It's rare that our personal health decisions are so public or that we're so constantly confronted with their communitywide ramifications. It's also rare that a newspaper reporter's life is so unavoidably intertwined with the subject they're covering.
But we live in unprecedented times, so on the morning of April 23, I dropped my daughter off at school, where she's recently resumed in-person instruction, and later got my second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination. Later that day, I wrote a story for the Journal's website about our steadily spiking COVID-19 case numbers. Then, I spent the weekend researching Humboldt County vaccination efforts and the topic of vaccine hesitancy, which led to two very illuminating conversations with two very informed local doctors. (One of the huge perks of being a reporter is getting paid to talk to smart, passionate experts and about important stuff.)
My family and I had already done our research on the vaccines, their efficacy and safety, and made our decisions. We read reports in trustworthy publications about vaccine trials and the effects of COVID-19, talked to the doctors in our lives and listened as nationally renowned experts weighed in. Ultimately, I got the vaccine not only because I felt it would be a safe and effective way of protecting me and my family from severe illness and death, but also because protecting me would in turn help protect the community I love.
But my conversations with Candy Stockton, chief medical officer at the Humboldt Independent Practice Association, and Stephanie Dittmer, past president of the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society, weren't about my research or my opinions. They were about theirs, what they wanted me and the community to know.
Stockton, for her part, wants the community to know she's vaccinated, as are her husband and kids, and that she helped her sister and her husband sign up to get vaccinated. Even more so, she says she wants to the community to know nearly all the doctors she works with who have children younger than 16 have been "desperately" trying to get them signed up for vaccine studies, so they can get vaccinated early.
"We believe in it — we believe in its safety — to the point of signing our kids up," she says. "That's how strongly we feel these vaccines are safe."
Dittmer says she can't wait to get her child vaccinated, noting that she and her husband have already received both doses. Data indicates the vaccines are the most effective in history, Dittmer says, and are proving remarkably safe. COVID-19, on the other hand, is scarier than many people realize, she says.
"Here's what we know so far about what this virus does: It infects every tissue in your body. Skin. Brain. Organs. All of it," she says, adding that while the virus is commonly associated with respiratory disease, it's also been linked to organ failure, stroke, memory loss, fatigue and more, with some studies indicating 25 percent of COVID-19 patients suffer long-term effects no matter how ill they were initially from the virus. "I don't want to risk that for my child. I don't want to risk that for my husband. I don't want to risk that for my grandmother."
The other thing both doctors stress is that we're truly all in this together. Yes, getting a vaccination is a personal health decision, but it's also a communal one. There's simply no getting around the fact that the more of us get vaccinated, the less the virus will circulate in our community and the more protected we will all be. And the healthier we'll all be — physically, emotionally, economically, communally — as we're able to keep schools and businesses open, and gather for the experiences that bind us.
I got vaccinated to protect my family, to keep my daughter's school open and my neighbor's business afloat, to protect one friend's mental health and another's job. I got vaccinated because I'm ready for this pandemic to be over.
But don't take it from me. Ask your doctor, then do what's right.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.