One in an occasional series of editorials addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
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Minnesotans are doing relatively well on the COVID-19 vaccination front — some 88% of those over 65 are vaccinated, and 61% (about 2.7 million) have had at least one shot, according to the state Health Department.
But that still leaves just under 40% who have yet to receive any one of the three available vaccines. With the state lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated folks on Friday, it's even more critical that more Minnesotans roll up their sleeves. You can bet that many of the unvaccinated potential carriers will ditch their masks, too. Yet they remain at risk for catching and spreading the virus.
Some of them mistakenly believe that if they've already had the coronavirus, there's no need for vaccinations. Remember news about young people having "COVID parties" so that they could get the disease and be done with it?
Most medical experts agree that there are several good reasons to be vaccinated — even if you've already recovered from the virus. Among them: the vaccine offers better, stronger protection than natural immunity, and a previous infection may not protect against a second one. Though relatively rare, it's possible to be reinfected even after recovering from COVID-19.
Dr. Abinash Virk, professor in infectious diseases and co-chair of Mayo Clinic's COVID vaccination work group, told an editorial writer that researchers don't know how long natural immunity lasts from a previous infection.
"We know we're getting good protection from vaccinations, but its likely we'll need boosters going forward that incorporate protection from some of the other variants of the virus," she said. "Every vaccinated person adds to the number we need for herd immunity."
Failure to vaccinate, she added, not only poses risk to the individual, but to others whom they could potentially infect.
Another local expert points out that the level of protection from a past bout with the disease might not be as strong. Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist and medical director, said vaccination after an infection offers the most robust protection.
"Think about what happened in Brazil," she told an editorial writer. "The natural immunity that came with infection did not protect against the variants that came later. So there were a lot of re-infections there — including some that made people severely ill."
And Kris Ehresmann, MDH infectious disease director, said it's important to clear up possible confusion about the status of those who have had the virus. When the vaccine first became available, the previously infected were asked to "step to the back of the line" for shots. But that's no longer necessary because supply is no longer an issue.
Ehresmann added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and MDH advisories say those treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma should wait 90 days before getting vaccinated. If you tested positive but did not require those treatments, you can get vaccinated after the 10-day isolation period.
Another common excuse for avoiding the shot is waiting to see what happens with others. But that too, is easily refuted. Dr. Jill Foster, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Minnesota, said that argument for vaccine hesitancy doesn't fly anymore.
"We're already there," she said. "We have enough experience — and it's clear that the vaccine works."
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The faster we vaccinate, the faster the COVID-19 pandemic ends. But the speed with which the shots were developed has led to understandable questions. The Editorial Board's #OurBestShot series enlists Minnesota health and community leaders to deliver timely, trustworthy answers.
Here's a collection of articles, videos and other resources presented so far, with more planned:
Editorial: The big risk is in not getting vaccinated (March 28).
Video: Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic discusses the potential side effects of the vaccines, and explains why the risks and impacts are low.
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Editorial: Communities of color face unique vaccination fears (April 4).
Video: M Health Fairview, in a conversation with leaders of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in the Twin Cities, addresses questions and concerns about the vaccines.
Frequently asked questions: A report from the Sahan Journal, a trusted St. Paul-based source of news and information for migrant and immigrant communities, provides and wealth of vaccine information while also dispelling rumors that the shots contain pork or other products not considered halal.
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Editorial: Needle phobia? There's help available to deal with fear (April 11).
Video: A fear of needles "shouldn't be something people feel embarrassed about." A conversation with Dr. Andrew Slattengren, a veteran medical provider and president of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians,
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Editorial: Young and healthy? That's no excuse for skipping vaccination (April 19).
Video: A conversation with Dr. George Morris of St. Cloud-based CentraCare on misperceptions about two stubborn misperceptions that lead to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
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Editorial: Cost is not a reason to avoid getting a COVID shot (April 25).
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Editorial: Fact-checking claims about COVID vaccines and fertility (May 9).
Video: A conversation with Dr. Sarah Cross, medical director of M Health Fairview's The Birthplace, and an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, about fertility misinformation.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and is not involved in setting newsroom policies or in reporting or editing articles in other sections of the newspaper or StarTribune.com.