If a person believes that getting vaccinated today is an ordeal, they should know the 18th century version.
After you were put on your arm pus from a boil of smallpox, three weeks of fever, sweats, chills, bleeding and purges with dangerous medicines would follow, accompanied by hymns, prayers and sermons on the fire of hell recited by rigid preachers.
Overall, with the smallpox vaccine, the process worked, and people preferred it to enduring “natural” smallpox, which killed about a third of those who got it. Patients were often grateful for the immunization test, once it was over, of course.
“Therefore, by the Mercy of God, I have been preserved through Smallpox Distemper,” wrote a certain Peter Thatcher in 1764, after undergoing the process at a Boston vaccination hospital. “Many and heinous have been my sins, but I hope they will be washed away.”
Today, once again, Americans are surprisingly willing, even eager, to suffer a little for the bounty of immunity against a virus that has brought the world to the brink.
About half of those vaccinated with the two doses of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, and particularly women, experience discomfort: from hot, sore arms to chills, headaches, fever and exhaustion. Sometimes they brag about the symptoms. They often welcome them.
Suspicion about what the injections contained grew in the mind of Patricia Mandatori, an Argentine immigrant in Los Angeles, when she barely felt the needle penetrate her arm after her first dose of Moderna’s vaccine, on a March date.
However, a day later, with satisfaction, “it felt like I was hit by a truck,” Mandatori said. “When I started to feel bad, I said, ‘Yes, I was vaccinated.’ I was happy. I was relieved. “
While symptoms show that the immune system is responding to the vaccine in a way that will protect against disease, evidence from clinical trials showed that people with few or no symptoms were also protected. Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel bad, experts say.
“This is the first vaccine in history that someone has complained of not having symptoms,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an immunologist and director of the Center for Vaccine Education at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
There is some evidence for a stronger immune response in younger people and those who get sick when vaccinated. A small study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who reported systemic side effects such as fever, chills, and headache may have had somewhat higher levels of antibodies. Pfizer’s large vaccine trial showed the same trend in younger patients.
But that doesn’t mean that people who don’t react severely to the vaccine are less protected, explained Dr. Joanna Schaenman, an expert in infectious diseases and immunology of aging at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.
While the symptoms of the disease are undoubtedly part of the immune response, the immune response that counts is protection, he said. “This is preserved in all age groups and is likely to be independent of whether or not the person had local or systemic side effects.”
The immune system responses that produce post-vaccination symptoms are believed to be triggered by proteins called toll-like receptors, which reside on certain immune cells. These receptors are less functional in older people.
But other parts of your immune system are responding more gradually to the vaccine by creating the specific types of cells necessary to protect against the coronavirus. These are the so-called “memory B cells”, which produce antibodies to attack the virus, and the “killer T cells” that track and destroy cells infected by the virus.
Many other vaccines, including those that prevent hepatitis B and bacterial pneumonia, are very effective and have relatively mild side effect profiles, Schaenman said.
Whether you have a strong reaction to the vaccine “is an interesting question but, in a sense, it is not vital,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In short, he said, “You don’t have to worry about that.”
There was a time when doctors prescribed cod liver oil and people thought that drugs had to taste bad to be effective.
People who get sick after vaccination against covid “feel that we have had a little suffering, that we have faced the enemy,” said Schaenman (who had a little fever). “When they don’t have the side effects, they feel like the experience has been stolen.”
Still, the side effects can be a hopeful sign, especially when they end, said Eddie Anderson, leader of McCarty Memorial Christian Church, who has led efforts to vaccinate Los Angeles’ black parishioners. It helps them through the difficult period by reminding them of the joyful reunions with children and grandchildren that will be possible after vaccination.
“I am a Christian pastor,” he said. “I tell them, ‘If you get over the pain and discomfort, healing is on the other side. You can go back to being fully human. “
This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
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