As physicians, we understand how much everyone wants to go back to normal and put COVID behind us: to return to a time when we could physically be together, cheering on Tampa’s amazing sports teams, checking out the latest concerts or visiting our beautiful beaches.
Believe us, we want the same thing.
The good news is that there’s a safe and convenient way for each of us to help protect ourselves and our communities: getting the COVID vaccine.
We are grateful for the thousands of you across Tampa Bay and beyond who already have rolled up your sleeves and chosen to get vaccinated. Thanks to you, 42% of Hillsborough County adults and 49% of Pinellas County adults are fully vaccinated. We would urge the rest of you, including the young teens ages 12 to 15 who were just recently approved to receive vaccine, to make the same choice.
We have seen firsthand what COVID can do. We are still seeing it. That is one reason why physicians, nurses and other front-line caregivers have lined up to get vaccinated themselves: We are far more afraid of the virus than the vaccine.
Still, we understand that some Tampa Bay residents, especially parents, may have questions you want answered before you or your children get vaccinated. Some are choosing to wait and see. We would like to reassure you that the vaccines are safe, and answer a few of the questions that we’re hearing from our patients and friends most often:
“COVID doesn’t kill children. Why should I risk getting my child vaccinated?” It’s true, children are less likely to die from COVID. But COVID still has killed about 300 children in the United States, more deaths than what we see from influenza each year, and some children who have survived may suffer lifelong health consequences, such as permanent lung or kidney damage.
“The COVID vaccine was rushed into production. How do we know it’s safe?” While these vaccines are new, researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines, the kind used to fight COVID, for many years.
“I already had COVID. Why should I get vaccinated?” After you contract COVID, you are likely to have immunity for some period of time — but that protection wanes over time and experts aren’t sure how long it lasts. It also may not protect you from the new COVID variants.
“What about these new variants? Will the vaccine work against them?” Fortunately, studies show the vaccine appears to be effective against the new variants of COVID, according to the World Health Organization. Since the variants both spread more easily and can make you sicker, avoiding the variants is another good reason to get vaccinated.
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“How will it help my community if I get vaccinated?” The vaccine doesn’t protect everyone. It appears that many people with weakened immune systems, such as transplant recipients and people fighting cancer, do not produce high enough levels of antibodies when they get vaccinated. That means the vaccine offers them little protection. So the more people who get vaccinated, the less COVID is transmitted in the community and the more the vulnerable are protected.
Ultimately, that’s a good reason to choose the vaccine. When you get vaccinated, you protect more than yourself. You help make your community safer, stronger — and better. Right now, we’re in the middle of the pack when it comes to vaccination rates. We know we can boost that higher.
We’re already known as Champa Bay. Now let’s become vaccine champions.
Dr. Peggy Duggan is the chief medical officer at Tampa General Hospital. Dr. Patricia Emmanuel, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, is co-medical director of Women’s and Children’s Health at Tampa General and chair of pediatrics at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.