Gretchen Arnoczy, an infectious diseases physician who has been caring for COVID-19 patients at FirstHealth since the pandemic began, has now become an unofficial source for friends and patients looking for opinions about the vaccine.
Now that the vaccine is open to adults 18 and older (and as young as 16 with a parent or guardian’s approval), we asked Gretchen to share her opinion with The Sway. Our Q&A with her is below:
So, I’m Young. Why Do I Need to Worry About COVID?
I never got COVID-19 but I felt like I was surrounded. I wear a mask and wash my hands and socially distance, but I know plenty of people who’ve been really careful and still gotten it. I’ve been lucky. A little smart, a little careful, but mostly lucky.
Among my friends and colleagues who had COVID-19, most got completely better (thank God). But some died, some have lingering symptoms, and one friend still didn’t have her full sense of taste or smell back after 5 months — particularly the taste of coffee. THE TASTE OF COFFEE. I am not OK with losing the taste of coffee.
How Do You Feel About these Vaccines? Are They Safe?
You know those videos where bridesmaids shove each other out of the way to catch a brides’ bouquet? That was me with this vaccine, OK?
Anyone weighing this decision needs to realize it’s weighing the risk of the vaccine compared to the risk of COVID-19. There are unknowns with both. Medicine is all about risks and benefits, right? With the information I have, the patients I’ve seen, and the data I’ve reviewed I was happy to roll up my sleeve the second the vaccine was offered to me.
How Can You Be So Confident?
The vaccine studies were done as fast and safely possible. They wanted to prove that the vaccine can reduce symptomatic illness and death. They did that, and they did it FAST. This was fantastic work.
I was confident about the vaccines back in November when they published a study of 40,000 people. Only eight of the the 20,000 people who received the vaccine got COVID-19 — while more than 160 of the 20,000 people who received a placebo got the virus. There were no major safety concerns in the animal studies, or in the hundreds of thousands of people who have enrolled in other COVID-19 vaccine trials around the world. With that information I was confident enough to get it back then.
Since then? We’ve vaccinated over 100 million people worldwide and we’re seeing the same great results in real world use. The vaccines keep people from getting sick. Other than a day or two of mild symptoms post vaccine, the shots aren’t causing bad effects.
I wish I could say the same for COVID-19. There are whole clinics popping up to help COVID-19 survivors who didn’t get all the way better.
An interesting twist is that some survivors with persistent symptoms DO get better when they got the vaccine.
With the Risks, Why Are You So Eager?
Compared to the risks of COVID-19, the risks of the vaccine are pretty small!
I am expecting these vaccines to be one of the great achievements of the 21st century. COVID-19 may permanently change some aspects of our world, but I’m hoping to show off my lopsided smile and occasionally awkward hug again soon.
Since March 2020, we’ve all had visions of the life we want back. Personally, I imagine casting off my mask and running towards a big family get together to just start hugging. I’m from a big extended family. As in 29 first cousins big.
But Wait. You Can Still Spread it After Getting the Vaccine, Right?
When the vaccines first came out we didn’t know the answer to this question. Now we know more. If you’re vaccinated, you’re probably not going to spread it. We haven’t stopped mask recommendations yet because we’re keeping an eye on those pesky variants and we want to make sure the numbers are way down before we relax, but vaccinated people are very unlikely to get COVID-19 and even less likely to spread it.
Once you’re fully vaccinated you no longer have to quarantine after an exposure and vaccinated people can gather together without masks.
How Do I Get the Vaccine?
Moore County is outpacing the state in vaccine distribution — and vaccination is open to anyone 18 and older. Get more information and register online here.
Gretchen Arnoczy, M.D., is an infectious diseases physician who has helped lead FirstHealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This piece was produced in partnership with FirstHealth of the Carolinas.