His prescription for those still unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Do the same. This is an important health decision, one that must be made quickly amid the pressures and fatigue of an ongoing pandemic. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots also were developed with unprecedented speed and made available through emergency authorization in the United States.
Wanting more information is understandable, and those with questions have Poland's empathy. "No person should be hesitant about raising their concerns about vaccines or wanting to find out in my particular situation, 'Doctor, help me to think about this kind of thing. Show me and explain to me that data,' " he said.
The key for those seeking answers is to rely on credible health care resources. To help Minnesotans make informed choices, the Star Tribune Editorial Board is launching "Our Best Shot," an occasional series that will enlist trusted medical and community leaders to address common concerns. The more people who are vaccinated, the faster the pandemic ends.
Poland, one of the world's leading vaccine experts, recently shared his expertise with an editorial writer on a common cause for hesitancy — the potential for side effects. The video interview is available above and at bit.ly/3sqxPwl. Here are the key takeaways:
• The most common side effects are minor and don't last long. These include a sore arm, fatigue, a low-grade headache or fever. These tend to happen in younger people or after getting the second Pfizer or Moderna shot. The side effects generally are not serious enough to require a day off from work. But a "high single-digit to low double-digit percentage" of those vaccinated may need a day to rest. "Rare is the person that has this last more than day, a day and half, maybe two days at max," Poland said.
• The most dangerous side effect is rare and easily treated. It's a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, with an incidence between 2.5 to 4.5 cases per million vaccine doses given. It occurs predominantly in women, and more often in those with a medical history of it. Fortunately, it can be successfully treated by injecting epinephrine, the widely available medication in EpiPens and similar devices. This reaction also typically happens within 7 to 9 minutes of getting the shot, so it's within the monitoring window after vaccination, and shotgivers are equipped to treat it.
• We've had enough time to "wait and see." If you were waiting to see how early shotseekers fared — an oft-heard reason for hesitancy — congratulations, you've accomplished that. Side effects for vaccinations, not just COVID, generally show up within minutes, days, maybe weeks, Poland said. COVID shots have now been in use long enough to feel confident about rolling up your own sleeve.
• Safety monitoring is likely the most robust it's ever been. The world's health agencies are focused like a laser on the new vaccines. U.S. advisory committee meetings guiding federal decisions authorizing new vaccines are open to the public and livestreamed. Shotseekers in this online age are also well-equipped to report problems after vaccination. A voluntary, confidential smartphone tool called V-safe is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It does regular check-ins with those who have gotten the shot, so problems can be detected and investigated quickly. "If you've got to have a new vaccine, it couldn't have come out at a time when we are better prepared to monitor safety than now," Poland said.
Poland himself has been vaccinated, and so have his eligible family members. For those still unsure, he boils it down this way: One of every 590 Americans has died of COVID. Millions have been infected, with the long-term effects still not understood.
"You have to judge, like everything in life, well, could there be some unknown risk of the vaccine? I would say nothing that we can see," Poland said. "What about the risk of not taking the vaccine? That's huge. That's a huge and present risk and danger that we can see."