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Don Saelinger: Take the effective COVID-19 shot and help end the pandemic; believe in the science

As a physician, I was fortunate to receive the initial Pfizer COVID vaccine and the three-week booster. After receiving the initial injection, I had an unexpected emotional sense of gratitude to physicians and scientists who laid the groundwork for the Pfizer and Modena vaccines to protect us from the personal and economic ravages of the COVID 19 infection.

The United States government (CDC, FDA, NIH, and the Department of Defense) has spent about 10 billion dollars in the Warp Speed project to develop, test, and distribute these vaccines. This effort is a partnership involving the US government and private industry, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Don Saelinger

To end this pandemic, restart our economy, stop the COVID-related dying, and get our lives back to normal, 70 to 80% of the country’s population (and the world) must be either vaccinated or recovered from COVID 19 infection.

The United States alone, to date, has had 10 million cases of COVID and nearly 400,000 deaths, more American deaths than from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam wars combined. The resultant damage to our economy is incalculable.

Two vaccines have been approved for emergency use in the United States (Pfizer and Modena), with several others in the pipeline. Many health care workers, first responders, and nursing home patients have already been vaccinated in the three weeks since approval.

Viral infections over the centuries have resulted in many worldwide pandemics. We have excellent antibiotics to treat bacterial infections and several anti-bacterial vaccines (Ex: Pertussis, Anthrax, Tetanus, Plague, and others) but very few antiviral drugs for treating viral infections; thus, vaccines are the key to ending viral pandemics.

Antiviral vaccines are not new. The practice of immunization dates back hundreds of years. Buddhist monks drank snake venom to confer immunity to snakebite. Variolation (smearing of a skin tear with cowpox to produce immunity to smallpox) was practiced in 17th century China. Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the West. In 1796, he inoculated a 13-year-old-boy with the vaccinia virus (cowpox) and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. Most Americans who are over 50 years old will remember the scratch on the arm to immunize against smallpox. Smallpox vaccine has virtually eliminated this disease in all parts of the world. In 1923, Alexander Glenny perfected a method to inactivate tetanus toxin with formaldehyde. The same process was used to develop a vaccine against diphtheria in 1926. Viral tissue culture methods developed from 1950-1985 led to the Salk (inactivated) polio vaccine and the Sabin (live attenuated oral) polio vaccine. Mass polio immunization has now eradicated the disease from most regions of the world. Additionally, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines have nearly eliminated these diseases from the planet.

Despite the impressive evidence of health gains from immunization programs, there has always been resistance to vaccines in some groups. According to several polls, 25 to 35% of Americans are reluctant to take the COVID vaccine, and many claim that they will decline the shot when offered.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (both recently released in the US) are safe and are 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID infection. Before vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), scientists test them extensively to ensure they are effective and safe.

Why then are so many Americans reluctant to take the COVID vaccine to end this pandemic? I suspect that most of the rationale is based on conspiracy theories promoted by the Far-left and the Far-right political spectrum.

Additionally, many anti-vaccination organizations with social media presence promote such conspiracy theories. These theories contain statements suggesting that the mRNA vaccines alter one’s genetic code, or the immunization contains anti-Christian or anti-democracy chips. Other theories suggest that it contains a neurotoxin or mercury or formaldehyde. Some continue to believe the falsehood that vaccines cause autism: a premise that has been unequivocally disproven. Christians, who generally believe that fetal abortion is immoral, believe that the mRNA vaccines were produced in cells harvested from aborted fetuses. Some RNA vaccines were tested (but not produced) in cell lines initially derived from aborted fetuses in the 1960s. The Catholic Church and the Pope have noted that Catholics may take the vaccine, as the connection to abortion is very remote. Additionally, church leaders state that humanity’s benefit and the common good far outweighs the moral danger related to the remote connection to aborted fetuses’ cell lines.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines and are synthetic vaccines and not produced in fetal tissue culture cells. This is a new type of vaccine which, when injected, enters into specific cells and instructs these cells to make the spike protein (the part of the virus that attacks respiratory cells and causes infection). Other cells in the body (lymphocytes and plasma cells) make antibodies to the newly formed protein, which combines with the COVID virus when inhaled and neutralizes it, thus preventing infection. This methodology has been in the investigation stages for several years. It has the potential for use in developing other vaccines and treating certain types of cancer. This injected mRNA does not enter the nucleus of human cells and does not become part of the recipient’s DNA genetic code, as some conspiracy theories have suggested.

For those who do not believe or do not want to believe in science, consider what the world would be like if we did not have hundreds of years of research. Consider what the world would be like if COVID were allowed to run rampant across the globe on top of plague, polio, tetanus, mumps, measles, EBOLA, and smallpox.

The anticipation is that COVID vaccines will become generally available to most US citizens and the planet in the next several months. We need to get to the 70-80% vaccination range to end the pandemic.

Dr. Don Saelinger is a distinguished physician, an internist, and gastroenterologist, who founded Patient First Physicians Group in NKY in 1976. He sold it to St. Elizabeth Health care in 2009. It became St Elizabeth Physicians and Dr. Saelinger became Sr. VP of St. Elizabeth Medical Center. He retired from St. Elizabeth in 2010 and has been involved in various consulting roles for Healthcare business and policy around the country. He has also been involved with various locum tenens (definition: one filling an office for a time or temporarily taking the place of another) positions in Gastroenterology. He recently retired as GI section chief and Medical Subspecialty division chief at Straub Medical Center and Hawaii Pacific Health in Honolulu, Hawaii, and has returned to locum tenens roles in Gastroenterology and healthcare business consulting. He is the oldest of ten children of William and Marcella Saelinger of Northern Kentucky. See his full bio here.  

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