Pat Sharkey

Pat Sharkey

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning to see some signs of normalcy resume in our daily lives. Students are physically back in schools. Restaurants are opening up. Even athletics have resumed for youth, collegiate and professional athletes.

The key to maintaining this progress is found in millions of tiny glass vials of COVID-19 vaccine — and the people who are willing to get vaccinated. According to the Washington State Department of Health, approximately a quarter of people in Walla Walla County are now vaccinated.

This is good news, but it could be even better if more people opted to pursue vaccination. And as of April 15, everyone over the age of 16 is now eligible.

Like the masks, gloves and gowns we wear as health care providers, vaccines provide an added layer of protection against viruses and infection. That’s why I got my COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it was available. In my professional opinion, the vaccine is like other preventative measures we all practice in our daily lives: brushing and flossing our teeth, wearing seatbelts and applying sunscreen. These are simple, low-risk tasks that yield significant health benefits.

As a medical professional, I recognize there are some people in our community who, for medical or religious reasons, are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. What’s more concerning is that some reject the vaccine on its face, given what we know about the virus and the risk it presents to us individually, and to our friends and families.

We all know someone who hasn’t been vaccinated or perhaps you, yourself, are undecided. Understandably, some were put off initially by reports that vaccines were hard to find. But the supply has grown, and more slots are opening all the time at pharmacies, health department clinics and other local vaccination events. As a result, shots can increasingly be found without too much effort.

I know some are also concerned that the vaccine was “rushed” and not fully tested before reaching the public. Virologists have been studying coronaviruses for decades. Today’s vaccine benefits from work done in 2003, in the wake of the SARS outbreak. That’s one of the reasons scientists were able to develop the vaccines more rapidly. The technology to create the vaccines was available long before we ever heard the word “COVID.” And the testing and development process for each of the vaccines still included trials on thousands of volunteer patients before making them widely available in the U.S.

Granted, there have been rare instances of severe reactions, like the brain blood clots observed in isolated instances with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But let’s put those reactions in perspective: there have been six of these serious conditions out of 6.8 million applications of the vaccine.

While an abundance of caution may call for use of that vaccine to be temporarily suspended as the issue is studied further, for the vast majority of those getting vaccinated, reactions are often nothing more than a sore arm, brief headache, temporary fatigue or chills — all signs the vaccine is working in your body.

The COVID-19 virus is relentless and does not discriminate when it comes to infection. All aspects of our daily lives — the grocery store, schools, restaurants and churches — have adjusted to provide safe experiences for the public and help us all resume some sense of normalcy. I believe we can each do our part to help our community be even healthier by wearing masks and, yes, getting vaccinated.

If you are still undecided about the COVID-19 vaccine, I would encourage you to talk with a medical provider, whether that’s your physician, your dentist, or your optometrist. Ask them about the risks and benefits of the vaccine — and how it compares with the risks of contracting COVID-19.

If you choose to get vaccinated after doing your research, it’s easy to find appointments through the Washington State Department of Health website at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted each of us in ways both small and profound. Vaccines have the power to do the same and help us heal from this unprecedented event.

Dr. Patrick Sharkey practices in Walla Walla and is a member of the Washington State Dental Association Board of Directors.