Deluged this past week with practical questions from friends and family about holiday COVID-19 protocols around testing and quarantine, I was reminded of the physician’s credo: primum non nocere, first of all do no harm.
There is a reason we call it the art of medicine. Physicians and other health care workers do their best to ground prevention practices and treatment options in scientific research. There is always a gap between research findings and implementation into clinical practice. And the findings sometimes shift rapidly, as more knowledge is gained.
That is the nature of complicated studies translating into real-world recommendations. And the art arises in deciding the risk benefit analysis of a given treatment for a specific diagnosis in a particular patient. If not a cure, will a designated drug — despite the inevitable side effects each carries — actually improve quality of life and long-term outcome? Will a certain recommended preventive measure — getting a mammogram or a PSA test regularly, for example — result in earlier diagnosis and less mortality, or create a lot of anxiety and unnecessary medical procedures?
The pandemic has certainly brought these types of heath care issues to the forefront of our awareness. I have a few friends who are not vaccinated. One of them regularly sends me articles or videos highlighting the negative effects of vaccines or some deeper conspiracy-type rants on the virus itself. While my scientific mind wants to immediately reject such material, the part of me that wants to truly understand where he is coming from is willing to consider at least some of it.
Public health is failing us once again, because no data is being collected on the adverse effects of the booster shot. And not enough on the vaccines now going to children. Many of us (why not all of us?) have experienced getting a number of text messages, easy to reply to, about after-effects of the vaccines. This is a critical aspect of using these substances that were indeed “fast-tracked” through the approval process.
We need to know, and be transparent about, the true incidence of adverse effects, otherwise we simply play into the hands of the fears of the anti-vaxxing community. A huge opportunity has been lost because after my booster, I received no such text queries about side effects. The system was already in place; why not employ it to gather more critical data?
Within a day of her third shot, my wife’s tinnitus increased markedly as it had with the second shot; I experienced an increase in benign paroxysmal vertigo. Others I know had other side effects, some of which have not yet been linked with the booster. Why are we flying blind when we have the ability to gather this information and see? Especially going forward when we may all be asked to keep getting booster shots because of waning immunity or new variants.
If we want to make science-based decisions — given all the inherent limitations — we need to have a great system in place to examine the everyday data of vaccine side effects.