travel, to fly, to date and socialize with other vaccinated individuals, to go to a restaurant, and to see relatives with much greater ease than ever before.

So, we're supposed to "follow the science". I assure you that there is no shortage of individuals who've under-responded and over-responded to make a few political, economic, and personal points. California Governor Newsom, we're looking especially at you!.

Some school districts are DOING WHAT IT TAKES, and some businesses are DOING WHAT IT TAKES, and some medical systems and nursing homes are DOING WHAT IT TAKES to reopen safely. They deserve credit and prosperity.

Others are absolutely DOING WHAT IT TAKES to NOT reopen. And most of you doing the latter know damn well who you are and deserve all the scorn and backlash you shall get.

Because some of us want to follow the science, and some of us are just thinking with our gut and not our educated brains. Some of us want to take away the civil rights of others for a political or personal agenda or two. Some of us are acting out of fear. Some of us are acting out of anger.

But "following the science" has been used as a weapon to advance anything BUT science, which is balanced and grapples with the complicated. 

With the vaccines continuing to roll out, it will be increasingly difficult to ignore the science with each passing month. Hence the following question to us all: DO WE WANT THE DEVASTATING EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC TO END THIS YEAR OR NOT?


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 8-9 years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach, Planning, and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)