As a physician and a concerned citizen, I spent a good deal of time researching the COVID-19 vaccines as they came online. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about it all at first. Skepticism is a healthy initial response regarding these shots. After all, they did make their way from the drawing board into people’s arms in record time. I had the same questions everyone else did: Was the process safe? Was it too rushed? What are the details about the innovative ways in which they were created? Initially, I, like you, had many questions and few answers.
I researched, and read, and thought a lot about it, and eventually decided that, yes, these vaccines are safe (at least for adults). The methods behind them have already revolutionized vaccine development as we know it, and they will likely have a major impact on treatment of not just infectious disease but cancer as well. That’s my objective opinion of these vaccines. And while recent concerns have emerged about a potential link between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the extremely rare possibility of developing a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST, a rare and serious type of blood clot), I remain a huge proponent of the vaccines on the whole. There is no conclusive evidence that the six reported instances of CVST are actually related to the vaccine.
While well over 99 percent of COVID-19 patients recover, a small percentage do not. In rare instances, the patients are young and the dire situation seems inexplicable. A vaccine that prevents these deaths and also helps us on our march towards herd immunity seems like a win-win in my mind. But that’s my mind. You might not see it that way. A hundred scientific studies and a thousand charts may not convince your mind. That’s your choice. I’m glad we live in a country that allows for these differences, even if I do find this particular one to be a bit frustrating. Freedom and choice trump everything, virus or no. I believe that in my heart. I want others to believe it too. You do what is best for you, and I will do what is best for me.
Some politicians definitely do not understand this concept. Enter “King Andy.” That less-than-affectionate nickname for my state’s governor has been well earned. Gov. Beshear, a Democrat, truly must think he is an emperor of sorts, ordained by a thin margin in the last gubernatorial election. Throughout this pandemic, he has gone above and beyond to assert his authority. Mandates here, curfews there, all the power that Kentucky teacher unions’ money can buy (that’s a different story for another day). His latest edict, announced on Monday, is in some ways his most shocking: Kentucky businesses will not be allowed to return to normal operation until at least 2.5 million adults in the commonwealth have been vaccinated with at least one shot of any vaccine. Until that arbitrary goal is reached, he will maintain his sweeping control. The hours will stay modified; the capacity limits will stay in order. The masks, unfortunately, will stay regardless, it seems. Who could even guess when he plans to lift that edict? It’s Andy’s world. Kentuckians just live in it.
Keep in mind that since the start of the pandemic, Kentucky has had around 438,000 reported cases of COVID-19. Who knows how many undocumented and/or asymptomatic cases there have been? All of those people have some degree of naturally occurring immunity to this pathogen. This common-sense assumption was the basis for the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement from some of the world’s leading epidemiologists, which garnered so much attention back in October. Since then, the SIREN study, which utilized a large prospective cohort, has confirmed what common sense and over 100 years’ worth of immunology textbooks have predicted all along: “Previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 induces effective immunity to future infections in most individuals,” specifically an 84 percent lower risk of infection by their data.
It will be hard to convince some folks in Kentucky to get the vaccine in the first place. It’s even harder to convince those who already have natural immunity that they should also now get vaccinated. Arguably, given the protection that natural infection provides, vaccinating these folks could be an epic waste of resources anyway. As of today, approximately 1.6 million adults in Kentucky have received at least one shot of any vaccine. In a state with around three million total adults, it’s not apparent to me that there are 900,000 more out there who are willing to sign up for it in order to hit King Andy’s 2.5 million threshold, whatever their rationale may be.
While I’ve never particularly liked the authoritarian governor in Frankfort (to put it mildly), I do appreciate his apparent wish to increase the vaccination rate in Kentucky. This is our best ticket towards reaching herd immunity and living completely normal lives again. What I do not appreciate is the way he is carrying out this stunt. It is never proper for a governor (or any executive) to use force against those who elected him. In essence, the king of the Bluegrass State is now saying to his subjects that if enough of them don’t get vaccinated, he won’t let them have their normal lives back.
Never mind that there might not even be 2.5 million adults in Kentucky who would ever agree to get this shot in the first place. Never mind the fact that, because these vaccines are still under emergency authorization use from the FDA, it is arguably illegal (per 21 U.S. Code § 360bbb–3) for him to mandate them in this way. Never mind that neighboring states are opening up, dropping curfews, and starting to live normal lives again. None of that matters to the sovereign. What matters to him is his own power. He has purposefully confused persuasion with coercion. Kentucky didn’t elect a man to govern them in this manner, with such little respect for their own volition. He has lost the respect of untold thousands of citizens in my beautiful Kentucky. Thankfully, the next election is not too far away.